WHEN THE AUDI RS Q3 arrived on the market in 2014 not a single person on earth suggested it didn’t have enough get-up-and-go. But, clearly when Audi’s marketing department decided it should add the word Performance to the RS Q3 someone in the engineering department decided they should turn the wick up on the already bonkers RS Q3… Meet the Audi RS Q3 Performance.
What is it?
The Audi RS Q3 Performance replaces the RS Q3 that launched here in 2014 and has, since then, found around 360 driveways to call home. Audi only expected to sell 100 each year.
That old RS Q3 wasn’t exactly slow, able to get to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. But that hasn’t stopped Audi from releasing this ‘refreshed’ model which is able to get to the legal limit in an eye-watering 4.4 seconds. In fact, that’s faster than the original R8 4.2-litre V8 coupe. We’ll come back to the performance shortly.
Beyond that, the RS Q3 Performance sits lower than a standard Q3, offers the same amount of interior space, plenty of creature comforts and quattro all-wheel drive, although it’s more for road grip than sojourns into slippery paddocks…
As you can see from the pictures, the RS Q3 Performance gets a lot of matte titanium effect trim, including the grille, air inlets, roof rails, rear diffuser and wing mirrors. The brake calipers are finished in gloss red and, on the inside, there are carbon inlays strewn around the place. If you want to push the boat out, you can opt for Ascari Blue paint which will cost you $1495.00. The total list price is $84,216+ORC, and the price of our test car was $88,561+ORC because it had the RS Performance package which includes: Sport seats in Nappa leather with diamond stitching, RS sports suspension with damper control, BOSE surround sound system, and load-through facility for rear seats.
What’s the inside like and how practical is it?
The inside of the RS Q3 is probably the least important part of the car, as far as the buyer for this sort of thing goes and that’s because it’s the engine that matters most here... That aside, the interior is crafted with typical Audi fit and finish with quality materials used almost everywhere you’ll touch… let you fingers wander around the glovebox and some of the door trims and you’ll feel hard, scratchy plastic that while it looks good to the eye, doesn’t feel particularly nice. But I’m hair splitting.
The dashboard layout is simple with nice big switches and controls that are easy to use on the fly. That said, unlike other Audis with their virtual displays, the RS Q3 feels kind of simple inside but, as I said earlier, it’s not the interior of this thing that’s the headline grabber.
The nappa leather swathed front sports seats are nice and grippy and can be adjusted to suit drivers of all heights and while I still don’t get the need for seat heaters in this country, the front seats of the RS Q3 Performance are heated. From the driver’s seat vision right around is pretty good, although I know not everyone is a fan of convex mirrors which the RS Q3 Performance has and which can become heavily distorted in the wet. Blind spot monitoring helps when changing lanes as the slabby rear three-quarter can be tricky to see around when on the move. Climb into the back and you’ll only fit two adults comfortably because of the intrusion by the transmission tunnel and the centre console. Anyone drawing the short straw and having to travel in the middle seat will need to share foot well space with the passengers on either side. There are air vents for backseat passengers which is cool, or warm depending on the temperature… get it? I kill me.
There are ISOFIX mounting points for the two outboard seats and three top tether points although you’d really only want to fit a child seat to the outer two seats. I’m not so sure anyone would be looking at the RS Q3 Performance primarily as a family car, though.
Around at the back of the thing and there’s an electric tailgate that opens to reveal 356 litres of storage space (yes, the boot is bigger than that of an RS3 which is 280 litres). The boot space isn’t massive but it’s big enough to handle a weekly grocery shop or luggage for a weekend away. And if you need to take a little more, you can always drop the 60:40 split-fold rear seats to expose 1261 litres of storage. They don’t fold flat.
What’s the communications and infotainment system like?
As a package I like Audi’s MMI system, but the layout of controls takes a little getting used to. The RS Q3 Performance runs Audi’s MMI Navigation plus level system which displays via a 7.0-inch screen jutting from the top of the dash like a tablet, it offers 20GB of hard drive storage and two SD card readers (does anyone carry anything on SD cards for use in their car?).
The MMI system also offers digital radio, Bluetooth and audio streaming and is pretty easy to connect your smartphone to. But what is a little frustrating are the controls for the system. These are down on the dash as the screen isn’t touch responsive and while the method to control the MMI system is more or less universal across the Audi world, the driver will have to lean across to reach and control the system via its shortcut buttons which correspond with corners of the system and menu items.
And then use the dial in the centre to scroll through settings and then press it to deep dive or activate whatever it is you’re searching for.
The issue I have with this is that while it’s excellent to use when you’re stationary, it’s a major pain to use on the move as it requires you to look away from the road for long periods of time. The good thing is that a passenger can use it without the system freezing when you’re moving. Even better is that the climate controls are very easy to use on the fly and disconnected from the infotainment system.
What’s the performance like?
In a word: EPIC. This tweaked RS Q3 Performance makes use of the same 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine and sundry other oily bits as the old car, but via some jiggery pokery (read: “optimisation” of engine cooling and fuel pump) makes another 20kW. This boosts output to 270kW from 5550-6800rpm and 465Nm of torque from 1625-5550rpm and that allows the RS Q3 Performance to get to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds, or 0.4 seconds faster than the non-Performance RS Q3. Fuel consumption is a combined 8.6L/100km but I think you’d struggle to get near this given this thing’s intoxicating level of oomph… you might also struggle to hold onto your licence.
