What is it?
Audi’s brand new baby soft-roader, this is the new Q3. It’s on sale now, heading into production this autumn, scheduled for first UK deliveries in November, and available from a starting price of less than £25,000.
But most importantly, this new compact premium 4x4 is a real shot across the bows for British 4x4 specialist Land Rover, on the cusp of the launch of Gaydon’s own junior upmarket SUV, baby Range Rover the Evoque.
Why so? Because, while it hasn’t been lavished with the same hype as the Evoque, nor can it quite claim the same instant showroom appeal or aristocratic brand cache, the Q3 may very well be, for all the reasons you’re about to read, Audi’s best SUV yet.
What’s it like?
Compact. Measuring less than 4.4 metres from nose to tail, it’s almost 250mm shorter than a Q5; takes up even less room at the kerb than a Ford Kuga. So it’s no certainly people-carrier or load-lugging specialist. There are five doors and reasonably comfortable accommodation for four adults, provided the ones in the rear cabin aren’t particularly long of leg. But the boot’s no bigger than that of a very average Golf-sized estate car.
The Q3 does have other virtues typical of a larger 4x4, however. Its raised driving position makes for easy entry into the car and exit from it, as well as for a relaxing elevated view of the road ahead; for good visibility to the sides and out of the rear of the car for that matter, too. And that’s not to mention the Quattro four-wheel drive that all versions except the entry-level model get.
Powering the Q3 is a choice of 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, the most modest of which is a 138bhp TDi mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, which emits just 138g/km of CO2. We tested the slightly more expensive 175bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel version, however; it comes with not only Quattro but also a seven-speed ‘Stronic’ twin clutch gearbox as standard, and is expected to account for 35 per cent of all Q3 sales in the UK.
And it’s good. This Q3 brings top-quality mechanical refinement, laudable build quality, rich and impressive cabin materials and proper premium brand desirability to the market for small 4x4s, in a way that the BMW X1 has singularly failed to do. It’s also cheap to own relative to its rivals, and perhaps most surprisingly, a great deal more pleasing to drive than you might expect.
The Q3 may be built outside of Germany, at Seat’s Martorell factory near Barcelona – but if you’re expecting to see any evidence of that in the fit-and-finish of the car, you’ll look long and hard, and ultimately in vain. Our test car was appointed with a mix of soft and tactile brown and beige leathers and plastics, dark brown larch wood inlays and glossy black and satin silver trims. It had an expensive-feeling cabin ambience that you wouldn’t expect in an SUV on the market for less than £30k, and had been finished very consistently indeed.
The Q3 communicates premium feel in other ways too. On the move, that torquey four-cylinder diesel engine seems very thoroughly insulated. Working hard it’s audible, but its vibrations are kept from the cabin very effectively; most of the time it sounds hushed and distant. And yet performance-wise it propels the Q3 with authority and pace.
Specify your Q3 on standard SE springs and with Audi’s adaptive dampers, as our test car was, and you’ll even find it supple and compliant over rougher surfaces – provided you select the right Drive Select mode. While the ‘Dynamic’ setting adds weight to the car’s steering and dials in welcome body control and stability for very testing roads, Audi’s ‘Comfort’ preset is the one you’ll default to. It allows for a ride smooth enough to bear comparison with the most refined cars in the class, can easily handle urban road scars without disturbing the calm of the Q3’s cabin, and doesn’t sacrifice too much handling or steering precision at higher speeds. It also put the Q3’s Stronic gearbox into a smoother operating setting in which it can perform wafting part-throttle getaways without any of the unseemly rushing or shoving that twin clutch transmissions sometimes suffer with.
Should I buy one?
As long as it’s big enough for you. That’s a pretty big caveat. If you’re buying the Q3 as a second car and have something larger to use when you need it, the Audi’s relative lack of cargo space probably won’t bother you. But if you’ve got grown children or lots of family paraphernalia to carry around, it may not quite meet your needs.
But with that exception, there’s no point denying how rounded, desirable and complete the Q3 seems to be - if you spec it correctly, at least. It remains to be seen whether a refined dynamic performance on Switzerland’s roads will translate into the same thing on UK tarmac, or whether Q3s riding on standard passive dampers or S-Line sports springs will have the same compelling blend of comfort and control as those on active ones.
But however the car rides and handles when we test it in Britain, it’s a real rival for the Range Rover Evoque - and one of considerable calibre.
Audi Q3 2.0 TDi Quattro SE
Price: £28,460; Top speed: 132mph; 0-62mph: 8.2sec; Economy: 47.9mpg; Co2: 156g/km; Kerbweight: 1660kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Installation: Front, transverse, four-wheel drive; Power: 175bhp at 4200rpm; Torque: 280lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd twin clutch