Audi Q3 review
by David Finlay (25 October 2011)
The Q3 is Audi's third SUV in a series which also includes the medium-sized Q5 and the positively colossal Q7. Its name might lead you to believe firstly that it's the smallest of the trio, and secondly that it is a close relative to the A3 hatchback, in which case well done you! Both assumptions are quite correct.
Bonus points if you also identified that the Q3 is a new challenger in the premium compact SUV sector, and therefore a rival to the BMW X1 and the Range Rover Evoque. Audi tends towards the dismissive when discussing the X1 but acknowledges that, in the UK at least, the Evoque is uncatchable in terms of sales. A lot of that has to do with brand image. Audi has a good one, but Range Rover's is better.
It's also true to say, though, that the Evoque wins hands down on style. Both inside and out, it's interesting and different. I've never been quite sure what the exact level of Mrs Beckham's contribution to the process might have been, but the point is that the Evoque is a real head-turner.
The Q3, on the other hand, is resoundingly unimaginative. You could probably have designed it yourself. Mix together any ten current Audis, fold along dotted line B, add seasoning to taste, take away the number you first thought of, and there you are. If Audi ever considered challenging Range Rover on style, it seems to have given up at a very early stage.
That said, it's quite a good car. With 460 litres of luggage space when the rear seats are in place and 1365 litres when they're folded it's roomier than the X1, less so than the Evoque. The sill is a couple of inches higher than the boot floor but the tailgate is as wide as it needs to be. The rear seats don't fold completely flat but at least the operation is easy, requiring a not too robust tug on a single, well-placed lever.
Only a startlingly large person would find fault with the amount of room in the front. Rear space is okay - at six foot three I could sit there for a short journey without much complaint. Getting in and out is the tricky bit, since the side sill is high and the top of the door opening is low.
There's a decent amount of window space, so nobody should have problems with claustrophobia. Why Audi should have done this while also creating massive rear pillars which obscure the driver's view while reversing is just one of those motor industry mysteries.
From launch there will be eight versions of the Q3 - that's four engine/transmission possibilities multiplied by two trim levels - with more to be added soon afterwards. There are differences between them, of course, but a common theme (based on the three I've tried) is that they are exceptionally easy to drive. The steering is very light, which won't suit everyone, and that might have made the car difficult to control.
In fact, the suspension has been so brilliantly set up that it's difficult to make it behave jerkily even if you wanted to. Neither the ride nor the handling is far away from the best that could possibly be expected, using present-day technology, of a shortish car with a high centre of gravity.
The cheapest drivetrain is a 138bhp two-litre TDI diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. (Not available for media trials yet. Probably quite good, though.) Quattro four-wheel drive is used in all the other variants - a 175bhp TDI with seven-speed S tronic semi-automatic, a 168bhp 2.0 TFSI turbo petrol manual and a 208bhp TFSI S tronic.
S tronic works well with the Q3. The changes are very smooth, and when the box is left to make its own choice of ratio - for example when plunging down gaspingly steep roads in Yorkshire - it makes a fine job of it.
Another reason to prefer S tronic is that it dulls the effects of a quick stab on the accelerator pedal. During my stint in the TFSI manual there were occasional hints that the front end could become slightly wayward when nipping out of junctions, though I would have to add that it never became any more serious than that.
Of the three cars I drove, I liked the diesel best. The extra weight of the engine might have been a problem, but instead it seems to settle the car. This version is the one that best suits the suspension, and indeed the S tronic transmission. It was also the one which dealt most easily with crosswinds on the high Yorkshire moors; and, okay, I can't guarantee that the crosswinds were of the same strength each time I went out, but this did chime in with the rest of the car's behaviour.
The less powerful, front-wheel drive diesel is of course the greenest car in the line-up, with 54.3mpg combined fuel economy and 137g/km CO2 emissions. The more powerful of the two TFSIs is by far the quickest, its 143mph top speed and 6.9-second 0-62mph not being remotely approached by any of the others.
In SE form those cars cost £24,560 and £28,610 respectively, with the others slotting in between. SE specification is generous enough, including as it does dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel, automatic headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, aluminium roof rails and all that jazz.
Just under half of UK customers are expected to spend an extra £2750 on an upgrade to S line trim, which has larger wheels (18" rather than 17"), part-leather upholstery, xenon headlights, LED running lights, some visual sportiness, more supportive front seats and Dynamic suspension.
What an Audi spokesman described to me as "the next wave" of Q3s will be announced within about six weeks of me writing this, so at the moment there's not much point in speculating. One version that will almost certainly exist but is equally likely not to be sold in the UK - because not enough people will want it - is a quattro version of the low-powered diesel.
Another possibility is a Q3 fitted with the 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol unit also used in the TT RS. The engineering isn't a problem, and in fact there is already a working prototype producing around 300bhp. The chances of that car making it into production are almost entirely dependent on customer demand.
Update: The day after the above was published, Euro NCAP awarded the Q3 a five-star crash test rating, giving it higher scores than the BMW X1 for adult occupant protection and safety assist and only one point less for child occupant protection (the Q3's other main rival, the Range Rover Evoque, has not yet been put through the test procedure). By a strange quirk of circumstance, if the Q3 were tested in 2012 it would lose a star because its pedestrian protection score is below 60%; the X1, which was given 64% in this category, would retain all five stars despite having a lower overall score.