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Second-generation Q3 enters the final stages of its lifecycle up against fresher opponents, but with dependable strengths to draw on

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While Audi took a slightly quirky, alternative tilt at the ‘premium compact’ SUV segment with the original Audi Q3, the current, second-generation version shows just how important cars like these have become in recent years - and how widely and seriously their makers now compete for their success.

Launched in 2018 when Ingolstadt’s SUV model lineup among the freshest in the industry, this became the smallest and most affordable ‘russian doll’ in the product lineup; a car so clearly referencing Audi’s bigger models with its design - and, as a result, made to look much more serious and grown up than its model forebear ever did - but available for a much more affordable price.

Gone is the first-generation bulbous crossover and in its place is a chiselled vehicle looking to play a more serious SUV game, at least in styling terms

The Volkswagen Group MQB platform that underpins the car helped to explain how it could be launched at prices to tempt people out of volume-selling hatchbacks and larger but less desirable SUV rivals. But a low entry price certainly doesn’t make this any less of a ‘proper’ Audi in the performance and technology it offers higher up the range, to those willing to pay for it.

The car covers a great deal of ground in the niche in which it exists, being available with both petrol and diesel combustion engines, and plug-in hybrid power - as well as with ‘quattro’ four-wheel drive in some cases - but also in a choice of bodystyles: as the more conventional Q3 SUV, or as the slightly more rakish and curvaceous Q3 Sportback, which we’ve elected to test.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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audi q3 45 tfsi sportback review 2024 02 panning rear

At a little under 4.5 metres in length and a little over 1.6 metres of roofline height, the regular Q3 is a compact SUV with a fairly typical footprint, though it’s perhaps less ruggedly, boxily upright in it body profile, and more chiselled in its surfacing, than the average car in its class.

The Sportback version is slightly longer and lower than the regular car, though it uses the same wheelbase. The Sportback trades in some bootspace above the windowline in return for its plunging roofline.

For engines, Audi offers a choice of 1.5- and 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines, and 2.0-litre turbodiesels, each differentiated according to the firm’s current convention on derivative badging. Opt for a 35 TFSI or -TDI and you’ll get front-wheel drive and 148bhp; with a 40 TFSI or -TDI you’ll get 190bhp; and in a 45 TFSI, power jumps up to 242bhp. 

All versions of the car at or above 40-level get clutch-based, part-time four-wheel drive as standard and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox as standard; the only Q3 available with a manual gearbox is the bottom-rung 35 TFSI.

Where the fleet-friendly plug-in hybrid Q3 45 TFSI e departs from an otherwise well-ordered range structure is by combining peak petrol-electric power of 242bhp with front-wheel drive only (since channelling the car’s electric motor though a four-wheel drive system would penalise efficiency and tax-sensitive electric-only range). The TFSI e system combines a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a 114bhp electric motor, the latter drawing power from a drive battery of just over 10kWh of usable capacity. Lab test ‘Equivalent All Electric Range’ is claimed at 29- to 35 miles, depending on model trim.

Those with freer budgets who’d be interested in even more power may be disappointed to read that Audi’s five-cylinder RS Q3 was removed from sale in the UK in 2023; and that there’s no SQ3 Quattro option offered in either petrol or diesel form. Audi UK has yet to confirm whether there will be any reprisal of RS Q3 availability before an all-new generation Q3 arrives in showrooms in 2025.

INTERIOR

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audi q3 45 tfsi sportback review 2024 10 dash

The Q3 hails from a slightly simpler time for Audi interior design, when digital technology was plentiful but gear selector knobs were still reassuringly large, ventilation controls were physical, and steering wheels were (mostly) round. Getting into this car is, on one level, a little like meeting an old friend, then - and although this cabin doesn’t quite have the material highlights of Ingolstadt’s bigger models, it holds its own for tactile quality and solidity of feel among plenty of so-called ‘premium brand’ options that really don’t.

Opting for a plug-in hybrid TFSI e model gets you Audi’s S Line equipment level as a departure point, which brings with it some excellent sports seats with lots of manual adjustment (cushion length and angle, and lumbar support, with separate head restraints). Even taller drivers could easily find a comfortable driving position, in front of a clear and configurable set of digital instruments, and a touchscreen infotainment system which, while it lacks any physical cursor controller and can be a little unresponsive, remains fairly easy to navigate while driving.

Second-row space is only averagely roomy by compact SUV class standards; so taller adults won’t find the back seats especially comfortable, particularly in the case of the Q3 Sportback with its lowered roofline, but growing teenagers oughtn’t complain.

