Audi can claim legitimately that the Audi RS Q3 is the best car in its class without it even turning a wheel. That’s because, until the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG arrives next year, the Q3 has the small performance SUV market all to itself.
That may seem like a niche within a niche – and Audi agrees, as the £43,000 model is only expected to account for three per cent of Q3 sales – but for that select few who fancy a compact crossover with hot hatch performance, the Q3 RS has plenty of charm.
For a start, it’s powered by Audi’s warbling 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine. It’s detuned from 335bhp in the RS3 to 306bhp, and its torque also drops from 450Nm to 420Nm, but the engine still has a meaty power delivery that has the Q3 scampering down the road with plenty of gusto. The engine makes a great noise too, with a growl that makes it hard not to pretend you’re driving an ’80s Group B rally car.
The twin-clutch gearbox is great most of the time, but doesn’t respond as quickly to manual shifts when you’re driving really hard, and struggles with the engine’s power off the line.
Unlike the Audi RS7, the Q3 rides really well. Drive Select lets you tweak the way the car responds, with supple damping in Comfort mode, despite the fact that it’s lowered by 25mm on sports suspension, while there’s not too much body roll in Dynamic. Grip is impressive, and the chassis is actually quite playful on the right road – especially if you keep the car in Comfort, to allow the body to move around a little more. The beefed-up brakes are really powerful, if a little grabby, while the steering is pretty light in all but Dynamic mode.
As the Q3 is the first SUV to receive an RS makever, it feels a little weird to get up into an Audi fitted with the trademark flat-bottomed RS steering wheel. However, it doesn’t take long to realise that the potent engine and well tuned chassis make the Q3 RS good fun to drive, and you soon start to appreciate the extra visibility that the lofty driving position affords.
Despite the fact that it has no rivals yet, the RS Q3 has a very specific, niche appeal – one for those who need performance and practicality, with a bit of character thrown in from the excellent engine for good measure. That’s reflected by the fact that after three years or 60,000 miles of driving, your Q3 RS will hold 52 per cent of its value – second only to the Porsche Cayman you could have bought if you didn’t need the extra space.