It’s an RS, which is A Good Thing. It’s also an SUV, which isn’t
Audi’s mainstream models are arranged much like school uniforms. As they grow larger so the uniforms change, but only subtly and never enough for you to forget for a moment the establishment to which you belong. And it’s a formula that works: last year Audi posted record UK sales (up 15 per cent on 2012) and its greatest ever share of the UK market.
But just occasionally, this carefully managed system will spit out a true maverick, the one that can make even the uniform look cool, the one all the others aspire to be. The RS Q3 is one of those cars.
The what? The standard Q3 is one of Audi’s most conformist cars, the kind of relentlessly competent product that slips so easily into your life you might soon forget it’s there. Endlessly inoffensive, inexorably pleasant and more than a little dull, it’s a Boden catalogue on wheels. But Audi has now given the Q3 to its Quattro GmbH tuning division and the result is its first high-performance SUV.
This is not the contradiction in terms it once was, as anyone who has driven a Porsche Cayenne or new Range Rover Sport will attest. But down in the compact and somewhat more affordable size category, it has real novelty value on its side.
It gets all the go-faster wings, skirts and chins you’d expect with the inevitable set of dustbin-lid alloys too. Of perhaps greater interest is what lies beneath that bonnet, where you’ll now find one of Audi’s best engines. This is a 2.5-litre five-cylinder single-turbo unit with a thirst for power matched only by its talent for making the same noises as the original Audi Quattro.
We’ve seen this engine before, notably in the TT RS, but for a reason doubtless decided by a marketing man in Ingolstadt the Q3’s motor has been detuned from the TT’s 340bhp offered to just 310bhp. It might not sound like much, but if someone knocked the power of your car’s engine back by 10 per cent you’d notice it the first time you put your foot down.
Still, seen in isolation the Q3 RS is better than pleasantly fast. Thirty years ago you’d have needed something like a Lamborghini Countach to accelerate so rapidly and, even though that level of performance can seem almost normal in some cars, this isn’t one of them. Because you sit high and because your dynamic expectations of the Q3 are so modest, when it bowls you down the road it’s genuinely exciting.
Not that any of this makes the Q3 RS a driver’s car. It has undoubted novelty value but, once you’re acclimatised to its speed and sound, would I say it was actually fun to drive? Not at all. The car is too high, too heavy and too softly set up to offer more than superficial engagement of the driver.
Audi’s RS division can and does make some fine driver’s cars as anyone who’s driven an RS4 or RS5, let alone the exceptional R8, will tell you. Sadly, the RS Q3 is not one of them.
Engine: 2.5 litres, five cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 310bhp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 309lb ft @ 4250 rpm
Transmission: seven-speed paddle shift, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 32.1 mpg