Start it up and the engine’s purr immediately makes it clear that this is no conventional sport utility vehicle. Your first impression will be confirmed as soon as you take it out on the road, as the abundant engine torque accelerates the vehicle in a constant and linear fashion and the dual-clutch gearbox shifts without the slightest hesitation. This vehicle may have been built on a compact SUV platform, but there’s nothing traditional about it.
The RS Q3 is the very latest model – and the first SUV – developed by quattro GmbH, Audi’s high performance division. According to Thomas Zimmerman, RS project manager, this division “is now entering new, uncharted territory”. Unveiled in March at the Geneva Auto Show, it will be sold in Germany in beginning in November for €54,600. Audi Canada has no intention of importing this performance SUV for; it will only offer the Q3 in the third quarter of 2014, when it will go head to head (to head) with the BMW X1 and the new Mercedes-Benz GLA. However, depending on demand, the RS Q3 might just follow the Q3 across the Atlantic. So we jumped at the chance to drive it in the Austrian Alps during the “Land of Quattro Tour,” an event that also gave us the opportunity to test drive four RS models in two days.
A steadfastly sporty style
The RS Q3 has all the usual features of a sport SUV: low ground clearance, 19-inch alloy rims (optional 20-inch rims), wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, straight-bottom sport steering wheel and sport seats. And the list goes on! The look is pretty sporty too, although making a compact SUV look as stylish and cool as an RS7 is no easy task.
The ace up the RS Q3’s sleeve is its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine, borrowed from the TT RS and paired with quattro all-wheel drive via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. With 310 horsepower and 310 lbs.-ft. of torque, this mill earned the “International Engine of the Year” award the last four years running. It can propel the RS Q3 from 0-100 km/hour in a mere 5.2 seconds. What is most impressive about this engine is the way it delivers its power, with maximum torque available from 1,500 to 5,200 rpm. On a graph, the engine torque line skyrockets, then hits an extensive plateau, which explains why the accelerating force is so constant and linear, thus helping the driver pass slower vehicles with unsettling ease.
Sport suspension ensures good cornering and neutral handling, and the brakes have no apparent weaknesses, even when driving down Alpine passes at high speeds. Just flip through the technical specs and you’ll understand why: the front discs are 365 millimetres and combined with eight-piston calipers – how’s that for reassuring? The steering is precise and linear but a tad too light, even in Dynamic mode on the RS Q3’s factory-standard Audi Drive Select system. Unfortunately, this system doesn’t include Individual mode, which lets drivers calibrate the various system settings independently. In other words, you can’t have a softer suspension at the same time as responsive accelerations and steering. It’s a real shame because Audi Drive Select (found other models) allows for greater customization. As for dynamics, the RS Q3’s chassis could easily handle even more than 310 horsepower – and Audi may want to keep that in mind considering that the BMW X1 is already available with a 300-horsepower engine.
Luxury and comfort
With sufficient room for four adults, the passenger compartment exudes luxury, as evidenced by the contrasting stitching and RS signature on the leather- and alcantara-covered seats. Piano black accents, aluminum pedals and a ten-speaker audio system all come factory-standard. The cargo capacity is 356 litres with all the seats in place, increasing to 1,261 litres once the rear seatbacks are folded. However, the floor will not be perfectly flat.
The RS Q3 is fast and luxurious, but the big question is whether it will eventually make its way to Canada, and at what price? If it does come overseas, it’s sure to follow in the wake of the Q3. To be continued...