/ 31 October 2021

Car review: Audi RSQ3 — Is there logic behind infatuation?

Audi Rs Q3 Sportback
Love affair: Squeeze the Audi RSQ3’s accelerator and get a thrill.


A week after our test period with the RSQ3, it was parked outside the venue of another, unrelated launch event.

It was clear it was the same vehicle. There are few other saloon-esque, sub-compact SUVs decked in luminescent green, accentuated with black trimmings. Yes, this was the same car — undoubtedly in the care of another journalist for their go around the block.

A flash of jealousy flared up. It was completely irrational, of course, but what the RSQ3 does particularly well is induce the illusion that it and the driver have a special relationship. That only their compatibility can get the best out of it.

In truth, it would be willing to grant thrills to anyone who squeezes the accelerator. Like anything with an RS badge that is what it has been designed to do.

Much has been made about Audi’s bold — partially forced — move to release 15 performance vehicles all at once. The RSQ3 is not quite as outrageous, in both price and execution, as some of its family members, but it’s by no means the odd one out either.

Underneath the hood is a 2.5 litre turbo, five-cylinder engine. With the foot flat it will get you to 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds. Given its bold frame it feels pacier than that — or at the very least shoots up to higher speeds quickly and maintains them well. 

Steering is light and responsive. The higher suspension (compared to the usual Q3) dives into corners and exits them with grace. Unlike some options in this and related segments, there is no sense that any control is lost when achieving the higher reaches of the speedometer. There is no wavering to the side, or any miscontrol that might jeopardise a tight lane pass.

If there is a criticism to be found in its performance it’s that it is hard to turn off. That might sound like a joke but the Audi doesn’t do a great job of offering a sedate experience outside of sport mode. You’ll crawl off the line at every busy green traffic light, living in fear that the pedal might sink deep and send you roaring forward. 

Fortunately there is still some juice reserved to make the dynamic modes compelling. In fact, it’s here we find one of the RSQ3’s best quirks — an “RS Mode” button located conveniently on the steering wheel. That button removes the need to labour away in the parking lot adjusting driver settings and instead switches up the gearbox et al to the raciest settings in one click. It also switches up the digital driver’s display, which adds a feeling of anticipation to the whole experience.

There’s even a hack to spark the ignition in the mode and get an added vrr-pha when the engine starts up — if that’s your sort of thing. And if you want to own one of these, there’s every chance that it is. 

Like its RS brethren, the Q3 is not known to be inconspicuous. It’s a vehicle that wants to be seen, heard and felt. Its craziness begets its celebrity. 

That became clear when driving into a gated northern Johannesburg suburb one day. The security guard at the entrance fawned over the Audi, eventually asking if he could take a couple of pictures with it. As he posed for selfies on the side of the road, I asked if he might not get into trouble for abandoning his post. He assured me it was okay … or perhaps completing the photo shoot mattered more in the moment than a warning from his employer.

For all the dream car qualities on display, paradoxically most of us could never have a future with such a niche product. That’s because there are few practical reasons for buying one (which, by the way, starts at R1 150 000). You can have a car as fast for cheaper, and you could have a small family SUV for much cheaper.

It’s an old literary cliché: the protagonist falls for an exciting, devil-may-care man or woman, but for any number of reasons decides to wed someone else. After a test drive the RSQ3 will make you feel much the same way.

Then again we’re not characters in an F Scott Fitzgerald novel. So if this speaks to you, rest assured, you’ll have plenty of admirers.