What Car? says...
The Audi RS Q3 is what you get when you feed the Audi Q3 family SUV nothing but red meat and protein shakes, then force it to live in a gym.
The result is a more aggressive-looking and beefier sports SUV version of the Q3 – and one that aims to mix driving thrills with practicality. As with the first-generation RS Q3, muscle is provided by a 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine, which sends 395bhp to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Thanks to launch control, that’s enough power to slingshot the RS Q3 from 0-62mph in a mere 4.5sec and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. That time doesn’t change whether you choose to go for the swoopy RS Q3 Sportback coupé version or the squarer standard shape.
You could argue that the Audi RS Q3 is frighteningly expensive for a Q3 (even the cheapest version has a price that starts with a five). Still, it’s worth pointing out that its performance is very closely matched to the far more expensive Porsche Macan Turbo and not far behind the SVR version of the Jaguar F-Pace.
Of course, you’ll still get rapid acceleration in the far cheaper VW T-Roc in sporty 'R' form, or the M35i version of the BMW X2. Your passengers' necks won’t take quite so much of a beating in those, though.
So, read on over the next few pages of this review to find out what we think of the Audi RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback driving experience. We'll tell you what the performance and handling are like, what it's like inside, how much it will cost to run and more.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
You might expect the driving experience in the Audi RS Q3 to be dominated by the powerhouse under its bonnet, but it’s actually the dual-clutch automatic 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 engages the cog you’re after.
Now, that’s frustrating enough in a regular Audi Q3 but can be downright worrying in the RS Q3. All that 395bhp suddenly chimes in well after you’ve put your request into the engine room. That makes leaping into a gap in traffic or going for a swift B-road overtake 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 gearbox isn’t as jerky when manoeuvring at low speeds than with some other Audis. Sport mode makes the gearbox more decisive, but for the most direct control it's best to use the paddles behind the steering wheel.
So, what of that mighty 2.5-litre petrol 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. It piles on speed every bit as quickly as the 395bhp power output would suggest (when the gearbox will let it).
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 sounds distinctive, with an offbeat growl that’ll trigger memories of Audi Quattro rally cars. It doesn't pop and crackle like the previous-generation RS Q3 did, though. A rortier-sounding sports exhaust is available, but it’s an expensive option and we’ve 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 further you turn the steering wheel. That means it’s easy to get around tight turns and manoeuvre without your arms flailing everywhere. 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, but it's not that 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 Macan S or even the far cheaper VW 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. Sticking with the smallest alloy wheels, or opting for a version with adaptive suspension should help here. At least road and wind noise are well contained, while suspension noise is minimal.
The interior layout, fit and finish
You'll likely be impressed by the build quality and the premium-feeling switches of the Audi RS Q3, and you get fancy metal or carbon trim inserts, Nappa leather seats and illuminated door sill trims. In this price range, the BMW X3 M40i and the Porsche Macan have far more luxurious-feeling interiors with higher-grade plastics and the option of even more leather if you want it.
All versions come with a 12.3in Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel, taking the place of conventional analogue dials. These let you view a much wider range of information than conventional instruments would, as well as enabling a full-screen sat-nav map to be displayed in front of your eyes. It offers RS-specific display layouts that look racier and include a G-meter showing the car's cornering force in bends and other gadgets.
There’s a good range of adjustment to the steering wheel and the electrically adjustable front seats, and movable lumbar support is standard. You don’t sit quite as high as you do in an X3 M40i, but you still get a good view of the road ahead, helped by fairly slim front pillars. The rear view depends on whether you’ve gone for a regular RS Q3, where it’s absolutely fine, or the Sportback, which is harder to see out of because of the smaller rear screen.
Thankfully, front and rear parking sensors are standard across the range, and a rear-view camera is an option. Standard LED headlights provide good vision at night, and can be upgraded to Matrix adaptive LED headlights that shape their light pattern to avoid dazzling other road users, even when on high beam.
All versions get a 10.1in touchscreen infotainment system, but using it while driving can be fiddly and frustrating because of the numerous menus and icons, and the difficulty of accurately touching them while on the move. We prefer the rotary controller with BMW’s iDrive system, which is much less distracting.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s plenty of space up front in the Audi RS Q3 and the RS Q3 Sportback. There’s generous head room and the seats slide back far enough that even those with particularly long legs can get comfortable.
The interior is wide enough that you won’t be rubbing shoulders with your front passengers, but the armrest is a tad narrow, so there might be some elbow bashing if both front occupants try to share it. Just be aware that comfort on longer journeys can be hindered because the pedals, seat and steering wheel aren’t perfectly aligned, meaning you’ll always sit with your feet slightly offset to sit on the pedals.
Rear comfort in the Sportback version isn’t as good as in the squarer car. That’s because its sloping roofline means that, if you’re approaching six feet tall, your head will be brushing the roof lining – and that’s without the optional panoramic sunroof. The non-Sportback car is much better, if still not the best in the sports SUV class. There is a good amount of rear leg room, but the BMW X3 M40i is a better bet if you regularly carry adults in the back.
One nifty feature Audi gives you that's not available on the X3 M40i or the Porsche Macan is sliding and reclining rear seats. As well as helping your passengers kick back and relax, they let you to prioritise rear legroom or extra boot space. The seatbacks split and fold down 40/20/40 to form a relatively large and flat load area.
The Sportback version’s rakish roof line means it won’t accommodate as much luggage in the boot as the non-coupé car, but the X3 is more spacious than both.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Equipment levels are good, so we suspect most buyers would be happy with the entry-level version, which includes dual-zone climate control, heated front sports seats, ambient lighting and keyless entry as standard.
Mid-tier Sport models get a panoramic glass sunroof and a beefier exhaust system, while range-topping Vorsprung versions get a premium stereo by Sonos, plus sports suspension and more driver assistance tech.
Safety features including automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring are standard. There's also a feature called Side Assist, which illuminates a small indicator in your mirror to make you aware of any cars in your blind-spot.
Euro NCAP has yet to crash-test the Sportback, but the regular Audi Q3 was given five stars for protecting its occupants. As for reliability, Audi came a mediocre 21st out of 32 car makers in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey.
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