Audi's first RS-badged SUV has arrived - but is it worthy to wear the brand's performance badge?
The Audi RS Q3 marks the end of the RS badge being reserved for the squattest, brawniest and most expensive models in the German brand’s range.
The RS Q3 is Audi’s first SUV to wear the RS badge, and the first RS model to come in under $100,000 in Australia.
The RS Q3 sits atop the company’s popular small SUV range, priced from $81,900 – a full $25,400 over the next dearest Q3 model.
At this point in time the RS Q3 is on its own in this niche slither of the market – its only real rival is the Mini Countryman JCW, which is considerably less expensive ($56,800). However, fellow German brand Mercedes-Benz is bringing a new hot SUV here soon, the GLA45 AMG, which is more powerful, cheaper ($79,900) and faster; and Porsche’s new Macan - due here mid 2014 - will offer buyers a bigger car with a similar price and performance.
The RS Q3, then, looks to be in for a bit of battle in the coming months.
In order to make it live up to its renowned RS lineage, Audi has fitted the Q3 with its tried and tested 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine producing 228kW of power between 5200-6700rpm, and 420Nm of torque at 1500-5200rpm. It’s the same engine seen in the TT RS, but detuned from 250kW and 450Nm, and down considerably on the TT RS Plus version's 265kW/465Nm.
Audi boasts a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.2 seconds for the RS Q3, with the five-pot engine sending the power to the ground via all four wheels and a standard seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The engine is a smooth revving thing, and pulls at its best between 2500rpm and 5000rpm. It is slightly laggy below 2000rpm, and the gearbox can be hesitant from a standing start. On the move, though, the shifts are quick and intuitive, and it won’t overrule the driver in manual mode if the engine is singing a redline tune.
The hefty 1730kg SUV feels quick, but not devastatingly fast. As a result, some may be left wanting for more - perhaps those 265kW/465Nm measures of the TT RS Plus. Then again, having a driving licence is quite important to most of us...
The RS Q3 has a single exhaust system which the company describes as offering a “sonorous” soundtrack thanks to its sports exhaust system with active sound flap. It has a nice 'woofle' between shifts under hard throttle, but may leave some RS noise aficionados unconvinced.
There are three modes to choose from using the Drive Select system, which is operated by a button on the centre stack rather than the brand’s impressive MMI system (which isn’t fitted to any Q3 models). Selections are shown on the car’s instrument cluster display, rather than on the pop-up media system.
There’s a noticeable difference to the car’s throttle response and gearbox urgency in Dynamic mode, particularly when the transmission is in Sport – we noted a few harsh downshifts, but under throttle it responded well. The other two modes – Comfort and Auto – are better suited to cruising, though the fact the Comfort mode does nothing to affect how comfortable the car is means it will probably never be used.
The suspension is lowered 25 millimetres compared to the regular Q3 range, and that – in combination with a set of 19- or 20-inch rims – makes for a firm ride, which can be jiggly over smaller inconsistencies, but deals well with the larger lumps and bumps. Unlike all other RS variants, adjustable dampers aren’t available.
That firm suspension combined with the brand’s clever all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 100 per cent of available torque to the rear wheels makes for a nimble chassis that offers plenty of grip and cornering poise, with commendably good balance through sharper bends.
The steering is pointy and direct, and offers nice weight to it. However, we noticed some kickback through the wheel over mid-corner bumps on a number of occasions.
Inside, the RS Q3 is not perhaps as special as its price suggests it should be. Admittedly it has nice leather trim, a neat dash with integrated colour media system
Being an SUV the driving position is quite high, and while there is electronic adjustment on the seat, we felt ourselves wanting to sit lower.
Rear seat space is of an acceptable level for a car of this size, though the optional panoramic sunroof eats into headroom, and will make taller passengers feel cramped in the front and the rear. There are rear air vents to keep things comfortable, too.
As with the regular Q3 range, in-cabin storage is adequate, with decent door pockets, as reasonable glove-box and large bottle holders. The boot capacity is 356 litres with the rear seats in place and 1261L with the backs folded flat – both reasonable figures for a small high-rider, but the “coupe-like” roofline means stowing oddly shaped items could be difficult.
Overall, the RS Q3 will represent a viable option for buyers who want a compact SUV with some sting in its tail. But it left us wondering whether it truly deserves to wear the RS badge – not to mention that ambitious price tag.
As such, potential shoppers who aren't set on the four rings brand may wish to wait and see how the similarly sized GLA45 AMG stacks up, or perhaps even consider the larger - but not too much dearer - Porsche Macan S.