Saturday 29 August 2020 10:00 am

The Audi RS Q3 is a super-quick compact SUV that splits opinion

This is the kind of car that motoring journalists love to hate. A hot hatchback blunted by SUV stature. A family car compromised by fashion. An Audi for the price of a Porsche. The RS Q3 Sportback is all of these and, frankly, it’s not my cup of milk-and-one-sugar. 

Still, people adore this thing. Family and friends queued up with compliments during the week it spent in my care. A van driver shouted “Nice car!” at the petrol station. And one afternoon, I spotted two teenagers taking photos of it outside my house. In the past, that’s only happened with supercars.

Audi RS Q3

The spec of this particular RS Q3 probably helped. Audi press cars always arrive with an options list longer than War and Peace. Here they included 21-inch alloys (£995), the RS Design Pack (£895), matrix LED headlights (£850), ceramic brakes with red calipers (£4,795) and a meaty sports exhaust (£1,000). When everything was totted up, the basic price of £51,605 had swollen to a weighty £66,630.

That sounds a lot for a compact SUV based on the Audi A3, but bear in mind rivals such as the BMW X3 40i, Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 and Porsche Macan S all cost £50k or thereabouts. Also, the RS Q3 punches hardest of them all, with a 400hp wallop from its 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine. Factor in Audi’s trademark Quattro four-wheel drive and the result is 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. Top speed is 155mph – or 174mph if you pay £1,600 to have the limiter removed. Seriously, don’t bother.

Audi RS Q3

There’s a standard, more SUV-shaped version of the RS Q3, but Audi expects nearly two thirds of buyers to choose the sleeker Sportback. It loses 45mm of headroom, but gains a more rakish roofline, and its 530-litre boot capacity is identical.

It’s certainly practical enough for a family holdall, with a lofty seating position and plenty of gadgets. The 10.1in touchscreen media system is super-slick, while the Virtual Cockpit driver display (widely imitated, never bettered) is Vorsprung durch Technik distilled. Shame Audi’s quality halo seems to have slipped; some of the interior plastics don’t befit that premium price tag.

Five-cylinder engines have featured in fast Audis since the original quattro (note small ‘q’) of 1980. This one – shared with the TT RS – isn’t quite as rambunctious as you’d expect, being muted by a petrol particulate filter, but its gravelly gargle is augmented via the stereo speakers. It isn’t wholly convincing.

Audi RS Q3

You’ll have no qualms about the RS Q3’s performance, though. It feels explosively quick, blamming through seven dual-clutch ratios with ruthless intensity. Peak torque of 354lb ft arrives at 1,850rpm and stays constant until 5,850rpm, so there’s never any shortfall of muscle. Just find yourself a suitable B-road, then: Ready. Aim. Fire.

Switch into RS mode and you feel the whole car tense. Body-roll is effectively quashed as Quattro traction slingshots you between corners. This is an easy and reassuring car to drive quickly, but what’s missing is that final frisson of driver engagement. Its steering feels aloof and the brittle suspension, instead of breathing with the road, does battle with it. The Porsche Macan still leads the pack here.

I see why the Great British Public loves the RS Q3. It looks good, feels plush, goes fast and wears the right badge. It’s not the hotted-up compact SUV coupe for me, but neither are any of its competitors. I’d rather forgo a few options and spend my £66,000 on the wonderful Audi RS4 Avant. It’s a performance estate car that knows exactly what it wants to be.

Tim Pitt works for