What is it?
It isn’t rare for a manufacturer to let us drive a new model before final sign-off. There are benefits for both parties: we get an early taste of what the car is all about and its maker gets some independent feedback while there’s still time to make minor tweaks.
The deal usually involves an informal spin in a decidedly unglamorous location where the car is in its final stages of development. A proving ground, usually. A remote public road, perhaps. And that’s fine by us.
So, given that the new Audi Q2 was developed in Ingolstadt and will soon be rolling off a production line very nearby, you’d imagine that’s where we’d be headed on this occasion. Er, nope. We’ve had to jet halfway across the world to Havana. Yep, the one in Cuba.
But here were are, about to drive a car that has been in the pipeline ever since Audi’s Cross Lane Coupe was shown at Paris four years ago. The “99% finished” article has five, rather than three, doors, is a fraction under 4.2 metres long and sits on the now well-utilised MQB platform. That means the Q2 shares most of its underpinnings with the slightly longer, but lower and narrower, A3 hatch.
Audi says the Q2 “can’t be pigeonholed” but we’ll have a go because, from where we’re standing, this very much a small SUV in the mould of a Nissan Juke or a Mini Countryman. It just happens to wear a more premium badge and look a bit more interesting than most other modern Audis, thanks largely to its unusually chamfered shoulder line and contrasting C-pillar.
Prices will start from around £20k and the line-up of engines kicks off with a 114bhp 1.0-litre petrol turbo triple, although Audi reckons the bulk of buyers will choose either the familiar 148bhp 1.4 TFSI or the equally powerful 2.0 TDI. Both of those engines are available with front or four-wheel drive, while the range-topping 188bhp petrol and diesel motors are exclusively offered in quattro form.
What's it like?
Thorough test drive this is not. Our route around sprawling Havana was in strict convoy led by a police escort and we rarely nudged above 40mph.
Mind you, we often find ourselves grumbling about how smooth the roads are on foreign launches – and that certainly isn’t the case here. Few British roads are in such a sorry state as Cuba’s, so it would actually be unfair to draw too many conclusions about how well or otherwise the Q2 might ride on home soil.
Nevertheless, it’s certainly firmer than the A3 with which it shares a platform. The standard passive dampers allow surprisingly little wheel travel by SUV standards, so there’s bouncing aplenty along lumpy roads. The optional adaptive set-up brings some welcome longer wave compliance when called upon (by choosing Comfort mode), although it actually struggles more to keep the wheels and road in contact over the really rough, broken-up stuff.
The upside of this is fairly tidy body control by class standards – at least through tight, low-speed corners. All versions come with Audi’s variable Progressive steering, which gives excellent manoeuvrability in town and only adds to that feeling of agility that isn’t present in any rival – even the Mini Countryman. Wider experience tells us a conventional rack may be preferable for faster driving, but confirmation of that will have to wait until we’ve driven the Q2, well, faster.
Audi had wanted to show off the range-topping 2.0 TDI, but the terrible quality of Cuba’s diesel fuel put paid to that. Instead, we tried the 1.4 TFSI petrol, which is just as flexible as it is in other applications across the VW Group, only sounding slightly uncouth when you push it beyond 4500rpm. It’ll shut down half of its cylinders during light throttle inputs, although you can barely tell when this happens – even when you’re anticipating it.
Inside, the Q2’s close relationship with the A3 is blindingly obvious, but that’s hardly a criticism because Audi’s premium hatch is as plush as it gets below £30k. Look a little closer and you’ll notice mildly restyled air vents, the odd more angular surface and one of two harder plastics (some because our car was a prototype, others because Audi reckons an SUV should be slightly more rugged). By any standards, though, the Q2’s cabin is a suitably pleasant place to be.
If space is a priority there are larger SUVs in this price bracket, including the Nissan Qashqai. That said, the Q2 isn’t cramped inside. There’s lots of head room in the back, despite that swooping roofline, and just about enough knee room for taller adults. Boot space is marginally better than an A3 Sportback, and marginally worse than a Qashqai, at 405 litres with the seats up.
Of the three trim levels: SE, Sport and S Line, Audi reckons more than half of buyers will plump for Sport. It looks like the pick of the bunch to us because it only commands a £1550 premium and you get sat-nav, auto lights and wipers, cruise control and that contrasting C-pillar.
Should I buy one?
A pint-sized SUV with an Audi badge on it is as close to a guaranteed sales success as there is in 2016. And if you’re sold on the idea of a (slightly) jacked-up driving position, swanky cabin and mildly butch styling, there’s every reason you might want to wait for the Q2 to arrive.
A more thorough assessment of the Q2’s dynamic prowess will have to wait until we drive a production version on European roads. Aside from our reservations about ride comfort, however, Audi’s smallest SUV yet looks to be classy, practical and surprisingly good value – at least compared with the closest premium-badge-wearing competition.
Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI 150 S Line S tronic (pre-production)
Location: Havana, Cuba; On sale: November; Price from £26,000 (est.); Engine 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 148bhp at tbc; Torque tbc; Gearbox 7-spd semi-auto; Kerb weight tbc; Top speed tbc; 0 62mph tbc; Economy tbc; CO2 rating & BIK tax band tbc