Audi RS Q3
Snowy Mountains, Australia
Audi’s smallest SUV has been a smash hit in SUV-hungry Australia, outselling its only real rival by about two to one since its March 2012 launch here. Now comes the hottest version, brandishing a piping-hot turbo five-pot RS engine, a range of niceties from the Audi Sport stable and the first sub-$100K pricetag for an RS model. But does the RS Q3 remain true to Audi’s lauded RS brand and will Audi find 100 Australian buyers willing to part with $82K for a small SUV this year?
At the moment, the RS Q3 has no peer. In the absence of a BMW X1 M, it is the sole high-performance small SUV available in Australia.
Therefore its $81,900 (plus ORCs) asking price – making it more than $25,000 pricier than the most expensive Q3 hitherto, but Audi’s first sub-$100,000 RS model – seems acceptable, given the exclusivity of a model that will be limited to just 100 examples here this year.
But all that will change in September, when Mercedes-Benz releases the AMG version of this month’s all-new GLA – Stuttgart’s first direct response to the VW Tiguan-based Q3 -- priced at $79,900 plus ORCs.
Not only will the GLA 45 AMG cost $2000 less, but its 265kW/450Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine offers more power and torque than the RS Q3’s 228kW/420Nm 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine.
Incidentally, Audi’s fifth RS model shares its hi-po turbo-five with the previous RS 3 not sold here and the outgoing TT RS Plus, in which it develops a GLA AMG-matching 265kW/465kW.
So there’s no doubt the fitment of this RS-exclusive engine is the reason this car is called the RS Q3 and not simply the S Q3 – a model that now seems unnecessary in the low-volume small luxury SUV class.
Although both hyper-crossovers offer an artificially limited 250km/h top speed, the GLA 45’s extra performance and lower (1585kg) kerb weight make it almost half a second quicker to 100km/h -- 4.8 seconds versus 5.2 for the 1730kg Audi.
The Benz also uses less fuel – 7.5L/100km combined versus 8.8L/100km for the 1730kg Audi, which therefore emits 206g/km of CO2 (175g/km for the Merc).
In isolation, however, the RS Q3 is a spirited little device that sprints to 100km/h just one-tenth slower than the larger S Q5 super-diesel, making it one rapid compact SUV or, in practice, a genuine hot-hatch on stilts.
With a healthy dose of peak torque that arrives as low as 1500rpm and lingers all the way to 5200, the distinctive-sounding long-stroke transverse inline five slams out enough thrust to push all passengers firmly back in their seats, and to make highway-speed overtaking moves an effortless affair.
Revving crisply and cleanly to 7000rpm, it also sounds unlike any other engine, and with this much torque on board the paddleshift-operated seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is never in the wrong gear with, although full manual override (including holding a gear at the rev-limiter) can only be had via the console shifter.
And if anyone needs to be reminded of what’s underneath its understated exterior, the RS Q3 also comes with launch control and a raspy exhaust crackle on the overrun and during gearshifts.
Naturally, there’s lower, firmer suspension to go with the extra engine performance, and ride quality remains civilised despite the 25mm lower ride height and firmer springs.
Although it feels taller inside than it looks, thanks the narrow cabin dimension, the RS Q3 delivers outstanding body control and traction, thanks to big 19-inch alloys, a wider rear track and an all wheel drive system with Haldex multi-plate centre coupling.
Completing the RS Q3 chassis package are front brake callipers with no less than eight (8!) piston, gripped by huge 365mm wave-shaped discs that save 1kg, plus 310mm rear rotors. Despite moving the battery to the rear, weight distribution remains front-heavy at 53/47.
Although it has also come in for the RS treatment and is fast and accurate enough, the quickest Q3’s steering is perhaps its biggest let-down, as we discovered on Australia’s ‘rooftop’ during the 400km launch loop between Canberra and Cooma via Tumut and the Snowy Mountains.
As evidenced by the RS 5 Coupe, steering feel has always been a strong suite of RS models, but the RS Q3 is too light at all speeds and lacking in any real feedback, making it somewhat of a missing link in an otherwise well-sorted and satisfying chassis.
And although there’s the same reasonable 356 litres of boot space as in other Q3s (extending to 1261 litres with the split rear seat folded) and a good dose of RS-specific equipment, this is perhaps the least modified of all RS models.
Outside differentiating the RS from lesser Q3 variants is a more aggressive front bumper, xenon plus headlights with ‘matt-aluminium’ surrounds, LED daytime running lamps, an RS roof spoiler, dark red-tinted tail-lights, RS lower rear diffuser and a large, single RS exhaust outlet.
Inside the typically impeccable Audi cabin, there are unique body-hugging power-adjustable RS sports front seats trimmed in Nappa leather with contrasting stitching, along with MMI navigation plus with MMI control logic, an RS-specific instrument cluster, alloy pedals and a flat-bottomed, leather-clad RS steering wheel.
Standard equipment also extends to dual-zone automatic climate-control, Audi parking system plus with reversing camera, a subwoofer and amplifier for the sound system, piano-black inlays, LED interior lighting package and a storage and luggage compartment package.
But RS Q3 buyers must still pay extra for metallic or pearl-effect paint ($1495), heated front seats ($780), privacy glass ($910), a panoramic sunroof ($3250).
Nor is there adjustable suspension damping or an ‘individual’ setting in the three-mode Drive Select system, meaning that if you want ‘dynamic’ (ie: heavier) rather than ‘comfort’ steering you must also accept the more aggressive transmission and exhaust modes, which could become overbearing on a long trip.
Of course there’s a range of options packs too, including black high-gloss and matt aluminium styling packages (both $1300), an assistance package ($2490) and a $5250 RS package including a choice of 20-inch alloys, BOSE digital surround system, carbon-fibre interior highlights, red RS brake callipers and fine Nappa leather trim with diamond stitching.
Tick all those boxes and the RS Q3 is suddenly approaching $100K. That’s a lot of money for a little car that will soon go from hero to zero in its class, and rivals the RS 5 Cabriolet as the least convincing RS we’ve driven.
2014 Audi RS Q3 pricing and specifications:
Price: $81,900 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic
Fuel: 8.8L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 206g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP
|What we liked:||Not so much:|
|>> Performance||>> Price|
|>> Design and build quality||>> Lack of RS features|
|>> Exclusivity||>> Steering (for an RS model)|