Audi’s five-pot SUV is back, but it’s now much more like a hot hatch than a fast wagon on stilts.
Ferrari has its V12, Porsche its flat-six and muscle cars their V8. And Audi has its yowling, warbling in-line five-cylinder. We’ve seen Audi’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine many times before; it’s a bespoke Audi Sport unit developed in homage to the engine that echoed across the world rally stages in the 1980s. Initially found in the first-generation Audi RS3 and TT RS, the ‘R5’ inline-five has been refined with lighter construction (the current version uses an aluminium block rather than the cast iron of the first-generation variant), bigger turbo and Audi’s latest injection system to reach its current state found in the RS3, TT RS and new-generation RS Q3 here.
Peak power is rated at 294kW from 5850-7000rpm, while maximum torque, 480Nm, is spread out between 1950 and 5850rpm, sent through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Very few engines have such a range and fewer still provide an instant transition from maximum torque to peak power.
As the numbers suggest, the engine is devastatingly effective, yet it majors on engagement, and is a nine-time winner at the annual International Engine of the Year awards. The five-cylinder layout, which shares its bore and stroke with the 5.0-litre V10 previously used by Audi and Lamborghini, features a unique 1-2-4-5-3 firing order that gives the engine its distinct note. That note is further enhanced by the RS sport exhaust that is optional in most markets but is included in the standard-equipment list for the recently arrived RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback.
The 2480cc turbocharged five-cylinder engine measure less than 50cm in total length, and thanks to the switch to an aluminium construction, it now weighs 26kg less than the previous version. Official combined-cycle fuel consumption is 8.9L/100km for both RS Q3 variants.
The new-generation RS Q3 delivers its power to the ground via a seven-speed dual clutch S tronic gearbox and quattro permanent AWD system. Depending on driving style and available traction, the system, which uses up to 40 bar of hydraulic pressure to press the clutch plates together, can send between 50 and 100 percent of torque to the back axle.
You find yourself punching up and down the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, playing different tunes with the ever-willing engine. The gearbox itself is a rapid-fire companion to the engine, keeping the motor on the boil at all times and providing the driver with another source of entertainment. And, perhaps more importantly, the gearbox also slips into the background when you’re using the RS Q3 for more everyday activities.
Audi claims that the RS Q3, with the aid or launch control and that fast-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox, will accelerate to 100km/h in just 4.5sec. Having now sampled the RS Q3 Sportback, two things strike us about that number: firstly, that’s ridiculous and more than a match for many genuine sports cars, secondly, it actually feels quicker. Top speed is limited to 250km/h, though this can be optionally raised to 280.
Away from the straight line, the steering is true and transparent in its response and feedback. The Haldex AWD system is arguably the best that we’ve ever sampled, and the RS Q3 genuinely feels like a tall hot hatch rather than a slow-witted SUV. Really lean on the chassis while applying more throttle through an opening-radius corner and you can feel torque transition to the rear and the RS Q3 squat hard over the outside rear wheel.
Push harder still and a nose-led handling balance does reveal itself, but by this stage the engine’s hissing, whistling and bassy warbles encourage you to almost overdrive the RS Q3, pretending to be Walter Röhrl driving the wheels off a period Audi Quattro rally car.
It adds up to an experience that feels authentic and a fine tribute to the five-cylinder heroes in Audi’s back catalogue. The RS Q3 keeps a few rough edges that the driver can work around or exploit, giving it more depth and satisfaction as a result.
At $89,900 for the RS Q3 and $92,900 for the Sportback variant, the new Audi offers plenty of food for thought within the performance SUV segment but it also sits out on its own. It’s the most powerful, fastest and focused of the genuinely compact SUVs on the market.