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Driven: Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

Driven: Audi RS Q3
Mildly facelifted, more power - is this a glorious Audi RS or not?


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Audi RS Q3

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: one of RS's most entertaining chassis, glorious five-cylinder howl, ride comfort

Not so good: abysmal on fuel, cabin aesthetic starting to date

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi RS Q3
Price: RS Q3 from 44,215; car as tested 49,830
Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol
Transmission: four-wheel drive, seven-speed S tronic automatic
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 203g/km (Band K, 640 first 12 months, 290 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 32.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Power: 340hp at 5,300- to 6,700rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1,600- to 5,300rpm

Our view:

Audi's RS heritage is somewhat patchy. There's no doubt that every vehicle that has issued forth from quattro GmbH since the RS 2 of 1994 has been imbued with both a strong sense of 'want it' and oodles of all-weather pace. But in terms of actual driving pleasure, they've been extremely hit and miss.

So while the company as a whole can knock out brilliant vehicles like the R8, or the absolutely sublime B7 RS 4 Avant - the one with the 4.2-litre, 420hp V8, launched in 2006 - there have been far too many dull steers peppering the lineage in between. The RS 6, in particular, is always hysterically fast, built like a missile silo and great to listen to, but it has never been the sort of car to delight the sort of people who rave about steering feel, chassis interactivity and supple damping. NB: see road tests of the current Audi RS 7 Sportback for universally 'meh' reviews about something that, on paper, promises to be brilliantly gobsmacking.

On the face of it, then, and against this chequered background, the oddball RS Q3 SUV surely doesn't stand a chance. Everyone knows that SUVs are not performance cars, no matter how overblown an engine you slot under the bonnet, nor what gargantuan size of wheels and tyres you shoehorn into its arches - as sure as night follows day, the laws of physics cannot be overcome. It's destined to fail, right?

Ah. Well. You see, it's not that simple. For a start, the specification bestowed on the RS Q3 is positively mouth-watering. It uses a derivation of the venerable 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged unit that continues in Audi's line-up because it pays homage to the performance Audi that started it all - the Quattro of the 1980s. Previously used in the old RS 3, TT RS and the pre-facelift version of this particular Q3, where it made 310hp, it's been uprated by 30hp and 30Nm to outright stats of 340hp and 450Nm. That slashes the 0-62mph time quite dramatically, from 5.5 seconds on the pre-facelift version to a rip-roaring 4.8 seconds on this RS Q3.

Other than that, it looks just like the RS Q3 ever has. In line with the regular Q3's moderate update earlier this year, the RS variant was ever-so-subtly tweaked in the looks department. There are some bits of silver connecting the front lights to the 'Singleframe' grille, while the rear lights no longer have the out-in-out 'boomerang' signature of the old clusters, but instead show off a C-shaped 'frame' arrangement. Neither of these render the old model immediately obsolete, yet we're not criticising the RS Q3's appearance. Despite not being our favourite design of Ingolstadt's SUV line-up in its more humdrum specifications, the RS variant is a great-looking thing - and surprisingly discreet, despite its beautiful 20-inch alloys. It has just a single, oval tailpipe mounted to the left-side of a black rear diffuser, while the side skirts, boot spoiler and front splitter are all minimalist too. Short of the massive front air intakes, this could very easily be a 2.0 TDI in S line trim, which makes it an excellent sleeper machine.

The cabin is another Audi beauty in terms of fit and finish, although aesthetically it's starting to show its age up against the company's newer models. Optioned up with a few driver assist options, 'Advanced Key' keyless entry and go, some lighting gewgaws and a handful of choice equipment bundles (Comfort Package plus 670, Technology Package 1,010 and the Bose surround sound system 690), the 44,215-basic RS Q3 quickly turned into a motor that gives just 170 change from fifty grand in our test car.

Let's try and put that into perspective. As standard, the RS Q3 is just 500 cheaper than the bigger, diesel-engined SQ5 performance SUV (with added extras, 685 more than the SQ5 we drove a couple of months back) and 4,595 more than the RS 3 Sportback, which has more power and less weight to cart about. Yet, in a few weeks, we'll bring you a Driven of an RS 3 optioned up to a faintly ludicrous 51,000 or so, while you can easily get a middling A6 allroad quattro to this sort of money. So the RS Q3 seems, simultaneously, quite expensive for a small SUV and yet reasonably cheap for a blistering performance motor.