In the boot, while the hybrid system takes away any potential for really useful under-floor storage, there is at least a flat loading area, which can be rigged out with elasticated cargo nets, and has useful storage hooks too. The Q3 Sportback’s boot is, in real world use, notably shallower than the regular Q3’s though, and wouldn’t be quite as useful for carrying bulky items like pushchairs and large suitcases.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

audi q3 45 tfsi sportback review 2024 17 engine

Combustion engine running or not, the Audi Q3 45 TFSI e is quiet, pleasant and easy to drive. 

Audi’s integration of the 114bhp electric motor and its 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol four-pot is very good. And with both combining smoothly and in harmony to drive the front axle, you certainly don’t get that telltale sensation that some PHEVs can create that you’re in slightly sketchy command of two power sources that can seem a little at odds with one another. The ICE starts and stops smoothly; it doesn’t seem raucous when it has to work hard; and when the drive battery is depleted, it will still return an MPG figure in the low-to-mid 40s, which is pretty respectable.

There is also little to no deterioration in this car’s performance level, either objective or subjective, once its drive battery has gone flat. The conditions for our figuring session were a little mixed, our initial standing-start tests done with a near-full drive battery but in more slippery conditions, and some later ones done with a fully depleted battery but with the asphalt a little drier; but the Q3 was at its quickest (7.4sec from 0-60mph versus a claim of 7.3sec to 62-) in the latter state (while some PHEVs can be up to 15 per cent slower with flattened drive batteries).

It’s certainly true, however, that the car feels quickest when the battery condition is good; though seldom does it feel genuinely quick. The combustion engine, though refined enough, isn’t one that’s especially keen to rev, and when both motor and engine are working hard, you can encounter some traction problems at those front-driven tyre contact patches - although Audi’s traction control does a respectable job of mitigating them. 

The brake pedal is firmer-of-feel and more progressive than in some electrified options, and so - thanks in part to some helpful instrumentation, and a loaded front axle to ‘regen’ through - it isn’t difficult to recapture as much energy as possible under braking.

RIDE & HANDLING

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audi q3 45 tfsi sportback review 2024 19 cornering rear

The Q3 45 TFSIe isn’t what you might call exciting; but then, of course, by and large Audis aren’t. But it is composed and assured in how it goes down the road, and not scrappy or heavy-feeling as some rivals can feel.

It’s a car that takes to a quicker stride a little reluctantly, but it handles accurately and securely enough, with respectable grip and body control, and little obvious evidence of punitive weight at speed, but with unremarkable natural agility and balance, and no particular sort of driver engagement. Audi would prefer it was easy to drive quickly and assured at speed, though, which describes it reasonably well.

Still, it remains pleasant, assured, stable and broadly refined even when driven hard, rather than letting its drivability or refinement slip significantly - and that makes it one of the better-executed efforts in a class in which many competitors can feel like one-speed cars.

Our Q3 Sportback S Line test car had firmed-up sports suspension as standard, and came on standard 19in wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, and it dealt with wintery test conditions quite well. Quattro four-wheel drive would not doubt have made it feel slightly surer-of-foot - but, except when being driven especially brusquely, it wasn’t a conspicuous miss.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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audi q3 45 tfsi sportback review 2024 01 tracking front

The real-world electric-only range of our Q3 45 TFSI e varied between 20 and 25 miles on test, depending on type of journey and ambient temperature. That's borderline poor in a PHEV in 2024, but it would still be enough to allow an owner who does plenty of short-range motoring and can charge regularly and cost-effectively some meaningful running-costs savings.

In ‘extended-range’ running, we saw an indicated 38.9mpg from our test car without any meaningful assistance from its drive battery when running at a 70mph cruise. In extended-range mixed urban and extra-urban running, however, it returned a more creditable 48.2-.

The car is a little pricier than some PHEV rivals, being offered only in S Line trim and above. It doesn’t offer particularly appealing benefit-in-kind savings compared with rivals - although the next-generation version, due in 2025, will likely do much better for electric-only range.

VERDICT

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audi q3 45 tfsi sportback review 2024 22 static

With Audi in the final stage of gearing up to launch this second-generation Q3’s replacement model, plenty of related VW Group PHEVS coming through with the second-generation plug-in hybrid powertrain, and no particularly motivating on-paper reason to buy it, now might seem a strange time to be considering an Audi Q3. 

But, despite this car’s age, its undistinguished practicality and versatility, and an electrified powertrain that probably won’t do much for your company car tax bill, this car has still got real-world strengths that might make it better to live with than key rivals. It has good drivability and refinement, and a robust electrified powertrain that doesn’t run out of puff when the battery goes flat. It has supportive and adjustable seats, well laid-out controls and instruments, and cabin quality to uphold Audi’s established reputation, too.

Audi-typical composed, contained and secure handling, and a controlled power delivery that’s easy to keep mastery of, complete the picture of what feels like well-engineered electrified compact SUV, that would be easy to overlook but - even so close to retirement - would still serve its owners and purposes well.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi Q3 First drives