The rain is torrential and the wind is howling as we blast along towards Bright in country Victoria, but you wouldn’t know it cocooned in the new Audi RS Q3 Performance model.
In fact, wet weather traction borders on the supernatural, with Audi’s pint-size high-rider and I don’t just mean in a straight line. Pulling out of a lonely T-junction under full throttle produces no loss of grip whatsoever. Nothing. Zilch.
Come to think of it, we couldn’t feel the traction control engaging either, though I’m sure it did, but it’s absolutely imperceptible even in these atrocious conditions. It’s as though the RS Q3 Performance is saying, “yes, I know it’s raining and the road is slippery, but don’t even think about it, just go, and I’ll do the rest” – that’s how easy it is to drive this thing.
It’s not like you could ever accuse Audi of not providing enough go for the outgoing RS Q3, or owners ever had a collective whinge about the performance of their already ballistic SUV – what, with 228kW and 420Nm and a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.2 seconds – but just like rest of Audi’s ultra-quick RS cars, it’s been replaced with a new ‘Performance’ model that knocks the old one out of the park, with a devastating set of numbers.
Armed with retuned version of the same tasty 2.5-litre, five-cylinder inline petrol engine, the latest version gets a significant power hike to 270kW and 465Nm of twist from as little as 1625 rpm – and keeps pulling all the way to 5500 rpm. It also knocks eight-tenths off its sprint time, and is capable of covering the 0-100km/h in a scorching 4.4 seconds. Top speed is electronically governed at 270km/h.
Consider this. Porsche’s small SUV contender, the top-spec Macan Turbo packs a 3.6-litre twin-turbo petrol engine that generates 294kW and 550Nm of torque. It also needs 4.8 seconds to go from 0-100km/h – matching the RS Q3’s direct rival, the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, but both still well off the Audi’s pace.
Mind, this is no ordinary powertrain. It’s hand-built by a small team of engineers at an Audi site in Gyor, Hungary. It’s also been named International Engine of the Year for six consecutive years since 2010.
Audi tells us that it’s efficient, too, using just 8.8L to cover 100 kilometres, although unchanged from the previous RS Q3, despite the power hike. That’s all down to efficiency technologies like the demand-regulated oil pump, and a standard start/stop system.
By any measure, this is one colossally quick little SUV, but with a big price tag to match its significant boost in performance. While the old RS Q3 kicked off from $81,510 plus on-roads, the new Performance version (and the only version you can buy) will set you back $84,212.
Actually, it isn’t really all that much to ask, especially when you factor in the high level of kit on board, in addition to its newfound performance.
There’s a long list of standard equipment, as you might expect for this kind of money, but highlights include 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights with dynamic indicators (these do look cool) and RS Sport front seats upholstered in Nappa leather with contrasting stitching.
There’s also MMI Navigation Plus, Audi Parking System Plus with rear-view camera, carbon-fibre inlays, blind spot assist and power tailgate, much of which is new to RS Q3.
As we’ve come to expect from luxury manufacturers these days, there are also plenty of tempting packages available, but none more worthy than the RS Performance Package fitted to our launch tester – if only for the sport suspension with adaptive dampers and selective ride modes.
The RS Q3 personifies the definition of niche. Audi is on target to sell more than 3000 Q3s this year, but only expects to move around 100 RS Q3s. Exclusivity is guaranteed for what remains Audi’s only RS model SUV amongst its extensive range of vehicles.
It might be Audi’s smallest high rider and sports an outdated design, but the fit, finish and materials are still first-class. The sports seats with diamond stitching are truly luxurious, while at the same time offer extensive bolster on the seat and seatback. The authentic carbon-fibre inlays with interwoven blue thread are stunning, as is the trademark flat-bottom leather steering wheel with beautifully fashioned metal paddleshifters.
Space and practicality isn't one of the RS Q3’s strongpoints, though, it’s not far shy of its A3 Sportback sibling in terms of boot space. Behind the 60/40 split-fold rear seats there’s 356 litres, but folding them near flat, liberates up to 1261 litres along with a usefully-wide aperture for loading.
While there’s plenty of space up front, rear seat comfort is compromised, particularly legroom – of which there isn’t much. This is a kid-friendly zone, exclusively.
Outside, there are some cosmetic changes, but Audi’s RS Q3 is still a sleeper. Unlike the SQ5, which boasts quad exhaust tips, the RS Q3 settles for a single pipe – not particularly fat either.
Besides the subtle badging, the single most telling pointer to the RS Q3’s ballistic performance are the brakes – by that I mean the massive eight piston calipers up front – in bright red, of course.
This is an SUV for enthusiasts, perhaps those wishing to downsize, but without losing that big-engine performance. In that regard, it’s brilliant.
That said, it’s quite happy to dawdle around town tackling school drop-offs and mall visits, but open the taps and the RS Q3 morphs into a ferocious hatch, guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
The standard dual-clutch box is a treat, quick shifting up and down the ratios in perfect harmony with the engine. It feels refined, robust and Porsche-like – no surprise there.
Pop it into Dynamic, and the exhaust note deepens, while there’s plenty of crackle and pop on the overrun to keep you entertained. Throttle response and shift times instantly spike, too, urging you to push on with more intent – rain, hail or shine.
It’s nice and tight, too. Body control is superb as we sweep through an endless string of esses up in these parts. You’ve seriously got to marvel at the seemingly limitless traction available via Audi’s Haldex-driven-quattro four-wheel drive system in these otherwise slippery conditions.
Tip in more throttle, and the results are exactly the same, still with the same extraordinary level of grip, without so much as a millimetre of slip angle. You can really drive this thing hard out of a corner with all the confidence in the world, and I dare say, relish it.
Comfort is guaranteed in the RS Q3, at least with the adaptive dampers. Large bumps and even fallen branches failed to upset the Audi, rather the chassis just soaked them up.
Switch to Dynamic mode though, and you’ll immediately notice the firmer ride and less roll through the corners. It’s quite a transformation and frankly, exactly what you want of the system.
I can’t say there’s a lot of feedback through the steering wheel – that hasn’t been an Audi strong point of late, until the latest-generation A4 emerged earlier this year with a vastly improved power system, albeit electric.
That said, it’s quick and accurate, so it’s easy to position the RS Q3 on the road for that perfect apex kiss, when you let it off its leash – and conditions permit.
It’s small, expensive and doesn’t get Audi’s whiz bang new interior, but somehow it still makes perfect sense to the enthusiast/family man in me. It’s also a hoot to drive – in the wet.