More of an expensive oddity than a range-topping performance SUV, and an ultimately unsatisfying oddity at that

What is it?

The Audi RS Q3 - largely as we remember it. Despite receiving more attention than most in a facelift of the Audi Q3 line-up, fundamentally this remains the same model that landed in 2012. 

That car was fast; this one, inevitably, is slightly faster and marginally more efficient with it. That’s because in the process of upgrading its characterful 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine to Euro 6 standard, Audi has found an additional 30bhp - bringing total output to 335bhp.

The concurrent improvement in 0-62mph is around half a second; a reduction helped along by shortened shift times on the standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. 

Also uprated is the on-demand four-wheel drive system, which now gets a fifth generation Haldex hydraulic clutch plate for torque splitting duties. 

Elsewhere, the differences between old and new are purely cosmetic, and rather subtle. The grille has been redesigned with an awkward looking surround, while the updated head and tail lights are a feature shared with the rest of the range. 

There’s a smattering of customisation available, and 20-inch alloy wheels are standard - as is a powered tailgate. Adaptive dampers remain on the options list, but featured on our test car. 

What's it like?

Hasty and haughty, much as it was before. Its finest attribute, by some distance, is still the vigorous five-pot motor. 

The character of Audi’s modern inline five - an angry, gargling top end toughness - is unchanged but for the extra shove that now comes with it. That alone would be sufficient for a thumbs up, but it’s the flexibility of the unit which impresses over a longer drive. 

Combined with an easily modulated throttle and sharpened gearbox, the 2.5-litre lump’s potency gives it a natural and very fluid usability. 

Peak torque may only have a risen by 22lb ft, but there’s still 332lb ft of it from 1600rpm, and even with the gearbox left in its default auto mode, the Q3 tends to respond more crisply than its sluggish AMG equivalent.

Switch to the paddles, and it’s leagues ahead - any lack of tactility made up for by the speed of the shifts. This means that no matter whether you’re crawling forward in traffic or manually hitting the limiter on an autobahn, the charm offensive remains constant. 

If only the car around it had such consistent appeal. Unfortunately, the peaks and troughs of its likability are scaled and slipped into repeatedly. For a start, the steering, numb before, may just be worse. 

Unlike its RS siblings, there’s no picking and choosing individual components’ state of tune on the Drive Select system, which means you’re stuck with Comfort or Dynamic. That means you’re lumbered with either expressionless and over-assisted steering alongside just-about acceptable damper responses, or a senseless, rigid level of resistance paired with the all-too familiar pattery RS jiggle. 

Of course, that doesn’t prevent the Q3 doing things that no crossover ought to be able to, but the car’s impressive composure at speed is rendered aloof by the shortfall in communication between you and the controls. 

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Ultimately, the absence of that kind of nuance hasn’t proven an impediment to Quattro GmbH’s customers before, although those well acquainted with other model’s in the lineup will spot the outdatedness of the switchgear.

Because it doesn’t share in the latest MQB kit bonanza, many of the controls - not least the infotainment selector which must be groped at on the dash rather than twiddled more comfortably from the centre console - make the car feel more last generation than it should. Which is a shame, because otherwise the well-finished and appropriately roomy interior lives up to its manufacturer’s usual high standards for fit and finish.

Should I buy one?

You’ll find yourself in a pretty slender niche just by considering it. When Audi originally launched the car, it rightly claimed to be the first of its kind; while that may no longer be the case with the launch of the GLA 45 AMG, in truth there’s still only a very shallow market to penetrate here. 

That’s probably as it should be, because the RS Q3 still drives more like an expensive oddity than a well-rounded range-topper. 

For all the allure percolating up from under the bonnet, it remains an ultimately unsatisfying prospect; being too often on edge or annoyingly distant or a combination of both. 

There’s no confirmation of prices yet, but expect the sticker to be comfortably in the region of £45k - a figure that would surely be better lavished on the all-new RS3 if you’re heart’s desire is a compact, practical and five-pot Audi or nothing. 

Audi RS Q3

Price Circa £45,000; 0-62mph 4.8 seconds; Top speed 155mph; Economy 32.8mpg; C02 203g/km; Kerbweight 1655kg; Engine Five-cylinder, 2480cc, petrol, turbocharged; Power 335bhp at 5300-6700rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1600-5300rpm; Gearbox Seven-speed dual-clutch

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M Hooper 18 November 2014

Not sure...

Still wouldn't buy one, but looks a lot better.
kcrally 18 November 2014

If Audi's weren't so

If Audi's weren't so common,....prefer a Kuga Ford.
xxxx 19 November 2014

Common Audi

kcrally wrote:

If Audi's weren't so common,....prefer a Kuga Ford.

Good to see you’d prefer the exclusivity of a Ford!