Audi's Quattro GmbH division is responsible for making the company's fastest, most powerful models. They are given the "RS" designation, and when Quattro decided to apply its craft to an Audi SUV it skipped over the larger Q5 and Q7 SUVs and dropped the RS moniker onto the baby Q3 instead.
You might think it will be yet another high-powered SUV that chomps straightaways but has all the cornering ability of an escalator. But if you think that, you would be wrong. If you get a chance to drive it, you might even think it delivers the best of both worlds in a way that the smaller RS 3 five-door hatchback simply can't manage.
It's a valid comparison, too, because the 2015 Audi RS Q3 carries plenty of RS 3 beneath its taller skin, including its five-cylinder, 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and its multiplate center differential for the all-wheel-drive system.
Introducing the 306-Horsepower Compact SUV
Quattro is doing everything it can to cement the RS Q3's credentials as a legitimate, fast, baby SUV before Porsche's Macan arrives to rewrite the rule book — not that there was ever really a fast, compact SUV rule book.
Priced at €54,600 in Germany, the RS Q3 marks a jump of more than €17,000 over the next most expensive Q3 variant, the 2.0 TFSI. Audi says the RS Q3 won't be coming to North America, but it always says that about RS models.
Assembled at the VW Group's plant in Martorell, Spain, the RS Q3's power numbers have been revised downward compared to the RS 3. Audi says that's largely to allow for more low-end torque to counter the Q3's hefty 3,814-pound curb weight. Output is officially pegged at 306 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.
The direct-injection, variable-valve-timing engine delivers maximum torque at 1,500 rpm and it remains at that level until 5,200 rpm. The power delivery is nearly as flat as well, with full horsepower hitting at 5,200 rpm all the way to 6,700 rpm. Audi says the RS Q3 will be good for a 5.2-second sprint to 62 mph.
Farther down the line, Quattro upgraded both the front and rear suspension setups as well as the electric power steering system. All that has been engineered to get the best out of the 255/40R19 rubber while a pair of eight-piston calipers have 14.4-inch wave-edged steel discs to slow it all down.
Looks, Feels and Sounds Fast
This is an SUV that has to overcome considerable skepticism, so it has been given a thorough cosmetic makeover to make sure it's convincing. A quick walk around shows its charm, with its oversized wheels, oval exhaust pipe and extended wheel arches giving it muscle the stock Q3 doesn't even pretend to have.
It continues inside, with the sports leather seats (complete with Quattro's quilted stitching) and the flat-bottomed steering wheel dominating an interior littered with "RS" badges and cues. It gets the full kit from Audi's option list, which includes items like an oil temperature gauge, a turbo pressure gauge and a lap timer on top of the satellite navigation.
Needless to say it's a very, very good place to be. It starts when you crank over the inline five-cylinder motor and find it's just as smooth and deep and rich as you had hoped. Then you select Drive and find that it's fast enough without being brutal or feeling brutal.
That torque wave hits hard, early, and keeps hitting. It's a fabulous combination of good manners and sheer midrange muscle. At low revs there is a tiny window at the step-off where you think it's not strong enough, but that only lasts a split second. After that the turbo kicks in and the strength becomes unmistakable.
More Than Just Fast in a Straight Line
Getting an SUV to go fast in a straight line is easy. Getting it to turn is the hard part. All that weight wants to keep going where it's already going, so making it handle is a tough piece of engineering.
But handle it does. Sure, it's no RS 3, but it's miles ahead of everything else that rides this high. The grip is stubborn and the RS Q3 makes that clear to the driver at every opportunity. It feels composed enough that the grip limits are easily approached and nothing gets nasty when you go beyond them.
The harder you push the 2015 Audi RS Q3, the more impressive it becomes. Sure, it doesn't sit flat midcorner like a pure sports car, but it has a strong appetite for any series of corners it sees, and feels disappointed should the driver choose to cruise through them, rather than attack.
Its Comfort mode doesn't evince its best work. To make it attack at its hardest, you need to switch to the Dynamic mode which initiates various tricks into play, particularly for the steering. Even then, the steering provides dull feedback at best, but at least it's quick and more accurate. The quirk is that the suspension is a touch hard in Dynamic, so the boon is in Audi's Drive Select, which lets the dampers run in Auto mode while the steering, engine, transmission and electric safety nets are all in Dynamic.
Even so, the reactions are all slightly duller than anything else with an RS badge, but that doesn't matter to the RS Q3. It's like an orphan adopted into a sporting family that tries its hardest to charm you with its honesty and impress with its athletic ability, even though it's not genetically mapped for it.
It's close enough to an RS 3 that you can accept it, especially given its versatility, and it slices through corners with a lot more enthusiasm than anybody's preconception might have given it credit for.
Trades Performance for Comfort
For all that, though, the RS Q3 never quite rises to the heights of brilliance. It's composed and rock-solid in its handling, for sure, but the steering feels duller than the chassis deserves.
There is a positive trade-off to that, though. Its ride is far, far better than any other RS machine out there. It's comfortable on broken city streets and apex bumps are absorbed without throwing the car off line. It's livable in a way its stablemates are not when it comes to everyday driving.
And when it comes to SUVs, livability is something that matters, likely more so than the average sedan, certainly more than a coupe. Even the engineers at Quattro know this, so the 2015 Audi RS Q3 has likely sacrificed some ultimate capability in the name of usefulness. From a strict enthusiast perspective, it's a letdown, but looking at the bigger picture it's the right direction for a performance SUV. Quattro may be new to Audi's Q models, but it clearly has the right idea about what they need to be successful.
|Year Make Model:||2015 Audi RS Q3 4dr SUV AWD (2.5L 5cyl Turbo 6AM)|
|Vehicle type:||AWD 4dr 5-passenger SUV|
|Assembly location:||Matorell, Spain|
|Configuration:||Transverse, front engine, all-wheel drive|
|Engine type:||Turbocharged, direct-injected inline-5, gasoline|
|Displacement (cc/cu-in):||2,480cc (121 cu-in)|
|Valvetrain:||Double overhead camshaft|
|Compression ratio (x:1):||9.6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||306 @ 5,200|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm):||310 @ 1,500|
|Fuel type:||Premium unleaded (recommended)|
|Transmission type:||Seven-speed auto-double-clutch manual with console shifter and steering-mounted paddles with Sport/Competition modes|
|Suspension, front:||MacPherson strut|
|Steering type:||Electric speed-proportional power steering|
|Tire make and model:||Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R|
|Tire type:||All-season front and rear|
|Wheel size:||19-by-8.5 inches front and rear|
|Brakes, front:||14.4-inch one-piece ventilated steel discs with eight-piston sliding calipers|
|Brakes, rear:||One-piece ventilated steel discs|
|0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.):||5.2|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.):||3,814|
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.