Audi's RS badge gives its Q3 SUV a shot in the arm. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
If you crave a small SUV with super sportscar-style performance, then Audi thinks you'll like this RS Q3, offered in both standard and stylish Sportback forms. This is the quickest you'll probably ever want to go in any kind of SUV - and there's an emotive soundtrack too. If you've outgrown hot hatches, don't need a huge amount of interior space and want something very rapid that's fashionable yet practical, then this RSUV might be just what you're looking for.
The very first Audi SUV to get the brand's full-sporting RS treatment was this one, the RS Q3. The original model was launched back in 2013 and started what is now a growing trend for high performance compact SUVs. It featured then - and features now - the brand's classic 2.5-litre five cylinder turbo petrol engine borrowed from the company's TT RS sports car. But whereas in the original RS Q3, that unit put out 340PS, it now develops 400PS.
That extra power is needed to take on cars like the Turbo and GTS versions of Porsche's Macan, BMW's X3 M40i and the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45. Plus potential buyers may also be looking at cars like the Volkswagen T-ROC R, the CUPRA Ateca and the BMW X2 M35i. To give the RS Q3 the widest possible appeal in this company, Audi is offering it with two body styles - this standard Q3 shape and the alternative sleeker RS Q3 Sportback variant.
There's no doubt about it: this RS Q3 feels ballistically quick. And is on paper too. A rest to 62mph sprint time of just 4.5s en route to as much as 174mph puts this car on a par with the far pricier Porsche Macan Turbo. And you can access quite a lot of this performance in all kinds of conditions thanks to this RS model's use of the latest version of Audi's quattro 4WD system which is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch S tronic paddleshift auto transmission. This car's 2.5-litre 400PS five cylinder powerplant has always been one of Audi's more charismatic units and has a wonderfully emotive roar as it revs up towards the 7,000rpm red line. Sadly though, the addition of a petrol particulate filter means that you lose much of the exhaust pop and crackle on downshifts that you used to get with the previous generation version of this model. Even if you pay extra for a version with the rortier switchable-flap RS exhaust system.
You get two customisable RS driving modes (and a steering wheel button to swap between them) which alter throttle response, steering feel and, if they've been fitted, the settings of the adaptive dampers. 'Dynamic' is the red mist option, but you'll find its settings too firm for everyday use. Audi claims that 85% of the engine's torque can be sent to the rear axle, which sounds like a recipe for fun. In fact though, the drivetrain is primarily a front-driven system - and feels like it when you hustle the car through the corners. This - and the fact that the precise, direct 'Progressive' steering lacks that last enth degree of feel - mean that this car is more about meteoric point-to-point progress that driver engagement.
The Q3's squat, slightly conservative styling gets a shot in the arm with this RS model.
At the front, the car's RS genes are apparent in the flat slits above this borderless Singleframe radiator grille, which has a three-dimensional gloss black honeycomb structure and is inset deeply into this RS bumper with its large side air inlets and striking boomerang-shaped blades. Depending on version, the car features either LED headlights or Matrix LED headlights with dynamic indicators and RS-specific darkened trims.
In profile, you'll notice these pronounced wheel arches, which have been flared by 10mm and shroud the huge 20-inch 10-spoke star alloy wheels that are exclusive to this variant (even larger 21-inch rims are optional). With its sloping coupe-like roof line, the RS Q3 Sportback sits lower than this RS Q3, and its rising shoulder line is set further down than in its sister car, lowering the body's optical centre of gravity.
At the rear, there are piercing LED tail lamps and you get an RS-specific bumper with a rear diffuser and horizontal blades in matt aluminium. Many buyers will want the optional dual-branch RS exhaust system, which has large oval tailpipes on both sides and chrome-coloured trims.
Drop inside and you'll spot more RS accents. The RS sport leather steering wheel, flattened at the bottom, includes bespoke shift paddles and multifunction buttons that allow the driver to control the two RS modes in the Audi drive select dynamic handling system. Through this wheel, you view the standard Audi 'virtual cockpit plus' instrument binnacle screen. This incorporates a shift light display that prompts the driver to upshift when the maximum engine speed is reached, and also special RS displays providing information on tyre pressure, torque, power output, lap times, g-forces and acceleration measurements. Elsewhere around the cabin, the centre stack, as with other Q3 variants, is trimmed in high gloss piano black and features this 10.1-inch MMI Navigation Plus central touchscreen.
