Audi RS Q3 review
Audi Q3 RS is the first crossover from Audi to get the RS badge
Audi’s RS Q3 is pretty unique in the market as it combines the blistering performance commonly associated with a hot hatchback and the style and practicalities of an SUV crossover.
Launched in 2013, the RS Q3 attracted just under 500 sales in 12 months – but in line with the Q3, Audi gave the hot SUV a visual facelift and power upgrade in 2014.
Changes were limited to the front-end – new lights and a ‘3D-effect Singleframe grille’ – and rear-end – bumpers and taillights – while the throaty 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine was boosted from 306bhp to 335bhp. Thanks to the power upgrade and improved shift times of the seven-speed S tronic gearbox, the benchmark 0-62mph time dropped to 4.8 seconds, while combined fuel economy was also bumped up to 32.8mpg while CO2 emissions dropped to 203g/km.
With figures like that, it’s fair to say that performance is brisk. But the lofty driving position, large boot and plenty of space for four means that the RS Q3 has an extra dose of practicality compared to hot hatch rivals.
Our choice: Audi RS Q3
The Q3 is the first Audi Q model to get the racy RS treatment, and features a strange mix of sensible crossover and glitzy performance car styling cues. Riding on 20-inch wheels and sitting 25mm lower than a standard Q3, this model gets the full sporty Audi makeover, with chunky bumpers, a big air intake, matt aluminium finish mirrors and a oval exhaust pipe.
The end result won’t suit all tastes, as the trademark RS Audi design cues look somewhat at odds with the shrunken SUV shape and proportions. Still, there’s no denying that the RS Q3 attracts plenty of attention when you’re on the road.
There are lots of high-quality materials in the Q3 and the usual upmarket feel you’d expect in an Audi, so the interior is far less likely to divide opinion. Still, the sporty theme continues with RS dials, embossed sports seats, aluminium inlays and a racy flat-bottomed wheel. Plus, the information screen gets added functions like turbo boost pressure, oil temperature and a lap timer – not your usual premium crossover stuff.
Few people will be disappointed with the top-quality cabin, but as one of the older models in the Audi range, the dash and navigation screen are dated compared to newer models like the A3. Still, the extra badging and a more aggressive look ensure everyone knows you’re in a performance car.
At first it seems a little strange to climb up into an Audi fitted with the RS brand’s trademark flat-bottomed steering wheel. The Q3’s slightly bus-like tilted wheel angle and high-mounted seat feel at odds with such a racy looking cabin.
However, the lofty perch means excellent visibility and it doesn’t take long to establish that this is a rather special Q3. For a start, it’s powered by the same warbling 2.5-litre five-cylinder as the TT RS and previous-generation RS3. With 335bhp in the Q3, this engine gives 450Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm – and it matches the performance of the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG.
The low-down torque and sharp throttle response meant the Q3 felt really rapid on the road. Fortunately, despite its raised body, it has the handling composure to deal with this kind of performance.
The quattro all-wheel drive means traction is unsurprisingly good, but it’s the immense cornering grip that’s the real surprise. Elsewhere, lowered and stiffened suspension helps to provide good body control, plus the handling is surprisingly engaging and the Q3’s compact dimensions mean it’s agile when tackling corners.
The steering lacks feel, but you can adjust the weighting via the Audi Drive Select system. Despite not being available with adaptive dampers, the Q3 doesn’t ride badly, although the big wheels crash over rough surfaces and upset low-speed comfort. There’s also a fair amount of tyre roar on the motorway. This aside, it’s hard not to really enjoy the RS Q3 driving experience.
Although it’s one of Audi’s older models, the Q3 still feels well built and engineered. Plus, the five-cylinder engine and quattro drivetrain are proven in other Audis.
The standard Q3 achieved a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and has lots of safety kit. The options list includes everything from a Speed Limit Display to Active Lane Assist – a handy feature which maintains the car’s position in its lane. And on the RS, Audi has included xenons, eight-piston ventilated brakes, parking sensors and an electric parking brake as standard.
The Q3’s SUV looks are misleading, because it has the shortest wheelbase, so the interior isn’t that big. However, there’s still enough room to carry four adults in comfort.
The 356-litre boot is decent, though, and folding the rear seats expands the available space to 1,261 litres. There's an optional through-load hatch, but the seats don’t lie flat so it’s not as practical as most of the class-leading small SUVs.
Although its suspension is 25mm lower than a regular Q3, the RS still has a high enough ride height to make it very easy to get in and out of, and to load the boot.
The Q3 does have quite a large transmission tunnel, so that compromises passenger room in the middle rear seat, but four adults could easily undertake a long journey in plenty of comfort.
Audi claims 32.8mpg for the RS Q3, thanks to its stop-start system. That’s pretty impressive given the size of the engine and the performance on tap. That said, if you do explore the upper reaches of the engine’s range – and the sound it makes at full chat will encourage you to – fuel economy drops dramatically, and so will the longer-term cost of replacing brake pads, tyres and other consumables.
Superb residuals are a big plus for private buyers and, along with fixed-price servicing, help to make the RS Q3 an attractive buy. However, company car drivers face hefty tax bills – a high price tag and emissions of 203g/km mean high costs.