There was a time when SUVs were bought for practical reasons rather than performance but Audi seems to have turned that idea on its head with the latest generation of its Q models.
The newly launched RS Q3 and its sister car the SQ5 still offer the practicalities demanded by an SUV buyer but in addition boast the sort of adrenaline pumping performance normally associated with sports cars and sporting saloons.
And because one is a petrol powered car and the other a diesel, their appeal is wide and varied.
The smaller of the two, the RS Q3, has a 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol engine capable of rocketing the car from standstill to 62 miles per hour in just 5.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph. It’s the same engine Audi uses in its TT RS model.
The larger car, the SQ5, on the other hand is powered by a 3.0-litre diesel but offers comparable performance hitting 62 mph in 5.1 seconds and boasting the same electronically limited top speed.
The output of the Q twins is similar too, with the RS Q3 having 310bhp and the SQ5 fractionally more with 313bhp. Both are quattro models so even though they are not designed as rugged off-roaders, both come with Audi’s very capable all-wheel-drive system.
When it comes to price, however, the larger one will cost you more at £43,075 compared to the RS Q3 at £41,735.
Audi has done exceptionally well with its Q models and the Q5 now accounts for 44 per cent of sales of the big three German brands in its sector of the market and its smaller sibling is now also attracting a lot of attention from Audi enthusiasts anxious to own an RS model.
RS badged Audis are the pinnacle of each model range and the new RS Q3 is the cheapest of the current RS line-up of seven models.
The car comes with a rapid change seven-speed tiptronic gearbox with the option to use it in sport mode or drive it manually with paddles behind the steering wheel. Leave it in auto and put your right foot down hard and the car whips smoothly through the gears with no real sense of changes but a superb roar from the sporting exhaust system.
And even though it’s covered with RS badges and you know it’s going to be quick, the performance of this car still comes as a shock because its appearance is that of a small SUV. Despite its height the car handles well, thanks partly to the quattro system and partly to the excellent sports suspension although never feels quite as firm on the ground as the RS saloons.
The SQ5 is easily recognisable to enthusiasts because of its lower stance – the suspension has been lowered by 30mm – its extended roof spoiler, quadruple tailpipes and its 20-inch wheels with black brake calipers bearing the SQ5 logo.
It’s a large car compared to the RS Q3 but despite its size you get car-like handling and pin sharp steering.
With this model you get an eight rather than seven-speed automatic gearbox, again with the option of moving the gearshift just one notch to change to sport mode and the resulting blistering acceleration. And while the SQ5 is a car you buy for performance, it still has all the features of the less powerful Q5 models which have made them such good sellers, such as that extra height for good all round vision.
Anyone with a budget of more than £40,000 looking for a performance SUV from Audi could well have difficulty making a selection from these two models.
In the end it might simply come down to size.