Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
You might expect the RS Q3’s driving experience to be dominated by the powerhouse under its bonnet, but it’s actually the gearbox that dictates proceedings the most – and not in a good way. Stamp on the accelerator pedal for a burst of acceleration and there’s a long pause before the gearbox shuffles down a gear or two and actually engages the cog you’re after.
Now, that’s frustrating enough in a regular Q3, but can be downright worrying in the RS Q3; all of that 395bhp suddenly chimes in well after you’ve put your request in to the engine room. That makes leaping into a gap in traffic far more fraught than it ought to be. It’s all the more disappointing given that gear changes are dealt with smoothly in normal use, and the ‘box isn’t as jerky when maneuvering at low speeds than is the case with some other Audis. Sport mode makes the gearbox more decisive, but you’re best to use the steering wheel paddles if you need to make a swift overtake.
So, what of that mighty engine? It feels flexible below 2000rpm and builds power strongly yet smoothly all the way to the 7000rpm redline, with no peaks or troughs in the delivery. It’s enough to make the RS Q3 very fast, too, piling on speed every bit as quickly as the 395bhp power output would suggest. When you’re really intent on making your passengers feel sick, launch control simply hurls the car off the line with no fuss or drama, even in damp conditions. Impressively, it’s about as quick as the far pricier Porsche Macan Turbo.
Thanks to its five-cylinder design, the engine also sounds very distinctive, with an offbeat growl that’ll trigger memories of Audi Quattro rally cars, if you’re into that kind of thing. However, while the exhaust of the old RS Q3, and its lower, hatchback cousin, the Audi RS3, would pop and crackle when the car was set in its sportiest Dynamic mode, new emissions equipment has muffled the new version somewhat, so there’s no fireworks. A sports exhaust is available, but we’re yet to try it.
So, the RS Q3 is fast and sounds rather throaty, but how does it handle? Well, all versions get a steering system that gets faster the farther you turn the steering wheel. That means it’s easy to get around tight turns and maneuver without your arms flailing everywhere, but a downside is that there’s very little sense of connection between the steering wheel and the front tyres when cornering.
Stiff suspension helps to contain body lean, and the RS Q3 feels reasonably agile during fast direction changes. However, it just isn’t much fun; the front end is always the first to release its grip on the road, so the car never feels as playful or involving as a Porsche Macan S or even the far cheaper Volkswagen T-Roc R. It’s also worth pointing out that its firm springs cause the RS Q3 to fidget over even smooth-looking road surfaces, and it thuds through potholes and over lumps’ so you really do get the worst of both worlds when it comes to ride comfort. Hopefully the smaller 20in wheels that come as standard on lesser models or the adjustable suspension fitted to posher models will help smooth things out. At least road and wind noise are well contained while suspension noise is minimal.