The latest RS Q3 Sportback boosts Audi’s business proposition
Audi knows hardly any bounds, when it comes to stretching the capabilities of some of its cars, writes Iain Robertson, and the latest version of the Q3 SUV in both standard body and Sportback forms incorporates one of the most exciting engineering packages that Audi has ever shared.
Reflecting on the performance car spectrum of the past few years, it is one that has become defined by the use of turbochargers, whereas a multi-carburettor/raucous exhaust set-up would have sufficed during the 1970s and early-1980s. Electronic management systems have also become increasingly flexible in their applications, enabling sky-high performance figures to result.
Yet, it is a largely ‘plug-and-play’ development that hides its light beneath layers of insulated plastic mouldings and further starves an appetite for enthusiasts to peer beneath the bonnet and marvel at visible and muscular technology. To a certain extent, as Audi highlighted when it launched its original A2 model, in 1999, the bonnet was a semi-sealed component and only access (through the front grille moulding) to top-up fluid levels was considered important…looking at the engine was not. The tide was not merely turning but changing completely.
The original turbo-cars, as evinced by either the BMW 2002 Turbo, Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo 2000, or the Saab 99 Turbo, were determinedly ‘hairy-arsed’, in an era prior to smaller, high-spin, variable-fan types of installations. Their all-or-nothing performance envelopes were epitomised by excessive throttle ‘lag’ (the delay between mashing the accelerator pedal into the carpet and awaiting full boost to arrive) and surprisingly narrow power bands, usually commencing at around 3,000rpm but lasting until just 5,000rpm.
A wide range of turbocharger failures, usually noticeable by the plumes of white smoke billowing from the exhaust tailpipe, were hardly a positive portent for the future and it took a long time for the consumer to warm to turbos, despite their far from latent promises. Fortunately, led by Japanese manufacturer IHI, technological changes made them virtual de rigueur fitments on every model, from shopping cars to hypercars, powered either by petrol, or diesel fuel and even compressed natural, or liquefied petroleum gases. Audi, part of the greater VW Group, has been a long-term consumer of turbo-tech and its determination to prove reliability and dependability of its sportiest models has become a virtual art form.
One of Audi’s most revered models of the past 25 years of its RS sub-brand’s existence, which relies heavily on turbochargers, is the simply stunning TT RS. When I tested it last year for these pages, I declared it to be a genuine pinnacle product, possessing blistering performance in a close-coupled coupe form. Of course, it is not the only model to use the package, as the RS3 hatchback enhances practicality levels but, now, they take another upwards hike in the form of either the RS Q3, or more coupe-like RS Q3 Sportback body outlines.
Powered by an identical 2.5-litre, five-cylinder TFSi engine that emits a characteristic off-beat burble reminiscent of Audi’s famous rally cars of the 1980s, there is a storming 396bhp available to power all four of the quattro, four-wheel drive transmission’s wheels. Remember that this engine has won an unprecedented NINE Engine of the Year awards and develops an outstanding 354lbs ft of torque between 1,950 and 5,850rpm. It is enough to propel the SUV and coupe-like bodies from 0-60mph in just 4.2s (around 3.8s for the TT RS), to a restricted top speed of 155mph (which can be raised to 174mph on request). It drives through a seven-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual gearbox (with paddle shifters) that ensures ease of control and one less aspect for the driver to consider, when accessing the car’s phenomenal pace.
In case you had not noticed, RS models of late have been featuring their signature wider, by 10mm, wheel-arches but with an added element of style. Those on the RS Q3 share the ‘bursting-from-their-underpants’ appeal that is evident on RS4, RS5 and RS6 models, which factors in added muscularity and RS design integrity. It costs a lot for a carmaker to tamper with body panels, as they require completely new dies for the press shop. Incidentally, two versions are available for the UK market, Audi Sport Edition and Vorsprung; the latter a brand name derived from Audi’s long-standing advertising tagline, with deliveries commencing before the end of this year.
In typical RS form, the Audi driving mode selector offers up to six pre-set, with two personalised, modes that can be activated via the RS button on the steering wheel spoke. They range between Comfort and Individual. Unsurprisingly, the RS Q3 is sprung and damped to take fullest advantage of the power on tap and its ride quality can be best described as taut, even in its least compromising position. Racier settings will either shift your kidneys, or shatter your molars, but the choice is available to meet your dynamic demands. For what it is worth, it matches the equally taut build quality of the car. Naturally, RS Q3 is packed with ‘electrickery’ to ensure that a potentially wicked edge never rears its bamboozling head and its lowered suspension also ensures the ideal blend of stability and engaging handling prowess. The customary raft of driver aids, with an eye to both safety and future autonomy, are standard, as well as industry leading levels of connectivity. After all, you are paying a premium price for an Audi RS.
Apart from the lurid green of the featured model, seven other vibrant shades are available and, apart from the sliding rear seats (for extra legroom), the boot capacity can be expanded from a most useful 530-litres to 1,525-litres, when they are folded forwards and flat. The beautifully trimmed, cross-hatched leather and Alcantara interior completes a comprehensive package that (unconfirmed) will be listed from around £53,000.
Thanks to a lack of available information from Audi UK, the pricing and specification details will only be confirmed in late autumn, probably once the UK’s exit from the EU is achieved, although first deliveries are promised to commence before the end of the year.