Car reviews - Audi - Q3 - RS Q3
Five-cylinder crackle, big stopping power, quattro grip, snappy dual-clutch manual gear changes, sporty steering
Room for improvement
Lack of cutting edge safety devices, some body roll, questionable RS tag
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17 Nov 2014
UNTIL now, small SUVs have been great for shopping, lugging kids, and trips to the beach.
All of a sudden, this popular class of all-purpose vehicle has been extended into high-performance territory, with the German manufacturers deciding that blistering pace is needed in small boxy vehicles.
Audi has struck the first blow with its RS Q3, propelled by a 228kW turbo-charged five-cylinder engine transplanted from the company’s RS TT Coupe.
That will be joined in July by an AMG-enhanced version of Mercedes-Benz’s all-new GLA compact SUV, with even more power and performance.
BMW is unlikely to let its rivals hog the market, so a hot-shot X1 with an M in its title is likely to be along at some point, perhaps in the next generation.
Audi says the RS Q3 is its first RS model under $100,000 and first in its SUV range. The question we would ask is this: would it better be described as an SQ3 – the lower rung of Audi’s high-performance ladder – than a full-blown RS that has connotations of scenery-warping performance?The RS Q3’s acceleration from zero to 100km/h is hardly pedestrian, at 5.2 seconds, but neither is it in the same league as other RS models that in most cases dip below 4.0 seconds.
The Q3 is several hundred kilograms heavier than the 1260kg TT RS, blunting the performance of the otherwise exhilarating five-cylinder engine.
And despite riding 25mm closer to Mother Earth than standard Q3s, the tall-boy SUV design does not lend itself to limpet-like handling.
Having said that, Audi believes there are at least 100 buyers out there eager to lay down more than $80,000 for an RS Q3, and we have no reason to doubt them.
Our drive through the Snowy Mountains foothills was enough to prove the new Q3 flagship is an enjoyable, swift and competent sports machine.
We would have liked to have heard more of the five-cylinder engine’s sonorous note, especially the delicious crackle when changing down gears on the dual-clutch S Tronic transmission, but the sensory experience was still a highlight.
In most respects, the RS Q3 can be considered more of a hot hatch than an SUV, with low-profile sports tyres on fat 19-inch alloy wheels and stiff suspension that, along with the reduced ground clearance, rule out all but the gentlest off-road excursions.
Some body roll is noticeable, although we wouldn’t the suspension to be any firmer than the RS set up that is unique to this model.
The RS Q3 does come equipped with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system which of course is tuned for sports traction rather than a muddy slog.
Hammering through corners is the quattro specialty, spreading the drive through four patches of rubber on the road for maximum grip.
Although the RS Q3’s quattro torque-split bias is to the front wheels, when push comes to shove, a central clutch channels the grunt where it is best served for superbly neutral drive.
The Q3’s electric-assisted steering has been given a sportier feel to befit the car’s sporty nature, and this can be stepped up another notch by dialing in the ‘dynamic’ driving mode in the three-mode system that comes standard on this model.
That system also tweaks functions such as gear changes, but does not extend to the suspension that is one-size fits all.
Steering wheel paddles permit snappy manual gear changes should the driver select manual mode, although this seven-speed dual-clutch transmission still has its quirks, such as taking time to switch from reverse to drive.
The RS Q3’s exterior design tweaks are on the subtle side of the scale, with bigger front air openings in the bumper, a rear diffuser and a roof-mounted spoiler. Unusually, just one exhaust pipe protrudes from the rear, albeit a large one.
One of the most impressive assets of the RS Q3 are the brakes, which we got to test in no uncertain terms when we came across cattle on the road. We had all eight pots on the big, red-painted front disc brake callipers working overtime to haul in the 1600kg-plus vehicle, which we are happy to report they did.
Those disc brakes have an interesting wave-pattern scalloping cut into their perimeter, apparently to save weight. If nothing else, it provides a point of discussion.
Inside, the RS Q3 is unrelenting black relieved by a few bits of chrome trim.
Black leather Nappa seats, black headlining and black piano dash inserts are standard. Silver headlining is optional, as are aluminium or carbon trim inserts.
Unusually for Audi, the door grab handles are finished in cheap, hard plastic of the type that used to grace Korean cars.
The controls for the dash-mounted MMI screen sit high on the console, and a little more finicky than those in more salubrious Audis, which have these controls close to hand near the transmission shift.
Standard features include sat-nav, reversing camera and Bluetooth with audio streaming, and Bose sound system, but a lot of modern safety systems such as autonomous braking, lane departure warning and blind-spot warning are disappointingly absent on this $80k-plus vehicle.
In summary, the RS Q3 is a hoot to drive, but we question whether it should be included in the much-vaunted pantheon of RS models from Ingolstadt.
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