Is novelty value enough to overturn cynicism about the £53,050 bottom line though? Or the fears that onto the RS3's dynamic reportoire of dogmatic understeer Audi has simply added a dose of top heaviness. Because that'll help, won't it...
It might be a cylinder down and similarly expensive but the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 carries off the look far more stylishly and, in some ways, proves itself the best all-rounder of the '45 trio. If you want a go-faster compact crossover the AMG would seem a much more aggressive-looking and appealing prospect than the Weeble-like Q3.
But then you talk to people who've spent time in the RS Q3 and a picture builds of a car far more entertaining and characterful than its on-paper sales pitch would ever hint at. People who know cars seem to rate it as one of the 'good' fast Audis. Can that really be the case?
Incredibly enough the RS Q3 launched as the first 'proper' Quattro GmbH tuned Audi crossover, making its debut back in 2013 and inspiring a PH comments thread just shy of 250 responses. Not many of them especially favourable. It was facelifted in 2014, power increasing from 310hp to 340hp among a series of detail tweaks including shorter lower ratios for the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Earlier this year we got confirmation of the RS Q3 Performance version, pushed to 367hp to offer a symbolic 7hp power advantage over the aforementioned GLA45.
And that's what we have here. The absurdity of boasting of lowered sports suspension on a high-riding crossover seems to have escaped Ingolstadt's irony filter (if indeed, there is such a thing), but the Performance rides 20mm lower than the standard Q3. The extra power shortens the 0-62mph benchmark by a worthwhile four tenths to a vaguely absurd 4.4 seconds, this 1.1 seconds faster than the original RS Q3. Matt silvery-grey trim elements mark the Performance out from regular RS Q3s but no aesthetic mods can make good on the fundamentally dumpy proportions. Credit where it's due though - one fat exhaust pipe is commendably anti-fashion in this day of bazooka-like quad-pipe arrays and complies with PH's official exhaust rules.
First impressions at town speeds would seem to confirm all the worst fears, the steering wheel flopping about limply in your hands and the ride brittle and unyielding on the kind of speedbump riddled roads your average Q3 would consider home turf. Dynamic mode on the Audi Drive Select simply adds false weight to the steering and a bit more five-cylinder throb from the flap-controlled exhaust.
The powertrain is impressive though, even if the chunky 2.5-litre motor is slung way over the front axle in true Audi tradition. As in its other applications it's impressively charismatic, as honest to the turbocharged, boosty traditions of the Ur Quattro as the sound it makes from that howitzer exhaust pipe. There's even some whistly induction noise layered on top for good measure.
Chinks in one's armour of cynicism appear as you start exploring the firepower at your disposal too. Suddenly the blobby appearance becomes less of an annoyance and more amusing, the yawning mis-match between the way it looks and the way it goes novelty enough to compensate. It's not just the speed; the noise adds to the fun, bringing out your inner Rohrl as you perambulate around the suburbs.
Out on the open road the urgency of the boosty power delivery continues to amuse. Even the damping settles down, managing a half respectable job of keeping that high-riding body under control. This on the passive dampers, a multi-mode £680 RS Sports Suspension set-up optionally available if you want more to select from your Drive Select. Those funky wavy brakes (the design saves a kilo per disc) even have decent feel, not grabbing in the way some Audi set-ups can and offering confidence inspiring power all the way through the pedal stroke thanks to eight-piston calipers.
Against all expectations could this yet be one of the 'good' fast Audis? There are limitations. At civilian speeds it's commendably neutral, understeer only building when the speeds are beyond what your confidence in the steering would usually encourage. Yes, if there's a real dynamic weak point it's that steering, there never being any sense of what the tyres are up to. The top-heaviness also limits your confidence, sudden weight shifts contained by the damping but never feeling entirely comfortable. Fast and flowy is good, tight and twisty less so.
How many Q3 drivers, RS or otherwise, regularly nudge against the limits though? Exactly. In the realms in which most will be used - that is to say naughty squirts of acceleration between the lights and some understated school gate one-upmanship - the RS Q3 is bang on target. It's also impressively refined on a long run, can cruise at a commendable 30+ mpg and, a generation back on the newest latest or not, the interior is predictably solid and user-friendly. For a family hack it's not the most spacious of vehicles though.
In true fast Audi fashion the RS Q3 pairs a breathtakingly powerful engine brimming with charisma and soul into a vehicle conspicuously lacking in either of these qualities. There is a surprising amount of comedy value in this, at least on the limited exposure of a week's press loan. It's a joke with an expensive punchline but one not entirely lost on a crowd like us. And from the initial set-up who'd have thought that? Ultimately though if you like the sound of all this it's hard to escape the idea an RS3 offers all the same amusement with a considerably more favourable centre of gravity, more modern interior and better looks. For suggesting there is a sense of humour lurking behind the straight-laced Audi façade the RS Q3 Performance is a surprisingly amusing novelty though.
AUDI RS Q3 PERFORMANCE
Engine: 2,480cc, inline five-cyl turbocharged
Power (hp): 367@5,550-6,800 rpm
Torque (lb ft): 343@1,625-5,550rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,655kg (Unladen EU)
CO2: 203 g/km
Price: £47,850 (£53,050 as tested including £90 for Audi hill-hold assist, £500 for Comfort package plus, £1,010 for Technology package, £450 for Audi active lane assist, £690 for BOSE surround sound, £1,125 for Panoramic glass sunroof and £1,335 for on the road costs)