Audi’s RS Q3 in Singapore is a riotous mini-monster, but it’s more than happy to fly under the radar and be reigned in for routine
What’s the best way to enjoy a high-performance car in the dawn of the electric age? Be quiet about it. Go small, be low-key in optics. You want to be able to say to people, “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
The Audi RS Q3 brings the stormy performance of Ingolstadt’s best engine in a small SUV package that can fly under the radar, when specced accordingly.
You might not have heard of the RS Q3, since this is the first time it’s come to Singapore. Short model history: the first-gen Audi Q3 was also Audi’s first small SUV, putting up its dukes against the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. The very much enlarged and improved second-gen debuted here in 2019, so much so that it was able to make our list of the best small, luxury SUVs in Singapore.
Add the full-bore RS high-performance treatment to the Q3, and voila, you have the RS Q3. That means Audi’s best, most exotic engine under the bonnet, rear-biased all-wheel drive that can shunt all the torque to the back if needed, a widened, up-tuned chassis, bigger brakes, and a fearsome visage.
If the RS Q8 is a big stealth bomber, the RS Q3 looks like a pocket stealth fighter, all fearsomely fanged and finned with a vibe of subtle menace.
That’s enhanced by the test car’s dark Daytona Grey metallic paint and optional black styling package, the latter turns the Audi badge, nameplates, grille, roof rails, and side mirrors gloss black for S$5,184. Though if you really want to do the stealth thing, you can delete the RS Q3 badge altogether for free – something we notice is popular in Germany.
The frameless, darkened grille looks much larger than the regular Q3’s, and while the car is only 10mm lower and wider overall, perhaps the biggest visual clue is in the huge, almost comically-oversized 21-inch wheels framing fat, red brake calipers (a S$1,476 option). As RS models go, this is still quite subtle.
Inside, the ‘new Audi’ cockpit layout with digital everything and a clean, pared down design, but is RS-spiced up with sport seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel, and a carbon trim panel.
The car came with the optional ‘RS Design package red extended’ ($5,405), which adds red alcantara to the armrest, dashboard, plus black alcantara on the gearshifter and steering wheel, as well as red highlights on the seatbelts and floormats.
But what’s under the bonnet counts the most of all, since it’s Audi’s best engine. The brand’s signature inline five cylinder has evolved from its previous iteration in the second-gen TT RS, it’s become lighter and revvier thanks to an aluminum crankcase and hollow crankshaft, and now makes 400hp instead of the 340hp it started out with.
Even more importantly, it’s an engine that isn’t just big on power, it’s also big on character too. Like other RS cars, clicking the RS button on the wheel delivers one of two preset sport driving modes and it’s ready for action.
The gurgling offbeat thrum of the five-cylinder is still a major attraction. At low speeds, it’s bassier than a triple with more body, thanks partly to the sports exhaust system. The 480Nm of torque is everywhere, almost instant, and while considerable it’s not the sort of overbearing punch that makes you drive herky-jerky, instead quite smooth and further tamed by the all-wheel drive system.
As the revs rise past 3,000rpm the engine even gains a second wind, the engine note climbs above the even tone of a four-cylinder, and it even comes near the howl of a six, then a massive ‘bloorp’ as the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox shifts up. It’s addictive enough that you’ll want to rinse and repeat until you run of out road, which in Singapore means rather quickly.
As we mentioned in our review of the RS 3 Sedan from 2017, the 2.5 is the perfect engine for the brand, unique to Audi alone unlike the 5.0 V10 in the R8 or the 4.0 V8 in its larger cars. Audi really should throw it into the RS 4 Avant, or almost any of its smaller RS models, and watch fans froth at the mouth in joy. It’s also worth noting the RS Q3, and RS Q3 Sportback, are the only way you can have the 2.5, until the next RS 3 comes out.
Obviously, the RS Q3 is properly fast in real life, and it’s far easier to handle than its larger, more powerful brethren, and it also displays that classic RS trait of being very planted, no matter the speed or trickiness of the road conditions.
However it does wear big shoes and drives larger than its size suggests, trading some accuracy and agility for stolid SUV feel, unlike the first gen of high-performance small SUVs which felt more fun, like hot hatches on stilts. That’s something the more discerning drivers could nitpick, but what most people can get behind is the fact that the RS Q3 is, in classic RS fashion, very good at being a daily hack.
All of the bonuses from the new Q3 are still here, from much increased space all around, to the digitised cockpit, and it can fit five adults plus some cargo. Those are the flexi-seats and good boot space, though the RS Q3 has less boot space since the false floor can’t drop to the same level as the normal car because the battery is located there.
Despite the big wheels, the ride quality isn’t unbearably sporty – this is no filling-jiggler. Toggle Audi Drive Select appropriately, don’t tell your SO, and they might even think it’s just a normal, small family SUV.
Yes, you could go the opposite direction, loud and proud with the almost-lime Kyalami Green paint choice and retaining all the brightwork, but we think that would suit the coupe-ish RS Q3 Sportback more – that’s based on the Q3 Sportback, and a S$7k premium over the RS Q3. In any case competition isn’t thick in this segment yet, with the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 S (S$313,888 with COE) the only direct competitor, at least until BMW makes an X1 M.
We’re sure that the RS Q3 will handle the roads up North well, though bigger horizons might make it feel even better, as we’ve seen in the small high-performance car segment, it’s right-sized for Singapore and doesn’t feel overpowered. Sometimes less is really more, and that coupled with the ability to be a little quiet at the right times, make the RS Q3 for an excellent performance SUV here.
|Engine||2,498cc, inline 5, turbocharged|
|Power||400hp at 5850-7000rpm|
|Torque||480Nm at 1950-5850rpm|
|VES Band /CO2||C2 / 207g/km|
|Price||S$309,390 with COE (sans options)|
|Verdict||Fantastic engine underpins a flexible Mini-RS experience capable of screaming pace or subtlety|