£46,120 Price range
The Audi RS Q3 is the German carmaker’s first SUV to get the high-performance RS treatment. It’s a niche car and doesn’t have a lot of rivals, but the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 and the Porsche Macan S are similar in price and pace. Even the slower Range Rover Evoque Si4 is a worthy alternative because it’s equally capable in corners.
The best part about the RS Q3 is that it shares the characterful five-cylinder engine with the RS3. With a broad spread of pulling power and an addictive soundtrack, the engine is more usable than the four-cylinders found in rivals. After a mid-life facelift in 2015, the gearbox shift is now quicker and the engine has an extra 29hp – bumping it up to 335hp. This brought the already fast 0-62mph time down by two tenths to a very impressive 4.8 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.
In early 2016, Audi added the option of an RS Q3 performance model. This version gets the same engine tuning as the RS3 allowing a 362hp output dropping the 0-62mph time to 4.4 seconds and raising the top speed to 167mph.
On the road it’s another pleasant surprise – the RS Q3 is firm but never as uncomfortable as RS cars used to be. Stick it in the Comfort driving mode and it’s perfectly comfortable for long journeys. The same can’t be said for the firm-riding GLA 45.
Inside, it’s typical Audi fare with little RS touches here and there. Quality is impeccable, but to replace some of the cheaper plastics with carbon-fibre inlays is a £250 option. And this is generally the theme in the interior – the more you spend on options the better it looks and feels.
For a top-of-the-range RS model, the Audi is quite poorly equipped – a Bluetooth phone connection and leather sports seats are just about the only kit that stands out, but even those you can get as standard in cheaper crossovers.
The RS Q3 is unmistakably an Audi and unmistakably an RS product on the inside. The problem is that most of what makes the interior sporty like the silver and carbon fibre touches are optional extras. As standard, you get a well-built, easy-to-use dashboard and grey dial faces for the instruments, but ultimately it needs more flair to carry the RS badge. For comparison, a Mercedes-AMG GLA does a better job of making you feel special.
The interior is also lacking the newest technology that’s being put in recent Audi models. Things such as the Virtual Cockpit from the Q7 or the turbine air vents with integrated controls from the TT aren’t even on the options list
It’s also baffling why Audi doesn’t equip the £45k RS Q3 with its latest infotainment system as standard and you’re left with the dated 6.5-inch one that has been around for years. Rivals offer more advanced alternatives as standard. Although sat-nav is standard, it’s an old version that isn’t as snappy to use as modern ones. If you want the latest one with 3D view and a hard-drive for storage you’ll have to pay £1,700 extra for the Technology Pack.
Audi RS Q3 passenger space
For a small SUV, the RS Q3 is pretty spacious. Despite having five seats, it’s much more usable as a four-seater because the middle rear seat is quite narrow and the transmission tunnel on the floor takes up lots of leg room. The sloping roofline can also be a problem for passengers taller than six feet and the narrow opening for the small rear doors doesn’t help with graceful entry and exit, either.
In the front, the driver and passenger are treated to large sport seats that hug you tightly in place but never feel as hard as those in the GLA 45. There’s plenty of manual adjustment to the seat and steering wheel so it’s easy to get a good driving position. As part of the 2015 facelift, the driver’s seat was dropped by 15mm and testers liked the improvement saying you now feel you sit in the seat instead of on top of it.
Audi RS Q3 boot space
The RS Q3 is more practical than the RS3 thanks to a bigger, 420-litre, boot – 55 more than in the hatchback. The boot lid is electrically operated and the opening wide, with a relatively low lip – this means it’s relatively easy to haul heavy loads into the back of the car. Fold the rear seats flat and you’re left with 1,365 litres of space. For comparison, the GLA 45 is more spacious with the seats up (480 litres) but less so with them folded down (1,235 litres). And while the Porsche Macan has a bigger boot altogether at 500-1,500 litres, the Evoque is the luggage king here with 575-1,400 litres to play with.
As RS models go, the RS Q3 is as you’d expect – huge straight-line speed, a little lifeless in the corners and firm all the time. It isn’t as firm as RS models of old, though, and even on the standard 20-inch wheels, ride quality is never an issue.
Stick it into either of the two driving modes – Comfort or Dynamic – and you’ll be amazed at the difference they make to the way the RS Q3 drives. It’s agile in Dynamic and settles down nicely in Comfort. No matter the driving mode, there is some body roll in fast corners, but according to reviewers it adds character to a car that’s otherwise not that exciting to throw into a series of bends. The RS Q3 is, however, very easy to drive fast, with the stability control and torque vectoring making sure you get the most grip in any conditions.
The RS Q3 is the first RS model to be offered with ‘wavy’ brake discs. This technology is widely used on motorcycles and is supposed to reduce brake fade after repeated heavy stops by helping the brakes cool down more quickly.
The 2.5-litre five cylinder turbocharged engine is an absolute gem. It first saw use in the TT RS and has been winning reviewers over ever since. Having one extra cylinder than the 2.0-litre GLA 45 means the RS Q3 has more torque and feels quicker as a result, and has a fantastic noise that harks back to Audi rally cars of the 1980s. In any gear at almost any speed the Audi has the ability to pin you into the seat instantaneously, while the Mercedes delivers its power after some delay and in one big explosion. The Audi is much smoother giving the impression of a more premium car.
The RS Q3 comes standard with a seven-speed DSG gearbox, which Audi calls S-Tronic. It was a great gearbox with smooth, yet quick shifts, but after the 2015 facelift, it’s even better. Testers were impressed, especially when comparing it to the slower and more hesitant gearbox in the GLA.
Despite the increase in power the RS Q3 got in 2015, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions were reduced. It’s still not really cheap to run with a combined official fuel economy of 32mpg (expect to see around 20mpg in the real world), but for the performance on offer it’s not so bad. Road tax, however, will set you back £290 a year – more than what you’d pay if you owned a Mercedes-AMG GLA 45.
The RS Q3, being such a niche car, will probably never be crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the regular Q3 was tested back in 2011 and it scored the full five stars. Admittedly, some time has passed since then and the scoring criteria have become more stringent, but the RS Q3 remains a very safe car with seatbelt warnings, eight airbags and stability control. The bigger brakes will also cut stopping distances, improving the odds of avoiding a collision in the first place.
Upwards of £40,000 for a small SUV with little standard equipment seems like a very bad idea, but what you pay for is a fantastic engine, RS sport suspension, a more aggressive bodykit and an RS exhaust system.
You can make your RS Q3 a real tech-fest if you opt for all the technology packs, but in doing so the price rises alarmingly and if you get carried away you can easily end up with a £60,000 Q3.
What we have here is an RS car that does what we expect it to – it offers huge performance, under-the-radar styling and a dash of luxury, and combines all this with a decent off-road ability to offer an almost unique package in the class.
In terms of rivals, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 is sharper and more engaging to drive and the Porsche Macan S is equally capable, but more expensive. Ultimately, the Audi strikes a decent balance between the two that, when combined with that fantastic engine, means it makes a strong case for its self indeed.