In the back, as usual with a compact SUV, the rear bench is comfortable for two adults - but rather tight for the carriage of three. Still, it helps that it can slide fore and aft by up to 150mm in this Q3 (or by up to 130mm in the alternative Q3 Sportback). Plus the three-way split backrests can be tilted in seven stages.
The luggage compartment holds 530 litres with either body style. And with the 40:20:40-split backrest folded down, the figure rises to 1,525 litres (or 1,400-litres in the Sportback variant).
From the launch of this model in late 2019, pricing kicked off from around £52,500; that's for this standard shape RS Q3. Audi expects over 60% of likely buyers though, to want the alternative, sleeker RS Q3 Sportback body shape - which costs £1,150 more. With either body style, there are two further trim options; using the base model as a price starting point, you can pay around £4,500 more for mid-range 'Sport Edition' trim; or nearly £8,000 more for the top 'Vorsprung' model.
With base trim, standard equipment includes 20-inch 10 spoke star alloy wheels,, RS Sport suspension, an RS braking system with black calipers, full-LED headlamps, an RS body kit, 'Progressive' steering and an 'Audi drive select system featuring specific 'RS' driving modes. Inside, there are nappa leather-trimmed embossed front RS Sports seats with heating and powered lumbar support. Plus a flat-bottomed RS steering wheel, stainless steel pedals, a frameless rear view mirror and various dash and door elements in black alcantara. You get the Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus 12.3-inch instrument binnacle display. And a 10.1-inch MMI Navigation Plus centre-dash touchscreen with an Audi Smartphone Interface incorporating wireless 'Apple CarPlay' connectivity.
The 'Sport Edition' models add larger 21-inch 5-V-spoke polygon' alloy wheels, Matrix LED headlights, a 'Black Styling Pack', a panoramic glass roof with black roof rails and the rortier RS Sport dual-branch exhaust system. To that tally, the top 'Vorsprung' version adds RS Sports suspension plus adaptive damping, a Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, a 360-degree surround view camera set-up, a smarter '5-arm-trigon' design for the 21-inch wheels and some extra camera safety and semi-autonomous driving features. Across the range, key options include RS Sports suspension plus adaptive damping, ceramic brakes and an option which raises top speed from 155 to 174mph. On the base model, you'll want the RS Sport dual-branch exhaust system too.
You won't be expecting this car to be cheap to run: it isn't. The best you'll do is with the standard RS Q3 variant, which manages 28.8mpg on the WLTP combined cycle - or 28.5mpg in Sportback form. Both variants return 202g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. The larger 21-inch wheels of the 'Sport Edition' variant reduce that showing to 28.0mpg and 203g/km with the standard body style (or 27.7mpg and 204g/km with an RS Q3 Sportback Audi Sport Edition variant). With the top RS Q3 Vorsprung version, the WLTP fuel figure for both body styles is 27.7mpg, while the NEDC-rated CO2 reading is 203g/km for the standard body style - or 204g/km for the Sportback version.
Residual values should hold up very well. For a start it's an Audi Q3, which has performed well on the used market and most Audis with an RS badge tend to cling to their value. Insurance is expensive, so make sure you shop around as quotes vary widely. We'll finish by covering the warranty. Most cars in this class get three years of cover, but whereas rival brands BMW and Mercedes don't limit your mileage in this period, Audi rather meanly restricts you to 60,000 miles. Optional extra-cost packages can extend the cover to either four or five years.
The RS Q3 delivers charisma, attitude and excitement. Yes, you'll need to dig deep for the privilege, but given that many of its rivals can be specified to this price bracket while featuring less power, the money asked for the RS Q3 doesn't seem too excessive.
A properly sporting compact SUV is the answer to a question few really ask, but once sampled it's hard to resist. If you've £50,000 or more to spend on this kind of car, this RS Q3 would certainly need to be high on your list, if only because it can deliver Porsche Macan Turbo-style performance for around £17,000 less. It can't quite deliver Macan-style drive dynamics - but for many likely buyers, that won't matter too much. This is the fastest small Audi SUV there's ever been and for many potential customers, that'll be all they need to know.