Audi gives its Q3 a big IQ

Audi is targeting the growing market for compact Crossovers and small SUVs with its desirable little Q3.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 4th March 2013, 8:26 am

This may be a crowded segment, but there’s nothing in it that’s quite like this beautifully engineered slice of vorsprung durch technik.

It’s the 2.0 TDI quattro 138bhp variant that will account for more than 40 per cent of sales, so just how good is it?

Producing an affordable compact premium SUV isn’t an easy thing to do, as BMW proved with the less than rapturously received X1 in 2010. Audi’s Q3 is its closest rival and must sell in much greater numbers if its makers are to get anywhere close to the 100,000 sales they’re annually targeting with this model.

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This Ingolstadt model is the third and smallest member of an Audi SUV family started by the huge 7-seater Q7 in 2006, developed by the Freelander-sized Q5 in 2009 and completed by this car in the Autumn of 2011.

To make it more affordable without compromising quality, the Ingolstadt brand has based this design on a VW Golf platform and farm its production out to SEAT in Spain.

The sums have also necessitated a simpler “on-demand” 4WD system for variants like the 2.0 TDI quattro 138bhp variant we’re looking at here, rather than the usual full time Torsen-based set-up designated by the “quattro” badge across the rest of the range.

Audi doesn’t think this will bother likely buyers one jot. But for the kind of money that would buy such people something bigger or more avant garde, will it all be enough to make this another profitable chapter in the company’s ongoing success story? Let’s find out.

The Q3 won’t often be used in the rough stuff, but I’d contend it has a degree of capability off the beaten track that’s a level above the Crossover norm, as you’d expect given underpinnings largely borrowed from Volkswagen’s Tiguan.

As with that model, power, normally directed exclusively to the front wheels, can in a few milliseconds also include those at the rear if wheel slippage is detected.

Combine that with the 170mm of ground clearance you get unless you specify sports suspension, a fast-acting electronic differential lock that works in parallel with the ESP stability control system to maximise grip on the muddiest tracks, optional hill descent control for slippery slopes, a roof load of 75kgs and engines torquey enough to facilitate a surprisingly meaty towing capacity of up to two metric tons — and you’ve a car as capable in tough and muddy duties as its owners will ever need it to be.

Not that I can imagine too many of them putting their Q3s to the test on anything more testing than a grass verge.

Which is probably just as well. There’s an under-body plastic liner to guard against salt and stone chipping, but it’s not going to take too kindly to being bumped across a ploughed field. The 2.0 TDI quattro 138bhp variant channels the 138bhp and 320Nm of torque delivered by its 2.0-litre direct injection diesel engine through a six-speed manual gearbox to the rapid-reacting quattro system. Equally importantly, it can take the Q3 to 62mph from rest in 9.9 seconds and push on to a 122mph top speed where conditions allow.

At less than 4.4m long, a Q3 is 250mm shorter than Audi’s larger Q5 as well as being 70mm narrower and sitting 65mm lower.

But, once inside, this car doesn’t seem smaller than its stablemate in any meaningful way.

Those of basketball-player height may complain about legroom and the restrictions of the sloping roofline, but two more modestly dimensioned folk should have no problems (scoops in the rear of the front seats make a big difference), and three small children will fit in fine.

Up-front, where it’s easy to find the perfect driving position, fears that Spanish construction of this car alongside humbler SEATs would lead to a cheap-feeling interior appear groundless. It’s quite the opposite, with exactly the same high quality finish you’d get in an Audi Q7 or A8 model at three times the price. Out back, there’s a 460-litre boot.

Most Q3 owners will be paying somewhere between £25,000 to £30,000 for their cars, so, model-for-model, you’re not looking at saving very much against the cost of an equivalent and only slightly larger Audi Q5. The 2.0 TDI quattro 138bhp variant costs from just over £25,000, with a premium for the S line trim.

As for equipment, all Q3 models come with alloy wheels, front foglights, aluminium roofrails, auto headlamps and wipers, an eight-speaker eight-watt MP3-compatible CD stereo with controls on the leather-stitched multi-function steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a trip computer, and electrically adjustable heated mirrors, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors. For nearly £30,000 though, it’s a bit disappointing to have to pay extra for things like a lockable glovebox, hill-hold assist, body-coloured bumpers, LED tail lights, cruise control, a DAB digital radio and a luggage net on the boot floor.

Safety features run to six airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints, isofix childseat fastenings and the usual electronic assistance for braking, traction and stability control.

Optimised by engine start-stop and recuperation technology, the 2.0 TDI quattro 138bhp model’s highly efficient unit can return up to 49.6mpg according to the combined cycle test, equating to CO2 output of 149g/km. Whichever Q3 you choose, there’s the option of specifying your car with an “Efficiency mode” said to save from 1-2 per cent 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 is that you have to remember to manually select it, and when you do, the speed tends to fall away quite quickly so that you power on again with very little gained.

The Q3 doesn’t need gizmos like this to record best-in-class running costs. Maintenance costs, for example, probably won’t be as high as you might expect thanks to careful design, like the way the bumper is made up of three parts, making it cheaper to repair after a collision. But a bigger factor for most owners will be the low depreciation.

Audi knows better than most makers that there’s no “one size fits all” solution and, to that end, its SUVs these days come in small, medium and large sizes. And this small option, despite its low-key detailing, might just be the most desirable of the bunch, especially in the 2.0 TDI quattro 138bhp guise. Any Q3 can easily manage the school run, extended shopping trip, and the annual family ski trip to Meribel – but all decent small compact 4x4s should be able to do that. The difference here is in the quality, the depth of engineering and the sheer feel-good factor that you’ll get by having this car on your driveway.

Whether you see this model as a 
Nissan Qashqai-like Crossover or a RAV4-like compact SUV, it’s a desirable trinket either way. The clever compromises made to create its relatively affordable price tag detract little from the polished end result. Yes, you can buy something slightly bigger and SUV-ish for this kind of money. But after trying a Q3, you probably won’t want to.