The RS Q3 has unique bumpers, a black high-gloss honeycomb grille and Xenon Plus headlights

The RS Q3 has unique bumpers, a black high-gloss honeycomb grille and Xenon Plus headlights

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It was a record March and first quarter for Audi, globally and in Britain. To stay ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, more crossovers, including high performance RS variants will be added above and below one that's unique in its segment, the RS Q3.

How can you not admire a company which, just when its deadly rivals show signs of catching up, darts off in multiple new directions? Audi has become an expert at this, and has even turned a former disadvantage - front-wheel drive-based models - into an non-issue. Don’t believe me? Then why is BMW in the early stages of a global marketing push for its first FWD model, the clunkily named 2 Series Active Tourer? If it wants to find out how to make a high performance M2 Active Tourer, it should look to Audi, not forgetting Daimler - a possible B 45 AMG is said to be under development.

Cars such as the soon to be launched 2 Series hatchback show that premium makers just keep on invading parts of the market where either a non-premium OEM was the class leader, or, increasingly, there was no dominant model. Audi’s super-fast RS Q3 shouldn’t really exist, and yet it does, and it also sells in modest yet super-profitable numbers. Try doing that if you’re Renault or Fiat or Opel. In short, what we used to call mass market brands - the premium brands are increasingly the big-volume automakers - keep getting squeezed.

In Britain, Audi is now outsold only by Volkswagen, Vauxhall and Ford, but VW is in no danger, its profits powerhouse subsidiary is on average selling around 4,000 fewer cars a month. Pause and consider that British customers have so far bought 43,766 Audis in 2014 compared to a still impressive 38,262 during the first quarter of 2013. Another 2,361 cars sold in March and Audi would have done double the volume of the number 10 brand, Citroën.

All those people wandering in to increasingly crowded Audi showrooms, or the virtual one on Piccadilly, are mostly buying the A3 Sportback or other A3 derivatives. Even though just about all of them will have their configured model firmly decided upon, some will still be tempted by something a little less...samey. Like the RS Q3. There’s no way you could justify spending GBP 41,735 (before options) on a small SUV, or so I though before seeing this car in the metal. But it does look very alluring. It sits low, there's a subtle quattro legend enscribed into the aero apron, lots of gloss-black trim and then you lift the bonnet and see where so much of your money has gone. Despite this type of engine having a strong hertitage at Audi, the inline five-cylinder petrol is now a rare thing in any model from the Four Rings brand. So straight away, into the mix comes exclusivity.

The RS Q3 is not just deliciously fast, it also sounds like few other cars. The reason is the distinctive noise of its 2,480cc TFSI (direct injection, turbocharged petrol). This puts out 228kW (310hp) and 420Nm (310 lb ft). Zero to 100km/h takes just 5.2 seconds and the standard gearbox is a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual which Audi terms S tronic. You can have fun downshifting with the paddles too. The S tronic has an especially long top gear so motorway cruising is not only quiet but the NEDC consumption average is 8.8 litres/100km (32.1mpg for Combined) and CO2 is 206g/km. There is also standard stop-start, permanent all-wheel drive with electronically controlled multi-plate clutch and an EDL (electronically-locking differential).

The production side of things is noteworthy, with this, the fourth RS Audi to have been launched in the last 12 months, being manufactured not by Audi but by SEAT. The Martorell plant had up to 100,000 units per annum of new capacity installed for the related Q3 model ahead of the start of production in July 2011. And while the Q3 is also made in China and from 2015, at a new plant in Brazil, the RS is built exclusively in Spain. Both the Q3 and RS Q3 (there is no SQ3) are underpinned by the same PQ35 architecture as the similarly sized Volkswagen Tiguan.

With the performance that's on offer, you wouldn't imagine that Audi might be considering an even more powerful RS Q3, yet it might be, for two reasons. Firstly, the original 'Vail' concept's 2,480cc engine was said to produce 360hp. Secondly, and here's a coincidence, that's the same output as the production model's only rival - the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG. The Benz hits European markets from August and has the same 2.0-litre turbo as the existing A 45 AMG.

Some might think that small, expensive super-crossovers are something of an irrelevance, but that's not the case, especially in Britain, where vehicle sales continue to rise. As registrations keep going up, so does Audi's image as the number one premium brand. Just how successful it now is can be illustrated by what happened in March - bearing in mind that this month is always a big one, still it's an incredible achievement: only China was a larger market for the brand. Yes, that really does mean that more Audis were sold in Britain (28,841) than in Germany (27,226), even if for the year to date, the home market remains about 23,000 units ahead. While this boom lasts, the UK is clearly the place to be selling high-priced,  cars. And one particular crossover that has the acceleration level of a supercar.

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