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19 April 2012

We drive the Audi RS Q3 (sort of)

Paul Horrell reports back on the birth and future of Audi’s new fast SUV

Paul Horrell
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This Audi RS Q3 concept is actually the third five-cylinder Q3 we've seen. Which means Audi is serious about the idea. In less than a year there'll be some sort of production version.

Here's the history. At the regular Q3 first drive in June last year, when the whole range was four cylinders, I had a brief drive in a five-cylinder engineering prototype. It had been done by Audi's internal Quattro GmbH division, the crowd who make all the RS cars and the R8. It had the engine from the TTRS and RS3, but de-tuned to 300bhp.

It was decently quick and sounded lovely, but the driving experience was a bit soggy on account of its using standard Q3 suspension and brakes. The head of Quattro, Stephan Reil, told me if it made production, it'd need its own suspension tuning, as well as some mods to the body shell to quell some of the less happy vibrations of the big five.

I asked him why it was 300bhp instead of the 340 in the TTRS and RS3. He smiled and said there was no technical reason - it's just that the top-power BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque are 240bhp or so (the X1 28i isn't actually sold in the UK). So Reil just wanted to be comfortably clear of them, while not making his car so powerful it priced itself out of the market.

He'd done his business case when none of the Q3 range was expected to be sold in the US - the car wasn't designed for the crash rules there.

But then at the Detroit show this January, Audi showed the Q3 Vail concept. This points to a facelifted Q3 that will go on sale in the US. So suddenly the potential global potential for big-engined Q3s rises significantly.

The Vail concept had the five-cylinder engine, rated at 314bhp. It had raised ground clearance and a more SUV-ish body kit than the standard Q3.

And now this Beijing concept, the RS Q3, rated at a much higher 360bhp. It's given the full on-road SUV look, inside and out. Definitely seems like more of a Quattro GmbH project than the other two five-cylinder Q3s we've seen so far.

So this whole five-cylinder Q3 idea has been batted about enough by Audi to show they're serious for production. But in which form? As a fairly mainstream with 300-odd bhp version, or as a madder one with 350-ish?

My guess would be the latter. Audi already has four-cylinder petrol engines that can match or beat the top X1 and Evoque's power. It would be a lot cheaper to do the mainstream USA Q3 with a four-pot.

To be a real Quattro GmbH car, the output needs to be faintly mad. They already have the transmission, the Haldex 4WD system and the cooling system developed for the 340bhp version, and I suspect that's what Stephan Reil wants to go ahead and do.

Read more about the Audi Q3 RS here

Tags: audi, q3, beijing

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