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The Audi Q3 is a desirable and capable contender that fails to engage its driver, which ultimately, leaves it trailing the BMW X1 and the Range Rover Evoque

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The Audi Audi Q3 is so well built and its styling so evolutionary that you have to ask yourself why you’d buy a brand-new model on the road when you could have an example of its 2011-2018 Audi Q3 predecessor, for a fraction of the price.

The answer might be because the used one hasn’t got the latest infotainment technology and isn’t as efficient, because it has done 85,000 miles and because it no longer smells so nice. Still, all that image, quality and cash in the bank…

Mechanically, the Q3 has a lot in common with a regular hatch

The Q3 was launched in 2011. It was one of a small number of premium, compact SUVs, the others including the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque. Next to the Evoque, the Q3 looked fairly bland but in a way that suggested effortless quality, an attribute that has served it well. It’s about the size of an Audi A3 but the rear is more cramped, and although the boot appears big on paper at 460 litres, it not that usable a space, so test it out first.

From launch, engines were the traditional mix of diesels and petrols, and until the 1.4 TFSI’s arrival in 2014, all of them were 2.0 litres. The lower-powered petrols have always been front-wheel drive only but their diesel equivalents are a mix of that and quattro four-wheel drive. More powerful Q3s are all quattro. The four-wheel drive system aids traction on slippery roads but forget straying too far from your picnic spot: the Q3 has too much fancy body addenda to risk going far off road.

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Transmissions are a choice of a six-speed manual or the S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The S tronic gearbox suits the Q3, a car that’s best enjoyed at a trot rather than a gallop.

The 2015 facelift brought new technology, including cylinder on demand (COD) for the 1.4 TFSI and slightly more power for the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel units. All engines were cleaned up to meet Euro 6 emissions regs. As for styling, the nose and tail were given a makeover while SE trim got xenon headlights and S line sweeping indicators.

However, viewed in isolation, you’d be hard pressed to tell pre- and post-facelift cars apart. Of the four trims – depending on the year, they range from SE to Black Edition – SE offers the best value and goes without the larger, ride-spoiling alloy wheels and sports suspension.

BUYER BEWARE

Engine On diesel models, check the level of the engine oil. Too high may indicate regeneration issues with the diesel particulate filter. Whatever the level, take the car for an extended, medium-speed drive to see if you can trigger limp-home mode, if it happens suggesting DPF issues caused by insufficent higher speed journeys. Owner surveys report that petrol engines are more reliable than diesels. That said, a batch of 2017-reg 2.0 TFSI engines had camshaft problems. 

Wheels Audi recommends that on four-wheel drive versions, the tyres, ideally premium, are the same make.

Body Make sure the xenon headlights don't flicker. Also, where high beam assist and lane assist are fitted, that the headlights don't dazzle oncoming drivers. Check rear wheelarch mouldings are secure. 

Interior Check the windscreen demister works.

Need to know

Q3 petrol models rank third in the 2019 What Car? Reliability Survey’s family SUV class, behind the Volvo XC40 and Kia Sportage. Diesel Q3s trail in 15th spot.

Some early Euro 5 2.0 TDI engines were caught up in the VW emissions scandal, or the ‘EA189 NOx emissions issue’ as the VW Group calls it. Check the status of the vehicle you’re interested in at audi.co.uk.

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Make sure tall family members can fit in the back. The roofline is more sloping than it appears and impinges on head room.

Optional Drive Select offers a choice of four driving modes with, where adaptive dampers are also specified, the possibility of adjusting the ride settings. S line suspension reduces ground clearance from 170mm to 150mm.

Our pick

Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 184PS SE S Tronic Quattro: Entry-level SE trim forgoes the larger wheels and sports suspension of pricier Q3s but still offers lots of great kit. The 148bhp diesel is more common but this 181bhp unit has more grunt. 

Top spec pick

Audi Q3 Black Edition This version ladles on goodies such as privacy glass, a Bose sound system and part-leather trim, but the 19in alloys and sports suspension won’t suit everyone. Prices start at £18,950 for a 2017 2.0 TDI.

