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Driven: Audi lands first blow in small-SUV power battle

In the Q: The RS Q3 is Audi's first RS-rated 'Q' model, and first RS under $100,000.

Feisty Audi RS Q3 gets set to take on Benz brute as baby SUVs turn up the heat

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Audi logo20 Feb 2014

AUDI Australia this week launched its candidate in the impending compact SUV power struggle when it landed the RS Q3 alongside a new entry-level front-wheel drive 1.4-litre Q3.

The little RS Q3 will go into bat against Mercedes-Benz's potent new GLA45 AMG 4MATIC, which is due to appear at the head of the all-new GLA compact SUV range from launch in July.

On paper, the Benz appears to have the Audi covered, with 37kW more power, 30Nm more torque and price sharper by almost $2000 – $79,990 to $81,900.

But the Q3 is the reigning sales champ in its class in Australia, outselling BMW's X1 for the past two years. The Q3 is the smallest of Audi's 'Q' range, at least until the arrival next year of the A1-based Q1.

The arrival of the RS Q3 flagship is a first in more ways than one for Audi, giving the German importer its first RS model under $100,000 and its first RS-rated SUV.

Priced at $81,900 plus on-road costs, the RS Q3 undercuts the previous most affordable RS model, the $139,900 RS TT sports coupe, by a whopping $58,000.

The RS Q3 is $25,400 pricier than the current most expensive Q3, the $56,500 2.0 TFSI.

The high-performance version shares the RS TT's award-winning 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-charged engine, along with its seven-speed-dual clutch automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive.

Producing 228kW of power and 420Nm of torque, this engine propels the 1655kg RS Q3 from zero to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h.

However, this is shy of the claimed 4.8 seconds of the four-cylinder turbo-charged Benz GLA45 AMG, which packs 265kW and 450Nm in an engine shared with the A45 AMG.

But Audi Australia managing director Andrew Doyle said the RS badge will carry plenty of weight with buyers, many of whom will be able to afford an RS model for the first time.

“Our price point of $81,900 is really going to motivate buyers to look at the legendary RS Audi sports car they have always wanted,” he said.

While Audi foreshadowed its $81k price tag for the RS Q3 back in October last year, Mercedes-Benz has only now revealed its GLA pricing, taking some of the sting out of its rival's launch hooplah.

Lowered by 25mm over the standard Q3, the the RS version sits on a specially tuned sports suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels. The front suspension is MacPherson strut while the rear sits on a four-link independent set-up.

The mild RS body treatment includes front and rear bumpers, a rear diffuser and a high-mounted spoiler on the rear hatch. A single big-bore exhaust tip protrudes from the bumper.

Larger 365mm front discs are gripped by red-painted callipers with no fewer than eight pots, while the outer disc is scalloped around the rim to save half a kilogram.

The electro-mechanical steering is tuned for sports driving, and along with the transmission and throttle can be switched between three driving modes – comfort, auto and dynamic – with dynamic being the sportiest setting.

Unlike some other RS models such as the newly launch RS7 and RS6 Avant, the quattro system of the RS Q3 directs a higher percentage of drive force to the front wheels in normal driving, but can re-direct more of the power to the rear wheels via a central clutch should the front wheels lose traction.

To save weight, the bonnet and rear hatch are made from aluminium. Audi claims a combined fuel consumption of 8.8 litres per 100km.

Gear changes for seven-speed S Tronic transmission can be made by paddles mounted behind the flat-bottomed, leather-clad sports steering wheel.

RS sports seats are embossed with the RS logo and and cloaked in Nappa leather inserts. The front seats can be shifted electrically.

The boot provides 356 litres of luggage space, or 1261 litres with the split-fold rear seats folded. A handy reversible cargo floor is standard.

Standard equipment includes Xenon-plus headlights, Audi's familiar MMI control interface with sat-nav, a seven-inch screen and 20GB of hard drive space.

Parking sensors with reversing camera, Bluetooth with audio streaming and dual-zone climate control are standard.

The RS Q3 can be dressed up with four extra-cost packages that add items such as 20-inch alloy wheels, quilted leather seats, BOSE sound system, digital radio and adaptive headlights.

Audi expects to sell about 100 RS Q3s this year. Last year, Audi sold 2897 regular Q3s.

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