Just as rivals BMW and Mercedes are liberally applying the hallowed M and AMG badges to their SUVs, Audi is doing likewise with its RS sub-brand.
Sitting imperiously at the top of the tree is the 600bhp RS Q8, while at the other end of the range are the RS Q3 crossover and its sleeker twin, the RS Q3 Sportback.
The RS Q3, tested here, lacks the Sportback’s lower roofline and fastback shape, but it has a blockish, angular style of its own. At the front there are matrix LED headlamps, a gloss-black 3D honeycomb grille and an aggressive RS-specific front bumper.
Moving rearwards you will find 10mm wheelarch extensions and huge wheels (optional 21-inchers on our test car, although 20-inch rims are standard), and at the back there is a pronounced tailgate spoiler, rear diffuser and a pair of cannon-sized oval exhaust outlets.
It rides 10mm lower than the non-RS car, while the front and rear tracks are 6mm and 7mm wider respectively. Anyone who mistakes this car for the regular Q3 probably needs a white cane to get around.
While the RS Q3 certainly isn’t shy about announcing its RS status, it avoids the dreaded trying-too-hard trap; all this addenda gels surprisingly well with the regular Q3’s chiselled lines, making it look tensed, squat and brooding – especially in our test car’s Daytona Grey.
AUDI RS Q3: INTERIOR
Inside, red alcantara trim across the dash and on the door panels enlivens the cabin, as does subtler red stitching on the Nappa leather seats and gear gaiter. The (thankfully) thin-rimmed steering wheel is tastefully clad in alcantara too.
You sit high with the usual commanding view much loved by SUV drivers, and thanks to the upright seating positions there is a remarkable amount of rear legroom for what is a relatively short car.
For the driver there is Audi’s “virtual cockpit” configurable TFT dashboard display to complement the large central MMI touchscreen.
This being an RS, nerdy details like torque, power output, lap times, g-forces and acceleration can be called up on the virtual cockpit display. There’s even an upshift light too.
PULLING NO PUNCHES
Good thing the RS Q3 has the go to back up its attitude. It proudly continues a long line of Audi performance cars powered by 5-cylinder turbocharged engines (ur Quattro, 200 Turbo, TT RS, RS3, as well as its own RS Q3 predecessor).
In its latest guise, this engine, thumps out 400bhp and 480Nm of torque from its 2.5-litre capacity – enough to whisk this stubby little brick to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds.
Five-pot engines are loved for their unique voices. The RS Q3’s certainly sounds good, albeit with the help of cabin speaker augmentation. Audi’s sound engineers must be closet Colin McRae fans though, because curiously, the soundtrack is more Subaru boxer-4 throb than inline-5 warble.
There is good urge from low down, but also, surprisingly, an old-school turbo kick at 4000rpm. Thereafter the engine pulls to its 7000rpm redline with effortless urgency.
Power is delivered to all four wheels via a 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox. Interestingly, Audi has tuned this gearbox to mimic the “slip” and slurred gearchanges of a normal torque-converter autobox at step-off and in low-speed manoeuvring, so it doesn’t have the slightly truculent low-speed feel of some dual-clutchers.
As speeds and revs rise however, the changes adopt typical dual-clutch immediacy. It’s the best of both worlds.
TRACTION AND TRACTABILITY
The Quattro drivetrain is invaluable in translating the five-pot’s efforts into forward motion – the fat tyres (255-section Continental Sport Contact 6s) just digging into the tarmac and chucking the car forward without a hint of wheelspin.
It gives reassuring directional stability in wet conditions too, as I discovered when the heavens opened while I was doing some, er, spirited exploration of Singapore’s more remote driving roads. The stubby car charged through the flooded lanes as though they were bone dry.
Left to its own devices with the drive mode in Auto, the chassis is fairly supple. Despite the huge wheels, there is good compliance and, as with the better-sorted SUVs, the sense that bumps and ruts are being dismissed imperiously and distantly.
There is none of the fore-aft or diagonal pitching that some other high-riding cars succumb to. Body roll is kept in check at sane speeds, although in enthusiastically-taken tight bends you can sense impending understeer.
Scroll over to Dynamic mode, and the exhaust gains a harder edge, as does the suspension. The ride is now on the jiggly side, but the upshot is an even tighter check on body roll, sharper turn-in and a confidence-building, all-square cornering stance. Oh, and the steering weights up too, for good measure.
A crossover, no matter how honed, will never be the enthusiast’s first choice.
But if you have reason to choose such a car – be it for ease of access, elevated driving position or cabin space – the RS Q3 is the enthusiast’s small SUV of choice.
Audi RS Q3 2.5 (A)
ENGINE 2480cc, 20-valves, inline-5, turbocharged
MAX POWER 400hp at 5850-7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 480Nm at 1950-5850rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 233.2hp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 4.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h
CONSUMPTION 11.1km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE $318,500 (after $20k VES surcharge)
AGENT Premium Automobiles
Click here for more info about the Audi RS Q3
Read our Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S review
Or check out our Audi Q3 Sportback review here
The BMW X1 takes on the Audi Q3 in this Group Test