Wild card

Audi RS Q3 Performance: There’s the 335bhp RS Q3 and then there’s the 362bhp RS Performance. It does 0-62mph in 4.4sec, which is 0.4sec quicker than the RS. Prices start from £29,800 for a 2016-reg example.

So, does Audi's Q3 have what it takes to compete with rivals like the Evoque and BMW X1 when we tested it in 2011? Let's find out.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Audi Q3 rear

More crossover than traditional SUV, the Q3 is a rather more shapely chip off the Audi Q7 block as far as styling is concerned, and the facelift now means Audi's Q-range is uniform with the Q2, Q3, new Audi Q5 and Audi Q7 all looking aesthetically similar. It is fairly squat at the kerb – for a 4x4, at any rate.

Under 4.4m long, the Q3 is a full 250mm shorter than the outgoing Audi Q5 and 275mm shorter than the second generation Audi Q5. For urban drivers, this SUV has much to recommend it in terms of packaging. And although the Q3 still has plenty of visual presence, it is of an understated Teutonic kind.

The Audi Q3 has plenty of interesting visual features

So the car appears unexpectedly small. It lacks a little impact next to an Evoque but, in reality, it’s intended for a slightly different customer, one who’ll appreciate its quietly handsome aesthetic because it’s so smart and discreet.

The Q3’s gently sloping D-pillars and clamshell tailgate are among its most interesting visual features and will appeal to those repelled by the idea of a more boxy 4x4.

Like Audi’s bigger SUVs, the car’s hatch is a wraparound closure with wide, undivided tail-lamps that – provided you go for S-line trim or tick the right option box on your SE-spec car – are lit by LEDs.

The Q3 might offer the option of four-wheel drive, but it is an unashamedly road-biased SUV. That's especially true of the styling, which shuns the bulky cladding of its A4 Allroad cousin for a more elegant look. Choose a model with colour-coded side skirts and you'll never want to take it onto the rough stuff.

As for the engine range - the entry level 1.4 TFSI petrol produces 148bhp, while the 2.0 TFSI produces 177bhp. The diesel range is powered by the same 2.0 TDI in two power outputs - 148bhp and 180bhp respectively. Previously the range was topped by the RS Q3, which uses the five-cylinder, 2.5-litre TFSI unit found under the RS3 producing 335bhp and in Performance guise 362bhp.

INTERIOR

Audi Q3 interior

Fit and material finish have long been Audi strengths, but the firm has added an impressively fine-tuned aesthetic to its interiors in recent years. The Q3 typifies this effort to meld function and premium feel in a clean-cut, purposeful environment.

The dashboard is a mix of the Audi A1's and the previous generation A3's dashboard, but set higher and its upper and lower sections are subtly canted away from the occupants. Soft-touch trim and brushed buttons feature throughout much of the handsome matt black centre console. In daylight, it’s all pleasantly appealing, but at night the peerless use of subdued LED spotlighting bathes the cabin in a mesmerising glow.

Tall passengers might feel short-changed by the Audi Q3's lack of rear headroom

There are mis-steps which stand out among the otherwise slick execution – the clickable climate controls (set unusually low, just above the centre console) are not satisfying to use, for example.

But most failings are so immaterial that they serve only to highlight the first-rate effort of the overall ambience. The fact that the Q3 is made in Seat’s Martorell factory is also irrelevant: this car is as tightly built as any German Audi.

You sit high, with a traditional SUV vantage point, but the car is sufficiently compact to pass as a tall hatchback rather than a full-on SUV. Nevertheless, up front, the overall impression is one of satisfyingly snug surroundings rather than an unfortunately cramped cabin.

That perception alters in the rear. Moderate-sized adults should be able to fold themselves into the space adequately enough, but tall passengers might feel short-changed by both the legroom and the lack of headroom caused by an even-lower-than-it-looks rear roofline. 

