Typically, Audi will tantalise us with an S-badged performance model before unleashing its full fury with a full-blown RS version. Not so with the Q3 small SUV, with the German brand skipping the usual ‘S’ athletic pleasantries, and shoulder charging straight to the red-hot RS Q3.
Packing the wailing five-cylinder turbocharged heart of the TT RS sports coupe, the RS Q3 carries the honour of being the first SUV to wear an RS badge, and it’s also the cheapest RS model to date at $81,900.
However, RS models are traditionally known for their ability to tackle bends just as much their straight-line mettle. With the extra ride height and taller body of an SUV, can the baby RS still manage both?
The RS Q3 comes luxuriously equipped straight out of the box, with Nappa leather clad electric front seats, dual-zone climate control, satnav with Audi’s MMI interface, 10 speaker audio with amplifier and subwoofer, Audi parking plus with reversing camera, Xenon Plus headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED taillights.
Our example came optioned with metallic paint ($1,150), heated front seats ($780), and a panoramic glass sunroof ($3,250) to bring its total price before on-roads to $87,080.
Extended matte aluminium or gloss black detailing packages are also available for an extra $1300, but many will likely opt for the $5,250 RS performance package that adds diamond stitching to the seats, red brake calipers, carbon fibre inlays, Bose audio with digital radio and a choice of three different 20-inch wheel designs.
Until Mercedes’ upcoming GLA45 AMG arrives on our shores, the RS Q3 is without a true small performance SUV rival. The smidgen-faster SQ5 comes closest, but it’s significantly larger and the best part of $9,000 more expensive. Porsche’s upcoming and also-larger Macan S Diesel will only be priced $3000 north of the RS, but its 1.1 second 0-100km/h deficit may as well be a month in performance model terms.
The RS Q3 can be identified from garden variety Q3 models by its aggressively styled front bumper and rear diffuser, more chiselled sideskirts, huge single exhaust outlet and standard 10-spoke, 19-inch alloys wearing 255/40R19 Pirelli P-Zeros.
The body sits 25mm lower thanks to an RS-specific suspension tune, and the RS Q3’s bodywork is also largely colour coded, save for piano black detailing to the front intakes and rear diffuser.
Unlike most RS models, the RS Q3 doesn’t score costly pumped wheelarches, but the overall package is a lot more distinctive than typically applied to lesser S models.
On the inside, the RS Q3 has RS-labelled front seats with sports bolstering, with the no-cost option of piano black or aluminium inlays, and LED ambient lighting.
There’s a reasonable 356L of cargo space with the seats up, which expands to 1261L with the back seats folded, and the RS Q3 comes with an inflation kit is in place of a spare tyre.
The RS Q3’s 228kW/420Nm 2.5-litre turbocharged and direct-injected five cylinder petrol engine has been detuned from the 250kW/450Nm it produces in TT RS trim. Why Audi wound back the outputs for RS Q3 is unclear, but a maximum boost pressure of 29psi is retained and the seven-speed dual clutch auto and quattro all-wheel drive help it to a very impressive 5.2 second claimed 0-100km/h figure and a limited top speed of 250km/h.
Despite this performance potential and a Commodore-like 1730kg kerb weight, a standard stop/start system helps the RS Q3 to sip just 8.8-litres of 95RON Premium unleaded per 100km. A theoretical cruising range of 727km is therefore possible from the 64-litre tank and the RS Q3 carries a respectable 1900kg braked tow rating.
The Q3 lurking within the RS Q3 already carries a five star safety rating, with dual front, side, and curtain airbags with a driver’s knee airbag, stability control and ABS. A $2,490 Assistance Package adds blind-spot monitoring with active lane guidance, adaptive headlights, auto high-beams, and hill descent and hill hold assist.
Around town, the RS Q3 feels more comfortable than an S3 hatch thanks to its extra SUV suspension travel, but there’s always a certain edge to the RS’ ride to remind you of its underlying potential.
The 2.5-litre’s ability to produce the full 420Nm of twist from just off idle (1500rpm) all the way to 5200rpm means it’s always ready for a squirt of acceleration, and the five-cylinder wail that comes as revs and throttle load climb is worth bottling.
With seven ratios to choose from and a responsive transmission tune, the RS Q3 fires off the line, with lightning upshifts and delightfully responsive downshifts when ‘S’ is selected on the transmission gate. If you’re persistent enough to find a hole in the transmission’s programming (we couldn’t), the RS Q3 also has paddle shifters for manual shifting.
On smooth motorways at a constant cruise, the RS Q3 is just as serene as a regular high-spec Q3, which is just dandy for long transport stages. When rapid direction changes are called for however, the RS Q3 responds with beautifully contained levels of bodyroll, creating an impression of swaybars the diameter of your wrist.
Along with the tighter and 25mm lower suspension, the RS Q3 corners with outstanding composure for an SUV, with predictable traction breakaway despite fat 255mm tyres at each corner.
Switching between Comfort and Dynamic in the Audi Drive Select menu, the steering’s assistance is wound back and the throttle becomes even more responsive. The RS Q3’s steering weighting is vastly improved from earlier electric-assisted iterations, and deals with the grip levels of the 255mm tyres remarkably well.
Making the most of the Pirelli's grip are eight-piston RS-labelled front brakes, clamping weight-saving 365mm wave-form front rotors that result in excellent stopping power that could not be faulted on test.
When approaching the RS Q3’s limits on a bumpy road, the long-travel suspension does deliver more vertical movement than ideal, but it’s a thoroughly rewarding steer up until about eight and a half tenths. The RS Q3 is an SUV, after all.
The RS Q3 is a fantastic combination of high performance, practicality, relative value and appealing Audi style. It’s not the sort of SUV you’ll find en-route to Cape York, but it’s a far more comfortable urban warrior than most exotic sports machines, and can still run four rings around many of them when the mood suits.
Audi RS Q3
Engine: 2.5L turbo five-cylinder petrol 228kW/420Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, 4WD