Audi’s ability to squeeze its advanced technology, attractive design and premium quality into a small package has been proven with the A1 supermini. The automaker tries the same trick again with the Audi Q3 – in the marketplace it is positioned lower than the Q5, which in turn sits below the Q7, the company’s flagship sports utility vehicle.
Roughly nine-tenths the size of the Q5 and with a wheelbase over 200mm shorter, the Q3 looks like its elder brother from the rear, but is otherwise dramatically different. As the Audi design department puts it, the styling “combines SUV genes with the character of a coupe”.
Hinting heavily (in a literal sense, too) at its robust outlook are chunky door sills, flared fenders and underbody protection; all in no-nonsense black plastic. Ground clearance is 170mm, so the Q3 might be less confident in an Orchard Road flash flood than the Q5 and VW Tiguan with their 200mm of leeway.
The Q3’s signature colour is Samoa Orange – one of 11 paintwork choices – and there are 11 alloy wheel designs from 16-inch to 19-inch. An S line exterior package is available to make the car more conspicuous in the concrete jungle. This new animal, incidentally, is built in Seat’s Martorell factory – a first for upmarket Audi.
The building of this SUV is not affected at all by siestas, judging by the sheen of the paint job and the solidity of the construction. Inside the cabin, the overall fit and finish meet the Teutonic yardstick, with delightful touches such as funky aluminium mesh inlays (an option) and subtle LED ambient interior lighting (another option).
Geeks will also appreciate the variety of infotainment systems available for the Q3. If all the big boxes on the order form are ticked, the car can get really gadgety – Bluetooth, DAB, DVD, MP3, TV and “hands-free” reverse parking open up the “hardware zone”, while Google Earth-based satellite navigation and a Wi-Fi hotspot on board for up to eight mobile devices (smartphones, tablets and laptops) take the connected motorist deep into cyberspace.
The disco dancer in him will also appreciate the optional Bose surround hi-fi which, uh, boasts 14 loudspeakers (complete with LED light rings for the front pair), a 465-watt amplifier and audio output matched to the acoustics of the interior.
Allowing the stereo to perform as intended is the Q3’s quiet cabin. Commotion from nearby traffic is kept at bay and vibration is minimal, even over road bumps and broken tarmac. On the expressway, wind noise is never intrusive. If the driver drifts into dreamland listening to the greatest hits of John Denver, the (optional) Active Lane Assist function will gently nudge the steering in the right direction.
Another safety option, Side Assist, even looks out for vehicles entering or already in your Q3’s blind spot, then issues a visual alert on the housing of the appropriate side mirror.
Visibility is excellent in every direction, thanks to the well-sized mirrors, generous front windscreen and elevated driving position. The seats are comfortable, especially if upholstered in the cool Alcantara-leather combo, but their lateral support is nothing special.
The cockpit’s ergonomics are good (apart from the “faraway” steering wheel that needs another 20mm of telescopic adjustment), and the quality of the switchgear is impressive. All the buttons and knobs feel sturdy, and they “press and twist” with Audi’s usual classiness. About the only disappointment is the steering’s stiff rake/reach adjuster (at least in our test car).
Thankfully, there is no stiffness in the way the Q3 steers. In fact, the effortless electro-mechanical system makes it easy to thread the car through city streets, although it could provide more feedback about what the front wheels are up to. Adaptive dampers (worth the extra expense) make the suspension more adept at dealing with different driving styles and a variety of motoring conditions. With or without adaptive damping, the Q3 carries out directional changes in a neat but detached manner.
There is clearly more utility than sports in this SUV’s handling.
Undoubtedly sporty, however, is the turbo 2-litre 211bhp 4-cylinder, which makes the Q3 as quick as a Golf GTI from zero t0 100km/h.
Audi’s 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, complete with little paddler shifters, transmits the ample power smoothly and decisively. Smooth, too, is the standard start-stop system when shutting down the engine at a temporary standstill and restarting it once the brake pedal is released.
There is always reliable grip from the quattro all-wheel drive, at least in the urban areas of Zurich. As for off-road ability, the pristine Swiss countryside (with equally clean-looking cows) does not pose much of a challenge to the Q3, which prefers to tackle downtown kerbs anyway.
Suburbanites with automotive fashion sense who want the qualities of the Audi Q5 compressed into something more compact (and do not want the BMW X1) will be happy with the Q3, we reckon.
Audi Q3 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1984cc, 16-valves, turbocharged
MAX POWER 211bhp at 5000-6200rpm
MAX TORQUE 300Nm at 1800-4900rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 6.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 230km/h
PRICE INCL. COE To be announced (ETA Singapore 2012 Q2)
Check out the Audi Q3