Children will find the rear space more than adequate, but parents may, unfortunately, find the Q3’s luggage capacity less so. Although 460 litres of boot space sounds adequate, the steeply sloping hatchback and high boot floor make the volume less useable than the capacity suggests. Tip the rear seats forward, however, and there’s a full 1365 litres – 250 litres more than in an A3 Sportback.

As we said earlier, Audi has kept the Q3 range simple enough and with three trims to choose from - Sport, S-line Edition and Black Edition. The entry-level spec is fairly generous considering the size of SUV we are talking about, so expect to find 17in alloys, xenon headlights, rear parking sensors, aluminium roof rails, cruise control and auto lights and wipers. The interior is adorned with dual-zone climate control, adjustable front seats, floor mats and Audi's MMI infotainment system complete with a pop-up 6.5in screen, sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and voice recognition.

Upgrade to S-line Edition and the additions include, 18in alloy wheels, LED head and rear lights, front parking sensors and an aggressively-styled bodykit, while the Black Edition models get 19in alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, sports suspension, a Bose sound system, a part leather and Alcantara upholstery and numerous gloss black exterior details.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Audi Q3 side profile

The Audi Q3 is offered with four engines. The 1.4-litre TFSI produces 148bhp and is only available in front-wheel drive, while the 2.0-litre TFSI creates 177bhp and only comes with Audi's quattro system. The 2.0-litre TDI comes in two states of tune - 148bhp and 181bhp.

With 280lb ft of torque on tap from 1750rpm, the 181bhp diesel engine is content to punt along in the low rev range that its economy-tuned, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission deems applicable.

The Audi Q3 is offered with a good range of flexible engines

Gear ratios often come and go imperceptibly, and while there’s a voluble rattle at re-ignition from the automatic stop-start, the engine seems thoroughly insulated. Working hard it is audible, but most of the time it sounds hushed and distant. 

Demand considerably more pace from it and the powerplant responds with quick-fire bursts of convincing thrust. Its maximum output is exhausted by 4200rpm, but with a free-revving character and seven ratios to get through, energetic headway is not difficult to access.

But don't think the 148bhp version is left wanting. Its torque figure of 236lb ft makes driving pretty effortless and it's a proven and willing performer, and you'll rarely miss the extra poke, particularly when running costs are factored in – in real-world use the lower-powered diesel is by far the most economical of all the Audi's powerplant options. This model also records a 9.9sec 0-62mph time, against the 174bhp model's 8.2sec.

The dual-clutch S-tronic automatic transmission can be used in ‘S’ mode to access full performance or you can opt to shift for yourself via the wheel-mounted paddles. The dual-clutch unit has a habit of holding on to gears a little more aggressively than is often required, but the S mode’s performance bias can be useful at roundabouts, where the standard D mode has a tendency to leave the car in too high a gear for the usual positioning cut and thrust.

That’s a minor quibble. A more substantial one can be levelled at the new Efficiency mode, which, when selected, disengages the clutch each time the driver lifts off the throttle to preserve fuel by allowing the car to coast unencumbered by engine braking.

It’s a good idea, and one which is becoming increasingly commonplace on dual-clutch gearbox-equipped Volkswagen Group cars. But because it is not an automatic feature in the Q3, it often only occurs to you to select Efficiency mode on the motorway.

The coasting feature does take some getting used to and does have its downsides. Until you have gelled with it, its presence can add an ugly cadence to an otherwise seamless powertrain, but it can reap surprising efficiency gains.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi Q3 cornering

In its mechanical layout, the Q3 has more in common with a regular five-door hatchback than a larger Audi SUV. There’s no six-cylinder longitudinal engine or Torsen-based quattro four-wheel drive system here.

Instead, a four-cylinder engine is mounted transversely, with the gearbox in line with it and, in all-wheel drive forms, the latest Haldex front-biased four-wheel drive system attached. 

On the road, the Q3 feels like a suitably premium product

Suspension is via MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Both are attached to the Q3’s body by subframes, rigidly mounted at the front and rubber bushed at the rear. The bonnet and tailgate are of aluminium.

