Right now the global automotive market’s appetite for crossovers and smaller SUVs knows no limits. For premium brands such as Audi and BMW, this offers massive opportunity for growth, as they can develop smaller, more affordable (for the consumer) but highly profitable vehicles confident that selling them will not be a problem. After all, a great many consumers would happily sacrifice the extra space, features and practicality of a mainstream offering just to get the “right” badge on the nose… Now the Audi Q3 has arrived, and it looks set to cause something of a riot.
Trendy stylingAudi does not often venture out of the bounds set by its strict design language rulebook, but when it does the result is usually spectacular – think A7 Sportback, TT and R8. The Audi Q3 is a similarly successful effort, eschewing the traditional wagon-esque body shape of a compact SUV for a sportier silhouette and a particularly rakish rear end. As is usually the case, Audi offers a load of options, including bigger wheels and LED lamps, to further improve the appearance but even in its most basic form the Q3 offers great showroom appeal. The overhangs are short, the ground clearance relatively high at 170 mm and it stands proud on the standard 17-inch wheels. There’s not much that’s not to like.
Based on the Golf platform and boasting a 2 603 mm wheelbase, the Q3’s cabin is more spacious than the slinky looks would lead you to expect. The slope of the rear roof hasn’t even impacted too badly on headroom for rear occupants and leg-room in the back is good too. The only slight compromise is in boot space. The floor is relatively high and the quoted 460 L figure is perhaps a bit misleading. Nevertheless, for smaller families and couples, it would be sufficient. The rear seats also split and fold down to accommodate bigger items.
Up front is another Audi masterpiece in facia design. With its compact and very neat instrument cluster, pop-up display screen and facia-mounted MMI controller, the Audi Q3 looks “techy” and sophisticated, a design that will undoubtedly appeal to the trendy target customer. As is to be expected from Audi, the trim quality and general fit and finish also get top marks. As befits this type of vehicle, the driving position is elevated, even in the height-adjustable driver’s seat lowest setting. With a rake/reach adjustable steering wheel that boasts a nice-to-hold, leather-wrapped rim, most drivers will immediately feel at home.
Other standard features include climate control, auto lights, auto wipers, radio/CD player, multi-function steering wheel, six airbags and ESP (electronic stability system). You pay extra for electric seat adjustment, cruise control, navigation and even leather. Some of the features are also quite pricey, so the purchase price of an Audi Q3 can quickly escalate – pick carefully.
Surprisingly perky performanceThis particular test unit is powered by the “baby” in the current Audi Q3 engine line-up, the so-called “low-output” 2,0-litre turbopetrol that delivers a still impressive 125 kW and meaty 280 Nm of torque from only 1 700 rpm. The engine is mated with the brand’s seven-speed dual-clutch s-tronic transmission, and drives all four wheels. Given the fact that this Audi Q3 is not exactly lightweight at 1 510 kg, a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 8,2 seconds is mighty impressive. You have to wonder whether the more powerful petrol version is worth the extra cost! It remains punchy at higher speeds and the gearbox impresses, too, with only a hint of lag when you floor the throttle. Combined with the excellent fuel efficiency (7,3 L/100 km), it really is a very impressive showing.
On the go the Audi Q3 displays hatchback-like ride and handling characteristics with excellent resistance to body roll. There’s lots of grip, the result of those fat tyres and quattro all-wheel drive. And while those low-profile tyres, good body control and relatively short wheelbase would usually contribute to a choppy ride quality, that’s not the case here. The Q3’s suspension is supple and the ride stays comfortable on most surfaces. As is the case with most quattro-equipped Audis, and particularly ones with a high-centre of gravity, ultimately understeer will set in earlier than with some sporty hatchbacks, but for the Q3’s purpose, it’s more than good enough.
Although the Audi Q3 boasts permanent all-wheel drive and reasonable ground clearance (as well as good approach/departure angles), it’s not really aimed at the off-road market. It can, however, within reason head off the beaten track.
Audi Q3 - VerdictAlthough the Audi Q3 is a premium product and hardly cheap, we see it making a sizeable impact on the local market. In fact, it may even lure some shoppers away from the more conservative, but larger Audi Q5. Its blend of dynamism, performance, design appeal and quality is hard to match, and certainly it has the measure of BMW’s X1 on most fronts. As a premium crossover aimed at trendy urbanites, the Audi Q3 doesn't do much wrong.
- Good looks
- Comfortable cabin
- Build quality
- Ride/handling balance
- Expensive with options added
- Boot quite small
Fast factsEngine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol Power: 125 kW @ 4 300 rpm Torque: 280 Nm @ 1 700 rpm Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: 212 km/h 0-100 km/h: 8,2 seconds Fuel economy: 7,3 L/100 km
- BMW X1 xDrive20i Steptronic: This BMW hasn’t quite grabbed the public’s attention as BMW may have hoped. The awkward styling is but one reason. The interior finish can’t stand comparison with the Audi Q3.
- Subaru Forester 2,5 S-Edition Turbo SportShift: Something a bit different – the Forester is a quality product though not quite a premium one. Then again, it offers exceptional ride/handling, a full specification sheet and stupendous performance.
- Volvo XC60 T5 Elite PowerShift: A very underrated product that offers exceptional comfort, safety and build quality. Of course, the resale value is unlikely to match the Audi’s so it could be worth considering a nearly new used example. Offers similar performance, but more space and spec.