I’ve recently reached the conclusion that Audi – noted manufacturer of luxury cars that make you cough – is insane. This is largely because Audi is still refusing to sell its coolest cars in America, though I must admit they do generously offer us a plug-in hybrid version of the A3 hatchback that costs up to $50,000.
I came to this conclusion the other day when I discovered that Europe is getting yet another high-performance Audi they won’t sell in America: the RS Q3. This is one of the coolest high-performance Audi models in the modern roster; a 335 horsepower combination of sport SUV and hot hatch that does 0-to-60 in 4.8 seconds.
This isn’t like the X6 M, whose giant engine and, er, striking appearance ensures that no one who owns one will ever get waved over in traffic. No, the RS Q3 is cool, it’s fun, it’s something that would only be maligned by the most ardent of SUV haters; the people who believe that the proper course of action, when you see a spider in the shower, is to turn off the shower, get out, and take baths for the next few days until the spider has peacefully moved on. For everyone else, it’s awesome.
And we aren’t getting it.
Now, this pisses me off, as I happen to love high-performance small SUVs. This is because they offer most of the nimbleness of high-performance small cars, but also they can run over stuff.
But it’s not just personal: Audi’s decision not to sell the RS Q3 here pisses me off because all the other car companies seem to understand this is something we want. Mercedes gives us an AMG version of their GLA compact SUV. BMW once offered a 300-horsepower version of the small X1. Mini makes a high-performance “John Cooper Works” version of the Countryman. And even Porsche recognized the growing market demand for a sporty SUV smaller than the already not-too-huge Cayenne.
But Audi… they’re saving the RS Q3 for people in other countries.
This got me so riled up yesterday that I decided to see what else Audi isn’t giving us. So I logged on to Audi’s Swiss website, largely because everyone in Switzerland drives a high-performance car, even though the penalty for going just one mile per hour over the speed limit is that they will poke out your eyeballs, and cut off your legs, and kill you, and revoke your Amazon Prime subscription. And what I discovered is that Audi still refuses to sell nearly half of their high-performance models in North America.
Here’s the breakdown: America gets the S3, the S4, the S5, the S6, the S7 and RS7, and the SQ5. But America doesn’t get the S1, the RS3, the RS6, the RS6 Avant, and the RS Q3. We also miss out on the SQ5 TDI, which makes an insane 516 lb-ft of torque, yet still returns good enough fuel economy to merely anger baby seal conservation societies, rather than drive them into a fit of rage.
Now, I admit, this is better than it used to be. In the past, Audi was reluctant to sell virtually any high-performance model here, so we missed out on leagues of RS4s, S4 Avants, S6s and RS6s, any high-performance A3 model before the current one, and even my personal favorite, the RS2. So things have improved. But I still find it insane that Audi is depriving one of its largest markets of some of its most enjoyable cars.
Now, when I was a kid and I used to hear that Europe got all these cool high-performance Audi models they don’t sell in America, I figured that Audi knew what it was doing. They’ve tested the waters, and America doesn’t want the cars, and demand is higher in Europe, I figured. Audi is smart. Audi is clever. Audi is a large multi-national company capable of figuring out virtually anything. Audi knows better than me!
Then I actually went to Europe.
Here’s what I discovered: all these high-performance Audi models they sell in Europe? Nobody actually buys them. Outside of Switzerland, where everyday humans commute in the kind of cars I photograph at cars and coffee, virtually every Audi you see in Europe is the same: a low-spec diesel model, usually painted silver, usually a hatchback. And when you finally see something out of the ordinary, like a red A5, and you walk up to it, all excited that you’ve finally laid eyes on a sporty European car in Europe, you reach the trunk lid and discover that it’s an A5 0.7TDI, and it borrows a powerplant from Volkswagen’s diesel ceiling fan division.
And so, I continue to believe that Audi is absolutely insane for not selling its high-performance cars in the United States – a nation with cheap gas prices, wide roads, and, most importantly, a desire to own something with the nimbleness of a high-performance car that can also run over stuff.