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Car reviews - Audi - Q3 - 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Rorty and gusty turbo engine choices, slick transmissions, smooth and predictable on-road manners, Audi level of quality and design obsession
Room for improvement
Dull to drive, firm to hard ride on larger wheels, expensive options, tight back seat headroom, limited off-road, poor side and rear vision

30 Mar 2012

ONCE UPON a time there was the Audi 80 and 100 and everything was simple from the company with the four rings.

But few people in Australia had even heard of it back in the 1980s and only a handful of sedans were sold each year.

These days the Audi range runs into the hundreds and is so complex that it seems like a different model is being released every other month. Enjoying record popularity, it is now right up there with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

In SUV-mad Australia, the Ingolstadt brand already does brisk business with the midsized Q5 and seven-seater Q7 crossovers. So it’s a no brainer to expect the smaller and cheaper Q3 model to help take Audi up to the next level of success.

Small, it seems, is big.

The Q3 not only taps into one of the fastest growing segments, it exposes Audi to customers who would not have previously considered it. Crucially, these are folk who might otherwise purchase a Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Diesel, Subaru Forester XT Premium, or Volkswagen Tiguan 155TSI.

Get set to see a whole lot more Audis on the road from now on, then.

You wouldn’t know from looking at it, but the Tiguan donates much of its technology and underpinnings to the Q3. Ironically, though, the former is built in Germany while the latter hails from Spain.

So what do you get for your extra $15,000 or so?

Real Audi design for starters. Unlike most compact SUVs, which major in looking dumpy, the Q3 boasts the styling cues of its larger siblings, as well as many elements found in the brand’s sedans, coupes, wagons and hatches. From the intricate headlights and taut surfaces to the clamshell tailgate and oversized alloys, there is haute couture going on here.

The differences are even more profound inside, where the Q3 is as ambient and inviting as its Volkswagen cousin is functionally austere. You could just as well be in an A6 as far as the quality of design and execution goes inside. Pleasing detailing, swathed in lush and luxurious materials, elevate the comfortable and cocooning Audi straight to the top of the compact SUV tree.

As far as the mundane practicality stuff is concerned, four average-sized adults will fit without trouble, with a fifth capable of being squeezed in if need be. Perched up high, the driving position is as commanding as any competitor’s.

While fine up front, if you’re tall you might find rear headroom limited due to the ‘couple roofline’ that the company makes such a song and dance out of. And though the cargo capacity is sufficient for most people, there are roomier opponents out there.

From a driving perspective, the Volkswagen connection is much more tangible.

Now that’s no bad thing, since the latter is actually based on the Volkswagen Golf/Audi A3 platform. That means the steering is light but well planted, with a front end eager to go exactly where it is pointed, and a ride that is on the pliable side of firm on 17-inch wheels, but then erring on hardness as the rim size increases.

This all translates to an ultra smooth and refined dynamic experience on the road, giving the Q3 an up-spec Golf-on-stilts feel, but without it degenerating to queasiness or top-heaviness. You can corner it with absolute confidence and control and not suffer from that sense you’re punting a bus or truck around. This is a fine chassis.

But if you expect a bit of sparkle and excitement from the driving experience, look elsewhere. There is little to involve or inspire the keen helmsperson, in the surprising way that the Evoque does. All that Volkswagen Group tech sharing seems to have given the Q3 a bit of a personality bypass.

And the Q3 really has no place off road either, save for excellent light gravel handling and driveability. The Haldex all-wheel drive set-up is predominantly front-drive until extra traction requirements send up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels. On wet country roads the car shone brightly.

This means that on some of the rougher areas of the country Queensland off-road section we (briefly) sampled the Audi on, the lack of proper ground clearance and 18-inch alloys left us wishing we had stuck to the highway instead. Keep the Q3 on bitumen and you’ll love its luxurious elevated feel.

On the drivetrain front the 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo engine options are gems, from the strong and slick 103TDI base FWD manual diesel and its all-round gutsier 125TDI AWD S-tronic DSG dual clutch gearbox counterpart, to the slingshot 130TSI AWD S-tronic petrol auto that proved to be the most satisfying to punt around at speed. It is expected to be the bestseller and we easily understand why.

We could not ascertain fuel economy figures but the Stop Start idle cut-off technology kicked in seamlessly in every one of the three variants driven, so we’re expecting near class-leading frugality.

All in all then, the Q3 looks and feels like an Audi inside and out, and also manages to drive like one. Turbo-fed performance aside, it won’t excite the keen driver, but the Ingolstadt crossover reeks of quality, making it the most luxurious compact SUV we have driven this side of an $80K-plus up-spec Range Rover Evoque.

As Audi predicts most Q3 buyers will be new to the marque, it ought to instantly impress with a combination of obsessive detailing and ultra refined driveability. The lack of off-road aptitude won’t matter, but prospective customers should try the 18-inch wheel-clad versions for ride hardness before committing. They ought to also get used to paying dearly for extras that others like Mazda throw in for free – such as metallic paint.

Get over these obstacles and the Q3 is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the vast stable of vehicles that make up the modern Audi experience. In fact it is quintessentially so – and that should make the latest luxury compact SUV a resounding success.

It’s certainly a far cry from the dreary old 80 and 100 days.

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