The first Audi sports utility vehicle to bear the vaunted RS badge is a wild ride that’s almost too sharp for its own good.
Pros: Big urge, quattro grip, fantastic brakes, snappy gearbox.
Cons: Expensive, lacking in true involvement, jittery ride.
What’s truly new about the RS Q3? Not the platform nor the engine. The first predates the flash new MQB underpinnings used by latest Audis (and VWs) and the other, before coming to this model, served the RS3 and TT-RS sports coupe.
Yet it good use of well-proven fare. It hunkers, makes hungry noises yet looks just a little bit less angry – and, yet, even though it has been patently pumped, with all the usual enhancements – even a rear diffuser and a roof-mounted spoiler, plus a huge exhaust pipe – it still seems a touch subdued by RS standard.
At around 1600kg, it’s a hefty wee thing to be throwing down a road. This ultimately affects economy, which when pushing on falls to V8-like level. At least the kilo count does not impact on the stopping. The manner in which it hauls up is highly impressive.
Powertrain and performance:
So compact, so cute … so how can it possibly be taken seriously? The performance-packed powertrain says it must: You’re playing with the awfully feral 228kW/420Nm 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol.
Though detuned in this application, the engine retains huge punch. True, 0-100kmh in 5.2 seconds leaves it lagging other RS models, some of which these days tend to run under 4s, yet it’s still quick enough to set the standard for a small SUV. The top speed of around 260kmh (plus a speedo that reads to 300kmh) is gloat-worthy.
And it is seriously geared up in other respects, well beyond having the trademark quattro all-wheel-drive and dual-clutch S Tronic automatic transmission. Behind those over-sized rims reside massive brakes, 365mm front discs gripped by red-painted eight-pot calipers.
The engine certainly issues an exhilarating deep-throated warbling note at full phwoar footing and also adds a delicious crackle when changing down gears through the snappy S-tronic automated manual transmission. Using the paddle shifts is fulfilling but not mandatory: In full automatic mode, it’ll kick down readily for maximum cannonball kapow.
The combination of super-sticky tyres and all-wheel-drive ensure that this model expresses breathtaking tenacity on the tightest roads, and great traction is always assured. Unlike some other RS models, this quattro system directs a high percentage of drive force to the front wheels in normal driving, to the point where you can feel it ‘pulling’ out of corners.
Tempering the invigoration, though, is a curious lack of driver feedback. Everything is up to optimum level of clinical efficiency, but it’s hard to establish a connection. That’s not unusual for RS cars in general, but seems more amplified in this one.
The electric-assisted steering is light and inconsistently weighted. In usual Audi style, the car’s sportiness can be stepped up another notch by selecting the ‘dynamic’ driving mode (above ‘comfort’ and ‘auto’) in the three-mode setup, but regardless of where the dial is set there’s no ‘feel’.
Ride, refinement and quality:
Even in the softest of the three settings, the car is jittery on coarse chip. Dynamic, meantime, provides even less yield. It’s good and bad. On the one hand, you get very little body roll through bends; on the other, you suffer the annoyance of a lot of road texture (and noise) coming through the car.
The settings mean the SUV role is utterly muddied. It’s so stiff and the ground clearance so reduced as to render it a risk for all but the gentlest off-road excursions. But, then, who would seriously consider taking anything of this ilk into the boonies, any way?
Practicality and packaging:
The interior is pep-prepped, all-black with a few chrome highlights and some carbon trim inserts. While some of the plastics look cheap, the Nappa leather over the seats is definitely classy. The Q3’s ergonomic uncertainty shows with siting the controls for the dash-mounted MMI screen high on the console. This is the only free site, yet not as logical as in larger Audis, where the control is near the transmission shift.
The steering wheel to seat relationship is very good, but with the chair set high – to, of course, amplify the car’s SUV intention – it doesn’t feel as intimate as a hot hatch.
You wouldn’t buy this model for full family duties. Rear seat room is modest, the problem being little lower leg space. The boot is a reasonable size, though the dimension is mostly about height. The floor area will take medium-sized bags and shopping but maybe just one full set of golf clubs.
There’s no lacking for luxury: Standard equipment includes xenon headlights, sat-nav, a seven-inch screen and 20GB of hard drive space, parking sensors with reversing camera, Bluetooth with audio streaming, a Bose sound system and dual-zone climate control.
How it compares:
Mercedes’ equivalent, the GLA45 AMG, is a $99,900 offering with 37kW more power and 30Nm more torque than the Audi and is better looking and more fun to drive.
The RS Q3 is potentially a better idea on paper than on the road; there are inconsistencies about the application that make it a less resolved car than it could have been. On top of that, it’s really expensive: A sticker of $104,900, and then up to $7000 more for the full strength of options carried by the test example, ensures it positions at a stratospherically higher plane than other Q3s.