The Audi Q3 is the first in the company's SUV lineup to get the go-faster RS treatment. Can a tall, school-run crossover really make for an entertaining driver?s car? Motors.co.uk spent the day with one to find out.
The Q3 is the smallest in Audi's Q range of high-riding 4×4 vehicles. It?s normally found with an efficient diesel engine under the bonnet, but for this range-topping edition, it has been endowed with the spectacular 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol motor from the outgoing RS3 hot hatchback. Developing 306bhp, it comfortably makes the RSQ3 the most powerful car in its class – and the fastest, too, with a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.2 seconds easily eclipsing the fastest versions of the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque. It is available solely with Audi's seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch automatic gearbox, which allows for effortless mooching in traffic, or hair-trigger manual gear changes when you're in the mood to play.
A complete giggle, if we're honest. Most cars of this ilk provide little in the way of driver entertainment, majoring instead on effortless ease of use. The RSQ3 plays that card very well, too, but thanks to a drop in ride height of 25mm, Audi?s quattro four-wheel-drive system and that fiery engine, it is transformed from mere transport to something to get excited about. In sheer performance terms, it has the grunt to worry drivers of more overtly sporting saloon cars, and the power is delivered with a soundtrack so raucous, you can?t help but feel a bit naughty every time you put your foot down. The RSQ3's tall stance does hamper it somewhat in corners, however, with the consummate grip experienced in other quattro models affected by the car?s nose heavy feel. The steering, too, is slow-witted and devoid of feedback, knocking a driver's confidence to drive with gusto. One thing we weren't expecting was how well the RSQ3 rides. Despite wearing huge 20-inch wheels, occupants remain unflustered by all but the worst crags in the tarmac, even in the car?s firmer 'Dynamic' setting.
The cabin design has changed little from the standard Q3, so a logical layout, high quality materials and solid construction are the order of the day. As premium as it all feels, there is little in the way of visual interest, and the monotone colour scheme gives a slightly drab and claustrophobic air. The ambience if lifted somewhat by RSQ3 specific flourishes, such as the flat-bottomed steering wheel, heated sports seats with exposed stitching and carbon-fibre trim detailing on the doors and centre console. It's also been fitted with a greater amount of kit as standard, including Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and a ten-speaker sound system.
The appeal of compact SUVs is the greater practicality their taller cabins and larger boots offer over the regular hatchbacks on which they are based. The RSQ3 is no different, but boot space has dropped from the 420 litres of the standard model to 356 litres – a figure which also compares unfavourably to both the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque. However, the load space is usefully square and deep, with no lip to contend with when loading bulky items. Passenger space is roughly on a par with that of the A3 hatchback, though occupants will enjoy greater headroom thanks to that high roofline. Taller drivers may find it difficult to achieve an ideal driving position; a high-set seat and steering wheel which could do with a touch more adjustability leaving pilots feeling as though they are sitting on the car, rather than in it. That said, the elevated position does give a commanding view of the road ahead – a boon when negotiating narrow streets and cramped car parks.
If you?re at the stage of your life where you need a practical family car but are ruing having to get rid of your exciting hot hatch, then the RSQ3 could well be the answer, as it plays both roles with aplomb. Otherwise, it will remain an entertaining curiosity rather than a must have driver?s tool, as it's simply not sharp enough to compete with the current crop of fast hatchbacks and is not as practical as key rivals.
If you can live without eye-swiveling power and just want a distinctive upmarket compact SUV, you can search for a used Audi Q3 in our classifieds here.
List price: £43,000
Engine: 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, petrol, turbocharged
Power: 306bhp, 420Nm
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
0-60mph: 5.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 15.4mpg (urban), 29.1mpg (extra-urban) 32.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 206g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars
October 31, 2013