SHRINK TO FIT
With its Q3, Audi aims to mop up any vestige of resistance in the compact SUV sector. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewThe third and smallest of Audi's SUV line up, the Q3 offers very little in the way of surprise. Imagine a Q5 after a boil wash and you're pretty much there. Choose petrol or diesel, manual or S-tronic, front or four-wheel drive. Audi hopes to have covered every possible base.
BackgroundAudi is a company with a talent for making motoring journalists feel a little silly. Few gave the behemoth Q7 much of a chance when it was launched and many wrote the Q5 off as too expensive and not spacious enough but both models have outstripped even Audi's most optimistic sales projections. Cue the Q3.
Audi reckons this is a model with potential annual sales of 100,000 units, so given its SUV track record to date, the Q3 should comfortably do better than that. Mind you, it enters the market at a time when Land Rover is looking to shake things up a bit with its dashing Evoque, and compared to the British car, the Q3 appears deeply conservative. Perhaps I should quit the doubting. Wasn't it Einstein that reckoned the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome? The Audi method is tried and tested.
Driving ExperienceThe Q3 has a choice of six engines. The mainstream petrol units comprise a 150PS 1.4 TFSI petrol with 2WD, a 170PS 2.0 TFSI unit available in front or four-wheel drive guises and a 211PS 2.0 TFSI that's only offered in quattro all-wheel drive form. Benefitting from formidable traction off the line, this engine will deliver a sprint to 60mph in just 6.9 seconds. And with extensive use of aluminium to keep weight down (Audi claims 1500kg for the entry-level car), the Q3 promises decent agility.If you want to go even faster, the RS Q3 offers a 310PS 2.5 TFSI unit allied to quattro 4WD.
Choose diesel and you get either 140 or 177PS versions of Audi's 2.0-litre common-rail engine with four-wheel drive. The lower-powered variant can also beordered in 2WD form.
The Q3 features a number of interesting technical highlights. The seven-speed paddle-shift S-tronic dual clutch gearbox uses a lightweight clutch to disengage the engine and allow the Q3 to freewheel without the drag of turning the engine over when the driver selects efficiency mode. This comes as a welcome relief after the gloopy trailing throttle feel of many vehicles fitted with regenerative charging systems.
While the bigger Q5 and Q7 models get a heavy duty Torsen-based full-time four-wheel drive system, the Q3 opts instead for the simpler and lighter Haldex multi-plate clutch setup. You shouldn't want for grip, however, as this fast-acting system is augmented by an electronic differential lock that works in parallel with the ESP stability control system.
Design and BuildWhile Audi could be accused of a certain lack of imagination when it comes to the Q3's styling, it's a look and feel that customers are accustomed to, which they clearly like and which may well stand the test of time better than more extrovert rivals. In size, the 439cm long Q3 is 24cm shorter than the Q5 although the Russian doll styling may confuse some as to which model it is. Many customers still have difficulty differentiating an Audi A5 Sportback and an A7 unless they're parked next to each other and it's the same story with the Q3.
Based on the same running gear as the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Q3 isn't too much different in terms of interior space. The boldly swooping roofline of the Cross Coupe concept has been ditched in favour of a more conventional silhouette. The result is seating for three adults (just) in the back with a 460-litre luggage capacity. Like the Q5, the rear seats don't tumble flat to the floor when folded, but you'll still get up to 1365-litres should you fold them forwards.
Market and ModelPricing starts at around £24,000 for the entry-level front-wheel drive 1.4 TFSI petrol model, but if you want four-wheel drive, a diesel engine or are tempted by Audi's rather beguiling options list, expect the asking price to climb quite steeply. Like many of its premium class rivals, the majority of Q3 models will leave Audi dealers priced some way north of £30,000.
The options could severely dent the bank balance. I'm wondering how I've got this far without a Bose surround sound system with 14 individual speakers, a hard-drive-based navigation system with seven-inch colour screen, mobile wi-fi hotspot capability, and a parking assistant that features no fewer than 12 ultrasonic sensors to guide the car into a tight spot.
Cost of OwnershipAudi has had to put a great deal more thought into reducing running costs with this Q3 than with any of its previous SUVs and the effort seems to have paid off. Economy champion is the variant most will choose, the 2WD 2.0 TDI 140, capable of 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 138g/km of CO2. With a 64-litre fuel tank, it has a range of more than 621 miles. Opt for the quattro 2.0 TDI 170 variant with its S tronic auto gearbox and those returns fall a little to 47.9mpg and 156g/km but they're still superior to those of a rival BMW X1 2.0d. If you'd prefer petrol power, the 2.0 TFSI model with 170PS manages 38.7mpg and 174g/km, returns slightly lowered in the 211PS variant to 36.7mpg and 179g/km. The 1.4 TFSI petrol manages 47.9mpg and 137g/km.
Aiding in the achievement of those returns are the latest green gizmos, namely brake energy regeneration and a Start-Stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights.
Whichever Q3 you choose, there's the option of specifying your car with an 'Efficiency mode' said to be able to save between 1-2% on an owner's annual fuel bill. It works by disengaging the clutch every time you lift off the throttle to allow the car to coast unencumbered by engine braking. The problem though, with this feature is that you have to remember to manually select it and when you do, the speed tends to fall away relatively quickly so that you power on again with very little having been gained. Personally, I wouldn't bother with it.
SummaryWhen did Audi become this conservative? The R8 supercar is probably the only truly visually arresting model in its range and while the Q3 might not feature too many outrageous styling details, it's a look and feel that many potential buyers will aspire to. This quietly understated badge of pecuniary advantage features exactly the right engineering to make it fit for its target market. It's not an off-roader, instead being a vehicle that easily manage the school run, the extended shopping trip, the weekend away and the family ski trip to Meribel.
Audi knows better than most manufacturers that there's never a one size fits all solution. To this end, its SUVs now come in small, medium and large. What's more the small one, despite its low-key detailing, might just be the most desirable of the bunch.