Thankfully, the question of whether it's good value for money goes out of the window once you've driven it. Because then you know precisely what you're paying at least 44,000 for. The five-cylinder engine is more muted and paired to a less obscene exhaust than it is in its sister application in the current RS 3 Sportback, but it still makes a tremendous, warbling cry under hard acceleration. And the mapping of both the engine and the S tronic transmission is absolutely spot on - there's no turbo lag, while higher and lower ratios in the dual-clutch gearbox slot home in a seamless fashion, even when driving rapidly. Thus, in a straight-line, the pace the Q3 can summon up in the blink of an eye is absurd.

What makes the RS Q3 a real winner, though, is its handling. Being picky, we'd still ask for a degree or two more feel through the rim of the steering wheel, but other than that it's a stunning creation. Body roll is present yet it's quelled to a high degree and it also allows you to probe at the grip limits of the car, because clearly telegraphed weight transfer informs the driver just how close to the edge of adhesion the RS is. Don't, though, think it's all point-and-squirt quattro grip; get on the power mid-bend and you can feel the drivetrain shuffling torque to the rear to negate understeer. It works brilliantly at that, which only encourages you to drive it even harder. The 'wave' front brakes, also given the going over with eight-pot front callipers, could even be accused of being over-engineered for the car, given how powerful and beautifully modulated they are.

And yet, drop back from driving it like you're trying to compete in a tarmac rally and the RS Q3 becomes a typically urbane and civilised Audi, as the engine dies away to a discreet murmur, a gutsful of sound deadening limits road roar and there's a total absence of wind noise. Best of all is the ride, because while an underlying firmness speaks of the low-profile tyres on bloody big bits of metal at all corners, it's never actually uncomfortable. In fact, it's one of the most pliant S or RS Audis we've yet encountered, a pleasant corollary of its longer-travel SUV suspension.

Are there any drawbacks to the RS Q3? Yes, the principle one being its raging thirst. Admittedly, for a 1,655kg SUV that's capable of 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds of complete madness, we're not expecting 40mpg-plus. But a genuine 23.2mpg over 268 miles is shocking, especially as - because of its ability to quickly get you in deep trouble with the law - we actually spent about 80 per cent of our time with it driving quite sedately. One final 12-mile strop on local roads saw the average economy plummet from 24mpg to the final 23.2mpg, which gives you some indication of how bad on juice the RS Q3 is when you open the taps on the 2.5 five-pot.

And, for an SUV, space in the rear is cramped, while the boot isn't the greatest in the world. Both issues, of course, that affect any Q3, not just the ultra-hot one, but presumably the reason you opt for this over the RS 3 is because you've got more people/cargo to cart about than can comfortably fit into a C-segment hatchback.

Or maybe not. Maybe you buy this because, since that absolutely gorgeous B7 RS 4 bit the bullet in 2008, the RS Q3 proves to be the finest RS Audi to yet issue forth from quattro GmbH this side of an R8. It really is quite sensationally good as a performance car, in spite of its SUV body style. Which leaves us even more infuriated that so many RS 4, RS 6 and TT RS cars have come and gone, leaving us feeling indifferent to their charms. Audi ought to find the chassis engineers responsible for the RS Q3 and put them to work on every single model Ingolstadt makes; ignore any anti-SUV prejudice you might have and you'll fall head over heels in love with this bombastic Audi.


Audi RS 3 Sportback: have we lost our marbles? Not really. These two are (roughly) comparable on price and yet the RS 3 is the more powerful, lighter machine. Despite that, it's perhaps not as entertaining to drive as the RS Q3...

Mercedes-AMG GLA 45: rabid four-pot engine and looks largely identical to the A-Class's, but it can match the revised RS Q3 for performance. Doesn't yet have the 381hp motor recently installed in the A 45.

Porsche Macan S: this is more of a Q5 rival than a Q3 competitor, but another sublime Porsche chassis makes this 340hp machine worth consideration here - especially at 45,945.

Matt Robinson - 4 Jan 2016    - Audi road tests
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- Q3 images

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.

2015 Audi RS Q3. Image by Audi.


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