The Audi RS Q3 is the company’s first SUV to get the full RS treatment. It also becomes the new entry point to Audi's high-performance model range.
Audi says the RS Q3 creates ‘a new performance class’, because it's the only compact SUV to offer sports car speed and dynamics. Until the Porsche Macan or the rumoured hot version of the Range Rover Evoque arrive, the RS Q3 certainly doesn't have any direct rivals.
The RS treatment doesn’t come cheap, though. The previous flagship of the Q3 range was a 208bhp petrol at £32,080, but this 306bhp model costs £43,000.
What’s the 2014 Audi RS Q3 like to drive?
The RS Q3's mechanicals are closely related to those of the previous RS3 Sportback. It uses the same 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine and permanent four-wheel-drive system, which controls the amount of torque sent to the front and rear axles.
Acceleration through the seven-speed S tronic auto gearbox is rapid – 0-62mph takes just 5.2 seconds. There's plenty of mid-range punch too, which makes overtaking a breeze.
When left in Drive, and with Audi's Drive Select system set to Comfort, the gearbox is smooth and slick. However, switching to Sport and choosing the Dynamic setting makes the shifts deliver an aggressive thump through the chassis.
The Dynamic setting adds weight to the steering to provide extra reassurance during faster driving, although you never get a great sense of connection with the road, and there's more body sway than in an equivalent hot hatchback, such as the Audi S3. There's plenty of grip, though, and the four-wheel-drive system helps give the RS Q3 resolute traction on the exit of corners.
At steady speeds on fast roads, wind noise is muted and the engine is sedate, but on anything less than smooth motorways, there’s noticeable road roar from the standard 20-inch wheels.
However, one of the most impressive aspects of the RS Q3 is the ride. The car is 25mm lower than a standard Q3, but the sports suspension is remarkably supple over patchy, broken surfaces.
What’s the 2014 Audi RS Q3 like inside?
The RS Q3 has plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment for the driver, although the high-set driving position feels incongruous with the performance on offer. That said, the extra height over a hot hatch does at least give you a more commanding view of the road.
Two large adults will fit comfortably in the rear, but luggage capacity is less impressive; the RS Q3's 356-litre boot is smaller than the Audi A3 Sportback's.
In the cabin, there are heated leather seats, along with a flat-bottomed steering wheel and lots of RS badging around the dashboard and controls.
Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, park assist and a 10-speaker sound system.
Should I buy one?
The RS Q3's blend of SUV looks and genuine hot hatch performance is compelling. However, at £43,000, it’s far from the best value blend of spaciousness and speed.
For example, Audi's own S3 Sportback S tronic is quicker to 62mph, has a classier cabin, a boot almost as big, and costs a whopping £10,000 less.
Or if you’re looking only at performance 4x4s, then consider BMW’s X3 xDrive35d – it offers similar pace for the same price as the RS Q3. True, it doesn’t ride or handle quite as well, but you’ll get more space in the cabin and boot and considerably better fuel economy.
What Car? says…
BMW X3 xDrive35d M Sport
Audi RS Q3
Engine size 2.5-litre turbo petrol
Price from £43,000
Torque 310lb ft
0-62mph 5.2 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 32.1mpg