A three-level crash structure at the front includes a lower tier of deformable metal designed to match the crumple zone of a lower vehicle and therefore prevent overriding in a head-on crash. The Audi Q3 also has the lowest coefficient of aerodynamic drag in its class, at just 0.32.

Although its off-road capabilities are limited (there’s 170mm of ground clearance, or just 150mm if you have S-line sports suspension), the Q3 seems optimised for everyday use on the road.

It drives more like a conventional hatchback than a mud-plugging SUV. Excellent body control and rigidity ensure that the penalty for the car’s high-sided nature is minimal, and it responds with obliging agility to most demands made of it.

For customers coming to the Q3 from smaller, lighter cars – a significant proportion, according to Audi – the resemblance will likely be welcome. Anyone expecting a capability to venture far from the road will be less happy, but the Haldex four-wheel drive should be sufficient to help you through any gentle winter flurries and over the occasional grassy slope.

Arguably more important than the ‘quattro’ badge are Audi’s optional Drive Select system and the adaptive dampers. Drive Select allows the driver to choose between Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Efficiency modes, which adjust the throttle response, transmission, steering and – provided you have additionally specified the adaptive dampers – suspension settings.

In its default Auto mode, the Q3 will surf its sportiest set-up in reasonably contented fashion, but most UK buyers will want to invest in the system (and uprated dampers) to access Comfort, which further dulls the sharp edges of abrasive local roads.

Even so equipped, the car is not class-leading in its ride quality. While it refuses to crash over suspect surfacing, the Q3 can struggle to completely settle without gently relaying to the driver every foible its tyres find.

It’s a distraction the driver could do without as he or she is likely to be busy negotiating the fog of uncertainty that characterises the car’s steering. Misjudged inputs and unintelligible feedback are an unwanted accompaniment to the brisk progress that the Audi Q3 is otherwise quite capable of.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi q3 3

The entry-level 2.0 TDI with front-wheel drive makes the Audi Q3 seem like excellent value when you line it up next to the Range Rover Evoque, but the Q3 is also a slightly less capable and appealing vehicle if you can’t afford the right options.

In entry-level Sport form, the Q3’s equipment roster is pretty decent. It has everything you might reasonably want, including a particularly useful sound system with extensive connectivity.

Fuel efficiency proved good, if not quite class leading

Fuel efficiency across the range proves good, if not quite class-leading, but if economy is your primary concern then the lower-powered TDI model is the one to go for. The petrols, meanwhile, record less enticing economy figures that are some way further down eco-friendly order.

Build quality and reliability is generally very good too, and Audi's dealers are typically attentive and offer a high standard of customer service.

Demand on the used market keeps used values keen, so choose the right engine, with the right specification, and you'll enjoy stronger residual values than the equivalent BMW X1.

VERDICT

Audi Q3 rear quarter

The increasingly popular compact SUV market seems ready-made for Audi’s covetable brand.

You could, admittedly, buy a very well-equipped Skoda Yeti for a similar price to an entry-level Q3, which may be more appealing to some buyers.

The Q3 is competent rather than seriously impressive

The trend-conscious customer base is likely to prove highly receptive to the super-slick product positioning that has become a cornerstone of Audi’s success, and which the Q3 represents, however.

If you're sold on Audi's premium-quality build and associated kudos, and want an SUV's raised ride height and over-hedge viewing facility, then the Q3 is the way to go.

It's a well honed car, one that effortlessly perpetuates a seamless experience of attainable upmarket packaging. But, separated from its aspirational starch, the new Q3 is commendably competent rather than seriously impressive.

Objectively, it earns few significant demerits, but there is a familiar sterility to the way the Audi Q3 drives. That it refuses to sparkle dynamically will hardly matter to most of its intended buyers, though. The Q3 is highly competent, refined, beautifully finished and tastefully styled.

Which, ultimately, is why Audi sold nearly 100,000 of them in 2012 alone.

 

Audi Q3 2011-2018 First drives