RoadTrip | No 'rescue' for RS Q3 Sportback's five-pot engine on unique visit to NSRI

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2021 Audi RS Q3 Sportback with 'Rescue 3'
2021 Audi RS Q3 Sportback with 'Rescue 3'
Ryan Abbott | RoadTrip

• The Audi RS Q3 Sportback is powered by a unique five-cylinder turbocharged engine.

• The RoadTrip team visits the NSRI's Station 3, founded around the same time as Audi.

• The RS Q3 Sportback retails from R1 150 000.

For more motoring stories, visit Wheels24

The latest RS Q3 may be the last of its kind in the Audi line-up, and the last Q model powered by the renowned turbo five-cylinder engine from Ingolstadt. In recognition of this iconic piece of engineering and ahead of the holiday season, we visited Station 3, one of the oldest rescue stations of the NSRI.
Ferdi de Vos, RoadTrip editor

Ah, that sound. When the five-cylinder engine in the RS Q3 Sportback fires up with a specific, slightly unbalanced harmony - produced by its special firing order - filling the air with a beautiful noise as it emanates from those big black exhausts.

We were at the Cape Town Waterfront, busy with a photoshoot involving the crew from Station 3 of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) aboard their trusty rescue vessel, proudly emblazoned Rescue 3, and I was finding all kinds of reasons to keep moving the Audi. Just to listen to that throbbing, sonorous sound - amplified in RS Mode.

Expertly skippered by station commander Marc de Vos, the Class 1 vessel swung into view. Guided by radio messages from experienced NSRI volunteer Paula Leech, he lined it up perfectly at various locations so photographer Ryan Abbott could get the necessary shots of the RS Q3 with Rescue 3 sweeping past.

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Rescue 3

The NSRI, established in 1967 with one boat and just a handful of crew members, has grown exponentially over six decades (much like Audi, founded around the same time) and now has 44 rescue bases around the country, 21 lifeguard beaches, and 100 rescue craft.

Station 3 was one of the first NSRI stations to be established, initially located in Three Anchor Bay before it merged with Station 1, moved to Granger Bay, then to East Pier at the V&A Waterfront, before settling at its current location: the Bob Deacon Base. 

The busy and large Sea Rescue Base is currently home to 36 qualified crew and 16 trainees. They are on call for a week at a time, every third week and attend further sessions, catering to trainees, various classes of trainee coxswains, says Marc, an oceanographer who joined Sea Rescue 12 years ago and has been commanding Station 3 since August 2019.

"Ad hoc training covering current issues or necessary refreshers are also carried out, so all crew are engaged quite often to keep them sharp and focused," De Vos says. This is further stepped up before the holiday season, and the NSRI graciously permitted us to use one of these training exercises for photography with the RS Q3.

Audi RS Q3 Sportback
2021 Audi RS Q3 Sportback

An iconic engine

Audi has saved the glorious turbo five-cylinder engine - an important component of its brand DNA since its first introduction 45 years ago - from a premature demise before. 

By the 2000s, the multiple award-winning engine needed extensive redevelopment due to stringent emission controls. Luckily, a commission from VW Mexico for a five-cylinder mill in the US market Jetta justified the revival of the turbo five-cylinder tradition and rescued it from an ignominious end.

Modernised with direct fuel injection and 2.5-litre displacement, the engine made a comeback in the Audi TT RS in 2009. After more development, the reworked 2.5 TFSI, with more power, lower weight, reduced consumption, and fewer emissions, made its debut in the next-generation TT RS in 2016.

Now, as used in the facelifted Sportback, the iconic engine is 26kg lighter than its predecessor and 17% more powerful. This is owing to an aluminium crankcase (saving 18kg), adjustable camshafts, plasma-coated cylinder liners, a hollow crankshaft with smaller main bearings, and aluminium pistons with integrated channels for oil cooling.

Audi RS Q3 Sportback
2021 Audi RS Q3 Sportback

RS performance

With 294kW of power and a maximum torque of 480Nm available, fed to the Quattro drive system via a seven-speed S tronic transmission, the Nardo Grey Sportback (with R175 480 worth of optional extras, including Matrix LED lights and Glossy Black and Black Appearance package Plus), proved deceptively quick.

The SUV coupé crossover zipped from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds (using Launch Control) and then relentlessly pushed towards its (limited) top speed of 250km/h. Also, with its downward sloping coupé like roofline and pronounced flared wheel arches, the Sportback appears even more muscular than its standard RS Q3 sibling.

Its performance aspirations are further underscored by a gloss black Singleframe honeycomb grille under flat RS slits, large side air inlets, boomerang-shaped blades in the bumper, a low rear window line, an RS-specific roof spoiler and dual-branch exhausts with large oval tailpipes.

Given its RS credentials, we obviously negotiated some of the twisty mountain sections in the Cape Town region, but when really pushed hard in the corners, it became clear the handling of the Sportback was slightly constrained by its crossover attributes.

Even with a suspension lowered 10mm than the normal Q3 model, it still rides higher than a RS 3 and is heavier, marginally compromising its stability at the limit. Shod with 21-inch performance rubber and equipped with Dynamic Chassis Control, it cornered flat and fast, yet its steering, while direct and precise, was somewhat artificial, making you feel slightly removed from the action.

Audi RS Q3 Sportback
2021 Audi RS Q3 Sportback with 'Rescue 3'

It still has class-leading handling and offers prodigious grip, although offset by a quite hard ride quality (we suggest selecting comfort or auto mode on the MMI for normal driving). Also, its red-painted ventilated and perforated RS brakes are super-efficient, and inside, unlike the sparsely purpose-fitted Rescue 3 vessel, the five-seater is sumptuously equipped.

The Nappa-leather sport seats, now with honeycomb pattern, contrasting stitching, and Alcantara inlays are snug-fitting and comfortable, and there are RS logos everywhere. The high-gloss black MMI touch display slots in seamlessly, and special RS displays in the Audi virtual cockpit provide extra performance information. 

Still, we do not really get the rationale behind such a fast and powerful compact SUV. In our view, the RS3 Sportback is the better option if you want this kind of performance. Even so, the RS Q3 Sportback, with a base price of R1 150 000, offers better value than competitors such as the BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 4Matic.

What makes this RS Q3 even more remarkable is the possibility that it may be the final iteration of this model in its current form. Audi's relentless push towards electric mobility makes it unlikely that the legendary five-cylinder turbo engine will be rescued again.

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