This engine is mated to a seven-speed S tronic (read: dual clutch) transmission that, according to Audi, “has been rigorously tuned for sportiness”. Hmmm. You can either let the car do the gear shifting for you, or you can literally take this bull by the horns and change gears via the steering-mounted paddles. And, while I’m normally against using paddles in anything this side of a supercar, I’ll make an exception for the RS Q3 Performance, because it’s actually better when you use the paddles.
The tweaked engine doesn’t necessarily make the RS Q3 Performance a more-racer-for-the-road-focussed-vehicle than its predecessor, but that doesn’t really matter as this engine is world-class and can be as relaxed as it can be angry.
Via Audi’s Drive Select you can choose from Comfort, Sport or Dynamic modes which tweak the throttle response and gear shifts and, in Dynamic mode, will open up a flap in the exhaust for a Group B-esque fire spitting note – this engine owes its origins to angry five-cylinder Audi Group B rally cars. The local launch was held in Albury and saw us drive out of town towards Bright (read: a tiny bit of urban driving and then some absolutely awesome roads through the hills). Around town the RS Q3 Performance is a pussy cat, happily shuffling along on barely any throttle and giving off the impression that butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth. I like this attitude in performance cars, because something that’s angry all of the time can become a pain in the proverbial, but the attitude of the RS Q3 Performance makes it properly usable as a daily driver. Moving on.
On the motorway, we only had a short stint, the RS Q3 Performance lopes along at the legal limit at less than 2000rpm with plenty of grunt in reserve. I guess that’s what 465Nm of torque available from 1625rpm will do for you. It literally only takes a flex of your toe to have the seven-speed transmission rifle back through the gears and begin reeling in the horizon. And the exhaust note, it’s simply delicious.
What’s the ride and handling like?
The standard RS Q3 Performance gets by without adjustable dampers, but our car at the launch had them. It sits lower, by 20mm, than a standard Q3. I’m a little torn, see, with the adjustable dampers the ride at regular speed is excellent as is the bump and body control at-speed. But I’ve heard the standard set-up is also pretty good… and this new version rides on 20-inch alloys, up from the 19s of its predecessor.
Don’t misread me, though, the suspension set-up overall is on the firm side to ensure that a vehicle with this much grunt doesn’t fall over half way around a corner.
And thanks to its quattro all-wheel drive, which can shuffle 100% of drive from the front to the back depending on the situation, and every variance thereof, this is a vehicle that can, driven not like an idiot, carry immense corner speeds without falling into understeer or worrying the electronics.
But, as efficient as the handling is, you don’t ever feel truly connected to the RS Q3 Performance. And maybe that’s the fault of its steering more than anything, no matter the drive mode setting (they just add weight to the wheel), the steering is lifeless. Sure, it’s direct and fast, but for a car with this much ability it’s a shame there’s not more feel to fully dial you into the car’s doings.
In the end, as our Paul Horrell described it to me, this is an “engine car, and not a chassis car,” and he’s right. Sure, the chassis is good, and there’s huge amounts of grip, and in something with less power you might even say it was great, but it does fall short of the engine when you’re pushing the thing hard.
What do I mean? Well, pile in to a corner and there’s no throttle adjustability to turn the nose back into the corner should you be running wide and the steering is dull, but if you stick to a slow-ish in and very fast out you’ll finish your drive with a face-splitting grin every time. So… maybe I’m being too picky.
How safe is it?
The RS Q3 Performance piggy backs on the Q3’s five-star ANCAP rating, gets airbags, Audi Side Assist, reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring, traction and stability controls, and keyless entry with anti-theft alarm. Both the rear vision mirror and the driver’s side wing mirror are auto dimming, while the wing mirrors fold in when the car is locked. There ISOFIX latches on the two outboard seats in the back with top tether points for all three seats.
The Audi RS Q3 Performance is the only hot-shoe Q3 model you can buy locally, elsewhere in the world the RS Q3 will continue to sell alongside it. And that means its exclusivity is assured. Despite some of its dynamic shortcomings I absolutely love the RS Q3 Performance and anyone wanting a Group B rally car stuffed into the skin of a tiny-tot SUV should put it at the top of their list. Sure, it isn’t cheap, but the supersonic engine alone justifies the admission price.
Specifications - 2017 AUDI RS Q3 PERFORMANCE
AS TESTED $88,561+ORC
WARRANTY THREE YEARS, UNLIMITED KILOMETRES
SAFETY FIVE STAR ANCAP
ENGINE 2.5-LITRE FIVE-CYLINDER TURBOCHARGED PETROL
POWER 270KW FROM 5550-6800RPM
TORQUE 465NM FROM 1625-5550RPM
TRANSMISSION SEVEN-SPEED S TRONIC
DRIVE QUATTRO ALL-WHEEL DRIVE
DIMENSIONS 4411MM (LONG); 1841MM (WIDE –EXCLUDING WING MIRRORS); 1580MM (HIGH)
WEIGHT 1665KG (EXCLUDING DRIVER)
TOWING CAPACITY 1900KG BRAKED (TOWBALL DOWNLOAD UNKNOWN)
FUEL TANK 64 LITRES