AUDI IS FAMOUS for its Q range of SUVs in EU, and rightly so. The gargantuan Q7 seven-seater that got the ball rolling for Audi still remains near the top of its class, despite having been around for years. And the five-seat Q5 isn’t too far off the mark either. But what makes these Q cars so popular?
As ever, it’s a combination of things. For a start, Q stands for Quattro – the name Audi has given its four-wheel-drive system, and it’s one of the best systems around.
It has low mechanical drag, meaning it wastes very little energy, and it is very effective. Audi also seems to have got the balance between car and off-roader just right.
Its Q SUVs are very car-like and easy to drive, and come with beautifully crafted interiors on one hand, but they have plenty of off-roader appeal too.
The Audi Q3 isn’t new to Europe. The diesel version has been on sale since June last year, and though it is a bit expensive, it has found itself some happy customers. This new petrol, however, promises to be better rounded, and though it may ultimately appeal to a smaller set of customers, the car is so good we think it could be a better overall package.
But first, a bit of a shock. The Q3 isn’t an Audi under the skin, it is a Volkswagen. But it’s a car that’s executed so beautifully, you’ll almost never feel short-changed or be able to tell. First impressions of the car are almost impossible to forget.
The body is exquisitely crafted. The fit of the panels is millimeter perfect, the manner in which the doors and hatch open and close reeks of precision engineering and even the quality of the paint is exceptional. The Q3 is also the best interpretation of Audi’s Q design language yet. It has that all important upright SUV stance, but it isn’t boxy or brick-like in the least. It also has the neatest headlamp and tail-lamp design of the three Audi SUVs.
What’s even more exciting in this case is the presence of the 208bhp, 2.0 TFSI motor under the hood. The motor uses direct injection for added pulling power at low engine speeds as well as a turbo to boost overall performance. The high levels of refinement are apparent as soon as you start the engine. It settles into a really smooth idle, and on the move, the engine feels willing and ever-ready for action.
There is almost no turbo-induced delay in throttle responses from this free-spirited motor – tap the throttle and the engine just sings, a sporty snarl emitted every time.
It feels very eager at almost all engine speeds and closing up gaps in traffic, as a result, is a mere flex of the right foot away. Put the gearbox in S or Sport and the urgency levels increase even further. The car positively leaps forward every time you hit the gas, but this mode makes it a bit jerky to drive in traffic.
There’s more driving pleasure to be had when you encounter quieter, traffic-free roads, where stretching the Audi’s legs is less of an on-off affair. Now you can wind the motor up to 7000rpm and enjoy bursts of acceleration that make this car fun to drive.
Take a look at the performance figures to get an idea of just how quick this compact SUV really is. 0-100kph takes only 8.3 seconds and 150kph comes up in 17.4 seconds.
You don’t get gearshift paddles, which is quite an omission, but the twin-clutch gearbox works really well when you slot the gear lever into manual mode and push it forward to up-shift and pull back to down-shift. The gearbox does, however, pause a bit when you ask for a sudden downshift in normal mode, and that can be a bit of a pain.
Apart from the performance, what’s also much better is the way the car drives. With no heavy diesel engine sitting behind the front bumper, the car is more willing to turn tightly into corners. Body roll, something you usually get in cars that sit high off the ground, is well contained and the Audi Q3 does feel very easy and effortless to drive. The steering, however, feels a bit too light. It’s better than the one on the diesel and feels more precise, but there are still times when you are desperate for more feel and there just isn’t any.
The sporty setup of the suspension also means there is some stiffness in the springs and dampers. Ride quality at low speeds is a bit jiggly and you are quite aware of how bad the road is from the seats of the Q3. As speeds rise, though, the suspension becomes more comfortable and pliant, and the problem disappears.
Comfort is very good as well, especially on the big front seats. Finding the ideal driving position takes a bit of time, but the seats have super back and thigh support. There’s a surprising amount of room in the rear of the car too. There’s plenty of legroom and head and shoulder room is good. But the rear bench is short and that means it lacks thigh support.
What’s not missing at all is a dose of Audi build quality on the inside. The dashboard looks just as expensive as anything on a Q5 or Q7, the colours and materials deliver much of the luxury feel and the high-quality bits like the knurled aluminium dials and high-gloss pieces of wood just lift the ambience of the cabin. What’s missing on this car is the full Audi Multimedia Interface (MMI) screen-based navigation system; the low-spec version on this car is not nearly as good.
Starting at 43.534 EUR, and going up to 50.000 EUR for the top-end version we’re testing, the Q3 2.0 TFSI isn’t as affordable as many would have liked it to be. Audi isn’t assembling the car here until June and so, for now, some may find it a bit pricey. Look at it as one of the most accomplished compact SUVs around, one that manages to do almost everything its bigger sibling the Q5 does, and you can’t help but be impressed. It is fast, it is fun, it is extremely well built, it is well equipped and it’s attractive even by Audi standards. And that, when you add it all up, is plenty of car – a real good compact luxury SUV to buy.