If I had to choose my favourite engine among the hundreds of cars I’ve tested, the RSQ3 would probably be the one.
Boasting a thunderous turbo-charger and an exhaust note that will frighten chickens out of the hen-house on a Sunday morning, it is built by Audi, the German company that has a long history with five-cylinder engines.
Not surprisingly, it can be found in a couple of Audi’s high-performance models.
Somewhat surprising is the fact that one of those cars is a baby SUV – the Audi RSQ3, which has just arrived Down Under after a comprehensive redesign.
Its unorthodox five-cylinder configuration harks back to Audi’s glory days in the World Rally Championship, where the company’s original S1 model dominated the muddy and snowy tracks of Europe with its all-conquering all-wheel-drive systems and a barking, angry exhaust note.
Audi’s rallying days are over, but that iconic five-in-line engine remains (and has evolved), still leaving a vivid and lasting impression every time we encounter it.
In its latest iteration, the engine can be found in three ‘evil child’ members of the Audi range, the fully-worked TT-RS coupe, along with the wicked RS3 hyper-hatchback and its SUV equivalent, the RSQ3, tested here.
It’s a car you will hear long before you lay eyes on it.
Driven with any kind of intent, it delivers a visceral experience the equal of any car on the planet.
It’s here because Audi has recently refurbished the entire Q3 range, with new styling, upgraded technology and better value – all the reasons we needed to renew our love affair with what lies under the bonnet.
The engine completely transforms the Q3, a very impressive small SUV in its own right and which, in its most basic (and mild) form is a cute but inoffensive city runabout.
That model costs $42,900 and is powered by a capable but unremarkable 1.4-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Its 110 kilowatts and 250Nm pale, somewhat, compared to the apex-model RSQ3 which brings a jaw-dropping 294 kilowatts and 480Nm. That’s good for a 0-100km/h time of just 4.5 seconds, ridiculously quick for a car of this size and nature, and probably justifying its fulsome $89,900 price tag (double the cost of the basic model).
Not that the RSQ3 has had any trouble attracting buyers, but Audi has now added an additional indulgence: for an extra three grand you can have the RSQ3 Sportback that brings some sleek coupe styling to the SUV configuration.
Those prices might be a little hard to justify to your accountant, especially when you consider how nicely equipped and beautifully finished the basic Q3 is at half the price.
But along with its ballistic performance, the RSQ3 enjoys a long features list, stretching from Audi’s now-familiar, twin-screen virtual cockpit digital instrument panel to Matrix-LED headlights, dynamic indicators and a sophisticated electronic safety suite.
That includes active lane assist, 360-degree surround view camera, rear cross-traffic assist, autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian and cyclist detection.
It gets an upgraded version of Audi’s drive select system, adding two ‘RS’ modes that sharpen everything from handling to throttle response.
It sits on massive 21-inch alloys and wafer-thin low profile tyres.
Inside, there’s quilted leather seats (ours included a flash of the garish blue that matched our test vehicle’s paint job); along with sporty trim and a glorious Bang and Olufsen audio system.
And, of course, the Audi Sports exhaust system that delivers that unmistakable engine note.
The Q3 has been an important vehicle for Audi since its launch in 2012, particularly in this SUV-obsessed market, and the second-edition model will ensure it continues to be so.
The RSQ3, in that context, certainly gives the Audi a distinctive halo model, while at the other end of the spectrum the entry-level model, starting at $42,900 ensures that the Q3 remains a good way to get that coveted four-ring logo onto your bonnet.
Cockpit architecture is fundamentally the same across the Audi range now – from the flagship Q8 down to the recently relaunched baby hatchback A1.
All utilise multiple video screens with iPad-like clarity and resolution, so the less expensive models enjoy a premium look and feel as a result.
The new-gen Q3 is bigger than the previous model, having added 77mm to its wheelbase and gained a roomier and more flexible interior.
Even with the seemingly puny 1.4-litre, turbocharged engine it is surprisingly spirited, so you can imagine how the firecracker performance of the RS feels by comparison.
No, the world really doesn’t need a 90-odd-grand baby SUV that can gobble up performance machines with price tags twice the size.
But as long as that sublime five-cylinder engine remains part of Audi’s arsenal, you can bet cars like this one will continue to catch their share of public interest.
* HOW BIG?
Bigger than the model it replaces, the RSQ3 can fit two adults and three kids, plus a big cargo space (more than 500l).
* HOW FAST? The 100km/h speed limit arrives in an indecently quick 4.5 seconds – the province of only the true performance models. Compare that to the 1.4-litre version which takes a relaxed 8.9 seconds.
* HOW THIRSTY?
The five-cylinder powerplant was designed with performance in mind from the outset, so it should come as no surprise that it has a sizeable 8.9L/100km thirst. But in the context of its performance, that’s not too bad.
* HOW MUCH? It’s twice as fast as the entry-level model so it stands to reason it should be twice the price.
The RSQ3 is $89,900, the Sportback variant is $92,900.