(Pocket-lint) - Audi's quest to give every car in its range the S treatment or RS treatment rolls on unrelenting, with the RS Q3 probably the oddest RS of the lot.
Giving the regular A3 the RS treatment makes sense, as it results in a typical hot hatch, albeit one that's decidedly premium. Making an RS version of your large estate (or Avant in Audi parlance) is perhaps less common, but we can still see some of the appeal in a larger performance model.
When that high performance makeover is applied to one of the company's baby SUVs, we're left scratching our heads. We were when we first encountered this model in 2014, but now it's lifted higher, in the Audi RS Q3 Performance, boosting its performance credentials.
In some ways the Audi RS Q3 Performance is a silly idea. It's an SUV playing at hot hatch, but the addition of a Performance boost to this model suggests there's still a demand. There's rivalry from the likes of the Mercedes GLA AMG, so Audi isn't alone in offering the super-fast SUV, and life would be awfully dull if silly things didn't exist.
Where this might be a silly idea, it's exciting too. It's a smooth and sophisticated car to drive, fusing exciting acceleration and assured Quattro all-wheel drive grip, with practicality and comfort. This is an RS you can drive over the kerb and across the park, load Ikea flat pack in the boot and do it all at speeds that will have the neighbour's Porsche Boxster scratching its head and there's plenty of merit in that.
The new Audi RS Q3 Performance is available from Â£49,185, available now.
Audi RS Q3 Performance first drive: RS thrills and spills in an SUV guise
Audi RS Q3 Performance design
The Audi RS Q3 takes the Q3 and lowers it some 25mm and packs in RS suspension, moving this from baby SUV to a tighter, hunkered-down, sports model. But it retains its SUV stance, riding high and offering a higher driving position.
That's great for visibility, retaining the profile that SUVs enjoy and makes them popular: in urban environments the extended views around traffic gives a distinct high and mighty advantage.
To the exterior there aren't a huge number of changes over the RS Q3 that came before, a nose redesign since the 2014 original sees the matte silver grille surround meeting the lights, but this is otherwise very much what you expect, which a nice sporty stance and more aggressive styling.
The RS Q3 Performance does get some exclusive features though, like the 20-inch titanium-finish wheels giving a healthy view of the big red brake callipers. If you prefer, you can have a stealthy black finish for those wheels too.
More aggressive bodywork stands the RS Q3 aside from the regular Q3, giving this car a visual boost, although it doesn't quite go to the lengths that some of the RS models do: there's only a single exhaust, for example, so you don't quite get that tail end lift.
But overall there's something aggressively cute about the RS Q3. It's like a friendly pit bull, a cuddly and affectionate hulk of muscle, attracting nervous smiles, while you try to decide whether the beast is going to bite or offer its belly for scratching.
Audi RS Q3 Performance interior
One of the great advantages of the added ride height means you're not breaking your back to slip into a bare bone sports seat. One of the practical appeals of an SUV is ease of access, especially if you're loading a baby into the backseat for example, and that's exactly what you get. But the interior benefits from a sporty lift, again carrying a couple of exclusive features to reflect its Performance pedigree.
The carbon highlights laced with blue thread, matching the blue colouring of the exterior and the seat stitching is a nice distinctive touch. We've seen coloured stitching around mats in the past and adding this deeper hint of colour to those carbon inlays adds something special.
But as interiors go, the RS Q3 perhaps reflects the position that the Q3 sits in Audi's range. Things haven't changed much on the interior over the past few years and the manual pop-up display lacks the thrill of the powered versions offered elsewhere across the Audi family. It feels a little budget sitting atop the dash in a car that costs nearly £50,000.
Aside from those carbon highlights, much of the interior here is pretty typical. Giving the RS treatment to an SUV means that you have a cabin that's more spaced out. With a driving seat that's more sit up and beg, you don't quite get the same sporty cockpit feel that Audi's regular-stance models offer.
This is an SUV and that cuts both ways: added interior space is a distinct benefit, especially if you're packing kids into the back, but it's inherently less sporty in ambience, and the layout here doesn't work quite as well as it does in something more compact, as it's a bit of a reach to get to the centre controls and using the Audi MMI system is a little more difficult to use at arm's length: pressing the buttons in the Q3 central column is more of a stretch than in a model where you're sitting alongside a more pronounced transmission tunnel.
You also don't get Audi's latest driver display, sticking instead to two conventional dials and rectangular centre, where others models are offering the digital dash, or digital centre, which is much more dynamic.
But Audi offers wide range of extras, and bags of tech to pimp your ride. The panoramic sunroof is a perennial favourite (£1125) and as you're looking at a seriously fast SUV here, the speed limit display is a useful addition. This reads signs and puts the speed limit in the display so you can see how fast you're supposed to be going.
The comfort package (£500) is your parking companion, giving you a rear-view camera and great guide lines so you know where you're heading without craning your neck too far. Auto-dimming rear mirror, cruise control and high-beam assist are also great additions for motorway driving, especially at night.
Audi RS Q3 Performance on the road
The Audi RS Q3 is equipped with a 2.5-litre TFSI petrol engine, here offering 367PS, stepping up from the "regular" 340PS of the normal RS Q3. But even that's fairly moderate for an Audi RS model when you consider the RS 6 Performance is offering an eye-watering 605PS. Thankfully there's no escaping the exciting surge of power from this popular Audi engine, matched with an equally exhilarating exhaust note as you accelerate off the mark.
You're rewarded with 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, which is fast enough to frustrate many sports car drivers. Imagine setting off from the lights, only to find there's an unrelenting SUV constantly nipping at your heels, 2.4 kids destroying the backseat and a dog in the boot. The RS Q3 will also out-pace many of the larger sports SUV models languishing at the luxury end of the spectrum. If you're an SUV fan looking for performance, then the RS Q3 is an attractive proposition indeed.
Of course there's no escaping the stance of the RS Q3 and that means that there's plenty of body to lean when you hit those corners fast. There's no adaptive suspension here, instead picking a middle ground between providing a comfortable ride and controlling the normal SUV wallowing.
In some ways that makes a lot of sense. Where you might accept a much more unforgiving ride in a hot hatch, that's not really what you want from a baby SUV. There will always be those who do want to take this beyond the road, even if it's just down that well potted unsurfaced road taking the dog for a walk. This is a form and function compromise, but that's ok.