Can putting a 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine from the Audi RS3 and TT RS transform the Q3 into a hot hatch shattering crossover? We got behind the wheel of the Audi RS Q3 to find out just whether the crossover/SUV can tackle the humble hot hatch.
No matter how much you moan, performance crossovers and SUVs are very much a thing. When once the humble hot hatch was every working man and woman’s dream, it seems that every manufacturer under the sun is racing to bring out the latest performance-orientated SUV. When I say every manufacturer, I really do mean it, even Ferrari is bringing out a fast SUV next year…
What is this Audi RS Q3 all about then?
Under the bonnet is the 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbocharged engine that powers both the Audi RS3 and the Audi TT RS. In this trim, it produces a healthy, round 400hp, with 354ft lb of torque. This is mated to Audi’s famous Quattro system and 7-speed S tronic, dual clutch gearbox. Official figures are 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 155mph, not bad for something that weighs over 1700kg then!
In many ways, the Audi RS Q3 is very similar to the Cupra Ateca Abt SUV that we drove recently. They’re both four-wheel drive, both autos and both SUVS. But, the Cupra is lighter than the RS Q3 and in Abt form it’s just 50bhp short of it at 350bhp. The Cupra also feels just as sharp, if not sharper. So what are you getting for the extra £5k over the Abt Cupra Ateca?
I asked myself this question over and over again, because dynamically, the Cupra Ateca Abt is ahead of the RS Q3. But, it’s when you spend some time inside the Audi that you start to piece together where that money has gone. In truth, the Audi feels a nicer place to sit, a more luxurious tone exudes the cabin, with soft-touch plastics out of the way and replaced with materials such as leather and Alcantara. The digital cockpit is a brilliant piece of equipment from Audi, helping to simplify the controls but also putting the screen directly in front of you. From the instrument cluster you can flick between your music, see the satnav map, read various other bits of car-specific information and of course make calls etc. But the biggest draw towards the Audi RS Q3 is that engine, which not only sounds terrific, but goes like the clappers!
Audi RS Q3 – the drive
Pin the throttle and you’re thrown back into your seat, when you’re on boost. Surprisingly, under around the 3krpm mark you get a very laggy response. It takes time for that boost to wind up and propel you down the road, almost akin to a 90s Japanese car, which is odd for an engine that’s been reworked and retuned to meet the latest EU emissions laws. Those that have driven pre and post facelift RS3s have also reported that the latter car lacks the urgency the previous car had, and although never having driven the pre-WLTP car, I can believe it. Previously, you watched RS cars jump off the lights like a greyhound, but this one takes a moment or two to get into its stride.
Once you’re into its stride, though, its fast. The S-tronic gearbox is ultra-responsive in its shifts, making fast b-road blasts an absolute doddle. Don’t be fooled by the increased kerbweight and high centre of gravity, this is an impressively agile machine that can negotiate a quick road at a strong rate of knots. The benefit to having that higher ride height is the ground clearance, meaning on a b-road you never have to worry about undulations or potholes, the RS Q3 eats it up in its stride.
That Quattro system does induce understeer if you push it too much, but on the whole you’re given very high levels of grip that even the most novice of drivers can hustle over a back road at good pace. It’s a very easy car to drive quickly, enabling you to pin the throttle mid corner and allowing the computers to take over and work their magic. It does remove that sense of driving away from it, however, but that is to be expected in a car of this size.
The steering felt a little lazy in its lowest setting, but does wake up in sports mode, as does the exhaust. This car was fitted with the optional RS sports exhaust system, which wakes it up a touch and adds in that drama and character that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Plus it means you actually get to hear that signature 5-pot noise. You also get black oval tips at the rear which helps set off the looks of the car. Speaking of which, it’s not a bad looking car, particularly for an SUV. It’s certainly on the more stylish side of most SUVs, which was only highlighted on long journeys where people were even offering a thumbs up… or was it a middle finger? One of the two anyway!
The brakes here were carbon ceramics, which worked well with such mass to deal with. Over the course of a good hour hooning, the brakes felt as strong as they were from the get-go. They do take a touch to warm up, and can give a slightly unnerving pedal bite initially, but once the car is warmed up, pedal feel becomes more natural and confidence inspiring.
Price wise, the RS Q3 isn’t cheap. This particular car with its optional exhaust, carbon ceramic brakes and various styling options came in at £66,055 on the road, which includes first registration fee, delivery charge and a road fund licence. If you want to PCP one, you’ll be looking at over £600 per month, too. That being said, you’re getting a car with bucket loads of performance, good practicality, and one that arguably has the snazziest interior on the market.
The Audi RS Q3 is a hugely capable car, with its strongest pulls being that gorgeous five-cylinder turbocharged engine that will have you seeking out the redline thinking you are Walter Rohrl or Stig Blomqvist. Out of all of the performance SUVs, the RS Q3 is almost the only one that you can forgive for being performance orientated. In real terms, that Audi RS Q3 isn’t much bigger than the RS3 and delivers similar performance to it, but with a smidge more space inside.
It also features that brilliant Digital Cockpit, which has elevated Audi’s interior design to a new level and one that conquers across the market. But, that all comes at a price, and if you want one as good looking as this one, you’ll need to hover around the £60k mark, which gets you into all manner of cars.
Would I take one over a hot hatch? No. I still think the humble hot hatch offers more performance, but crucially, more thrills than that of a performance SUV. Would I be happy if this was my only car? Absolutely. It can certainly offer the performance, but also, has a switchable comfort side that a hot hatch could only dream of.