Audi has been a busy bee of late: the now ubiqitous German marque has launched 12 new models in five years, from the gargantuan Q7 SUV back in 2006, to its baby sister, the Q3 soft-roader, this month. Compare that with Renault, for example, which has launched just one new car in the past year, and you’ll see why Audi’s revenue streams are flowing nicely, and the British public relations team are all smiles.
It seems Audi has never been in ruder health: the R8 supercar has been lovingly received here and the badge still carries enough street cred in the 'burbs to make the company’s estates best-sellers among shiny Clapham Common bourgeois families.
The Q3, then, looks on paper to be another hit, even before its appearance in showrooms. It’s synched perfectly with the current zeitgeist for smaller, more frugal cars that nonetheless retain cachet, a sense of security for passengers and the can-do attitude of raised ride height and four-wheel drive (a front-wheel drive version, incidentally, goes on sale in December).
The only question is why Audi is so late to the party with a model that ticks those boxes: BMW brought out its X1 crossover, with which the Q3 inevitably will be compared, two years ago. Audi simply smiles and says it’s been run off its feet...you know how it is. And Land Rover has only just got round to building its Evoque, which is the Q3’s other natural competitor, so what’s the big deal?
Maybe nothing, when you’ve got a car this good. The Q3 knocks BMW’s X1 into a cocked hat. The styling, more utilitarian than pretty, makes this car look like a proper little off-roader, instead of the dog’s dinner that is the X1. Audi has been generous with its basic equipment levels, too: in the X1, there are ugly plastic gaps and empty mouldings to remind you of what you couldn’t afford, whereas Audi’s base SE trim level includes rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, an electric handbrake and Bluetooth as standard.
The Q3's seating position is high up with good forward vision, the cabin feels light and spacious with decent rear leg room considering the car’s overall size. The boot is adequate, although the floor has been raised to make room underneath for the stereo sub-woofer, which is ridiculous - it’s disappointing enough to find a shallow boot, but at least let the reason be because there’s a spare wheel underneath, not a bloomin’ speaker and a little foam compressor unit for punctures.
Drive the Q3, however, and you’ll forgive the sily boot. The chassis is as impressively supple as a Pilates instructor, and the suspension does its job so well that only after half an hour or so of ploughing along broken agricultural tracks across the Yorkshire Moors did it occur to me that the springs and dampers must be working hard. You certainly wouldn’t want to put this car on low-profile tyres and risk ruining its best attribute.
The Q3 is avilable with two engines: a 2.0-litre TFSI petrol developing either 168bhp or 208bhp, or a 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit developing either 138bhp or 175bhp.
The lower-powered TDI is expected to be the best seller, followed by the 175bhp version tested here. It’s a sporty sounding diesel engine, willing to rev quickly and freely - a little too freely actually: the seven-speed S-tronic automatic’s cogs got the bit firmly between the teeth and refused to let go a lot of the time. The result, also apparent with the same transission and the 211bhp petrol unit, is an engine that revs too high or too low much of the time, forcing you into abrupt throttle changes to induce a different gear. Odd, and quite annoying, in such a technically accomplished car that showcases so many innovations.
Take for example, the Q3’s optional efficiency mode, which allows the car to freewheel when you come off the throttle, thus saving fuel (there’s also a stop-start function for the same reason). Or the park assist button, which lets the car size up the parallel parking space on the street, or narrow bay in the car park, and steers itself into it while you control the speed.
In truth, though, you don’t need these costly extras - you’ve got rear parking sensors as standard, and the stop/start function saves on a small amount of fuel - more sensible driving would probably get you the same reward. Which means you needn’t spend much more than the base price of £24,560 for a Q3. And that, my friends, is a price worth paying.
Audi Q3 2.0 TDI quattro
Tested: 1,984cc four-cylinder turbodiesel with seven-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Price/on sale: from £24,560/Nov
Power/torque: 175bhp @ 4,200rpm/ 280lb ft @1,750rpm
Top speed: 132mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 8.2sec
Fuel economy: 47.9mpg (Combined)
CO2 emissions: 156g/km
VED band: G (£165)
Verdict: Quietly capable: ticks all the boxes a baby SUV should. One star docked for subwoofer taking up valuable boot space.