Car review: The Audi RS Q3 is turbo-charged evolution in motion

Tiny tweaks are all that’s needed to refresh the latest model of Audi A3, the most surprising SUV on the market

Most people were mightily surprised when Audi decided to squeeze its turbocharged five-cylinder engine into its smallest SUV. They were even more shocked when they drove it and found that it was a winning formula, so Audi has kept the updates to a minimum this year.

Among these are the new grey surround for the grille, slightly tweaked headlight design and “scrolling” indicators at the rear, where LEDs light up in a “moving” path from inside to outside.
The red needles are still there on the RS grey dials next to an adequate dashboard-mounted sat-nav screen. The thinner, neater-folding one in the latest A3 is incrementally better, but this screen does the job well enough. Moving your eyes down, the centre console isn't Audi's prettiest, meaning it fails to look as much like a premium product as it should. The aesthetics leave something to be desired, but these are mere trifles.
For 2015, there are 29 additional reasons to like this car, with power output hiked from 306bhp to 335bhp. Even more importantly for a turbocharged SUV is a boost to the torque figure; up to 332lb.ft from a mere 310lb.ft last year.


Inside the Audi RS Q3

While the only RS-badged SUV is no lightweight, the uprated five-cylinder heart gives it the ability to punch hard. With quattro four-wheel drive on hand it feels every bit as quick to hit 62mph as its makers claim. Pushing it to 7,000rpm again and again through the slick automatic gearbox on the German Autobahn, its aerodynamics ultimately work against it, but it still hits its 155mph speed limiter with comparative ease.
The RS Q3 still drives very well, too; after all, it’s got a reputation to protect. Big grins can be had by adopting a slow-in, fast-out cornering style that makes the most of the huge traction on offer, the fairly minimal body roll and the endlessly characterful growl of the engine. Arrive at bends too quickly and the car's weight becomes all too apparent, especially at the front end.
It's a bit of a middleweight bruiser, throwing a mighty right hook, but lacking the fine-edged precision of something lower or lighter.
A series of driving modes allows the pilot to alter the weight of the steering, the volume of the engine and the snappiness of the gear shifts. It works well in that each setting is tangibly distinct from the others, but none of them feel quite right for everyday scratching around. The steering is too numb in anything other than Sport, in which the ride is annoyingly jiggly over even slightly choppy road surfaces. It would have been an improvement to upgrade the Drive Select system to include a customisable palette, but I guess the last-generation tech has to soldier on without it for now.
A useful boot is essential on an SUV. The Q3 platform might be on the compact side if you're used to X5s or Range Rovers, but it still has a good chunk of space behind the rear seats. The only caveat is a high boot lip, which means a lot of heavy lifting. As usual the Audi factory options list is comprehensive and expensive, especially considering the expected entry price of around £45,000. The quilted leather seats on this car would be hard to turn down, though, and there are a few choices on the list that might prove more or less essential to maintain resale value.
The RS Q3 is a flawed but oddly likeable beast. There are more logical choices than a 335bhp mini-super-SUV, but if this sort of thing fits your lifestyle, then it’s still at the top of its class – just.

THE FACTS: AUDI RS Q3

PRICE: £45,000
0-62MPH: 4.8 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 203g/km
MPG COMBINED: 32.8mpg

THE VERDICT

DESIGN: ★★★☆☆
PERFORMANCE: ★★★★☆
PRACTICALITY: ★★★☆☆
VALUE FOR MONEY: ★★★☆☆

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