Race on for fire-breathing Audi
The Audi RS Q3 hits 100km/h in 5.2 seconds. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

When it comes to new segments, car makers generally follow the same routine: a company creates a new type of vehicle, it succeeds and other manufacturers rush to create one of their own.

And then, once the new market segment is established, they think of ways to make said vehicles go ridiculously fast. It's how the functional, economical small hatch can turn into a Golf R; or how cumbersome, utilitarian SUVs become maniacal things such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.

So, given the rise of the compact SUV, it's no surprise car companies would look to make a fire-breathing version of a jacked-up city car. It's still early days - really, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have the space to themselves at the moment as most performance SUVs are mid-sized or larger.

Which brings us to the RS Q3, the first SUV to wear Audi's RS badge and also the cheapest to do so by a long margin; the TT RS is next in line and has a list price $57,000 above the RS Q3.

Now, the RS is a badge which signifies SERIOUS performance. The creme de la creme of what this prestige German brand can do. I was interested to see if the "only $80K" RS Q3 could live it up to the reputation.

Well, it doesn't.

But bear with me, as that's way too harsh and unfair an assessment, context free. The RS Q3 is a great vehicle: nicely finished inside, with enough tech and features to satisfy pretty much everyone and it pulls hard off the line to hit 100km/h in 5.2 seconds.

But it just doesn't feel that quick and it's not always a fun drive. There was some turbo lag but more intrusive was the seven-speed DSG which could be slightly clunky in its changes and was sometimes confused as to when to hold on to gears or change up or down. Even when you choose to do it yourself, there was a lapse between pulling the paddle and the gear changing.

I should point out we're talking very small fractions of time here and these issues are minor annoyances at best. But that's the thing in an RS car - you expect the best, even if it costs tens of thousands of dollars less than the rest of the RS models.

It sounds stupid (and maybe it is) but if it was simply called the SQ3 I might be more forgiving.

Also an issue is the body shape. While it handles very admirably for an SUV, you wonder what you're getting for the sacrifice. In the excellent, larger SQ5 you at least have the pay-off of extra cargo room and interior space for any performance concessions; the RS Q3 just isn't that big a vehicle.

Plus, there aren't that many concessions in the SQ5 anyway; it actually gets to 100km/h 0.1 seconds quicker than the smaller RS Q3 - though it also costs $7500 more.

Or, if you can take or leave the SUV body-style, there's the outrageously fun S3 which also gets to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds. It's smaller inside but has none of the handling concerns of an SUV, plus in its Sportback hatch guise it's a whopping $22,000 less than the RS Q3. Most tellingly, the RS Q3 is more expensive and less powerful than its AMG rival.

Look, if you happen to want a small SUV that has serious performance credentials - and Audi's sales figures suggest a fair few people do - then the RS Q3 is fantastic.

But if dynamics or convenience are a clear number one on your priorities list, there's plenty else for you to try . . . and you won't even need to leave the Audi dealership if your heart's set on having the four rings on the grille.

The RS Q3 is a fast, compact SUV with good on-road dynamics. Whether it's worthy of the RS badge is for geeks to argue but it does face stiff competition - especially from within Audi's own line-up.

Price: $81,900
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol
Outputs: 228kW/420Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Thirst: 8.8L/100km
0-100km/h: 5.2 seconds

The West Australian

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