Audi’s declared goal is to be the leading premium brand in the automotive world. The Ingolstadt-based firm has set its sights squarely on BMW and Mercedes-Benz, with its parent Volkswagen Group harnessing an enormous budget to help Audi achieve its goal. The marque has already established itself as a glamorous German brand that scores in design and performance, and it continues to polish the “four rings” so they can outshine the Mercedes “tristar” and the Bimmer “propeller”.
Audi is now the aspirational car brand of many yuppies – to these people, it is like the new BMW. Unfortunately, this shift in mindset has also resulted in a number of Audi drivers behaving in a less-than-gentlemanly manner on our roads.
Said roads appear to have a model or sub-model for every segment, and Audi is a specialist in filling these market niches. The automaker offers a massive SUV (Q7), a mid-sized SUV (Q5), a pocket sportster (TT), a full-blown sports car (R8) and a host of saloons, coupes and cabriolets. But missing from the Audi lineup for the longest time was a compact SUV to take on the BMW X1.
The Q3 may be a latecomer to the party, but it has arrived “in style”. It’s a true head-turner thanks to its sleek lines, coupe-like silhouette and striking details (e.g. those wedge-shaped headlights), with the model-specific Samoa Orange paintwork adding to the exterior design drama. The add-on bits for the fenders and sills can be decorated in black, anthracite or body-colour. Compared to the Q5, which seems bulky and rather heavy, the Q3 looks better balanced and just the right size, yet it is still roomy enough for five adults.
As expected of an Audi, the Q3’s cabin is first-rate in both appearance and quality. The fit and finish cannot be faulted at all. Its seats are comfortable and supportive, and also not as unyielding as in some other Audi cars. Standard equipment includes mood lighting (for the cupholders and armrests) and a sound system with Bluetooth connectivity.
There are other worthwhile features, but most of them are optional. The “extra” goodies include a panoramic sunroof ($5,490), parking assistance complete with rear camera ($3,586), MMI Navigation Plus ($9,191) and a Bose surround sound hi-fi with LED effects ($4,493). That’s over $22k of options, all fitted to the test car here and adding almost 10 per cent to the price! Specify the S line exterior package, and the bill goes up by a further $7,216.
The local Q3 range currently offers two variants, both fitted with a 2-litre engine but in different states of tune – 170bhp and 211bhp. Quattro permanent all-wheel drive and a 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission are common to both Q3s. A particularly clever innovation is freewheeling when in the Efficiency drive mode. This is a world-first by Audi in the Q3 segment, and it helps the car attain impressive fuel economy of 13km per litre on the combined cycle.
My first and lasting impression of the newcomer is its refinement and build quality. The body feels sturdy, with impressive suppression of road and wind noise. The engine pulls strongly in any rev range, shifting rapidly and smoothly through the gears. In the test car, there was some low-speed hesitation (an “old” phenomenon of dual-clutch transmissions), but this could have been an aberration.
Step hard on the accelerator, and the Q3 takes off with immediate gusto. In 211bhp form, it covers the yardstick century sprint in just 6.9 seconds – very good going for a 2-litre SUV. Besides great performance, the car also provides positive steering response in all conditions.
Drive the Q3 quickly on fast winding roads, and you’ll feel like you’re piloting a sporty hatchback rather than an SUV. This car does not roll much in tight corners, remaining relatively flat, with virtually no tyre scrub or tyre squeal.
Practicality is topmost on the minds of SUV buyers, and the Q3 does well in this respect. It has a huge luggage capacity of 460 litres that can be increased to a whopping 1,365 litres with the rear seats folded away.
The Audi Q3 is a worthy choice for junior executives, who might also be considering the BMW X1 and the Range Rover Evoque. The Bimmer has superior steering feedback and first-mover advantage, while the baby Rangie has a funky design and comes fully equipped. But the Q3 beats both its rivals in terms of interior quality and overall performance.
The Audi “Q” for the upwardly mobile starts here.
This story was first published in the October 2012 issue of Torque.
2012 Audi Q3 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1984cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 211bhp at 5300rpm
MAX TORQUE 300Nm at 1800-4900rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 6.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 230km/h
CONSUMPTION 13km/L (combined)