What is it?
The entry-level version of Audi’s new compact SUV, the Q3. If we’re being absolutely precise about this, it’ll be later to market than the rest of the range – albeit only by a month, deliveries starting in December 2011 – but it’ll still account for a big chunk of all Q3 sales. It’s reckoned that every other example of the baby 4x4 sold in the UK will be powered by this engine.
Priced from less than £25k, the cheapest Q3 has front- rather than Quattro all-wheel drive, 138bhp, 236lb ft of torque, and a six-speed manual gearbox rather than a seven-speed twin-clutcher. Weighing just a smidge over one-and-a-half tonnes and fitted with switchable engine ancilliaries and an automatic starter-generator, the car emits just 138g/km of C02 and should return better than 50mpg in everyday use – both impressive figures for any taller-than-average family car.
But does it have the quality, refinement, and impressive dynamic deportment of the high-spec diesel we drove just a couple of weeks ago?
What’s it like?
A taste of the Q3 at its most basic certainly doesn’t reveal any shortcomings in the car in terms of material quality and uniformity of finish. Our test car featured dark textured plastics and leathers, patterned aluminium highlights, a tactile three-dimensional black and dark grey fascia and black cloth seats, and feels markedly more special and expensive than a BMW X1. Comfort’s good – better, slightly, in the front row than in the back – and only a flat squab on the standard driver’s seat spoils a fine driving position.
On start-up it becomes pretty clear straight away that £25k buys you a bit less sound and vibration insulation, in the entry-level Q3, than you get in the 175bhp diesel; why else would a less stressed 2.0-litre diesel engine sound noticeably more gravelly at idle than its higher-powered equivalent?
During typical use the step-down in terms of refinement is equally clear. Under load at low rpm and at high revs the entry-level engine sounds decidedly noisier than the pricier tune. It’s still acceptably refined by class standards, but doesn’t add to the impression of premium-brand quality you get from much of the rest the Q3.
And unfortunately, neither does the cheapest Q3 go down the road quite as comfortably as we hoped. The fixed rate chassis of our test car provided accurate and stable handling and good lateral and vertical body control. Traction, exclusively from the front wheels, was commendable too, admittedly on dry tarmac. But there was an unbecoming restlessness to the car’s ride, which felt slightly unabsorbtive and took too long to settle after being disturbed by bumps that an adaptively damped Q3 might just glide over. That spoiled the car’s overall dynamic performance slightly.
Should I buy one?
Chances are that, if you’re buying a Q3, this is the one you’ll get – and you’ll be getting a car that rides, handles, performs and generally behaves competently enough. Considered as an overall package, this bottom-rung Audi offroader does justice to its maker’s reputation for producing cars of sufficient quality, class, style and real-world efficiency to be worth paying a premium for.