Coming of age - Audi Q3
Now in its second generation, Audi's compact crossover grows up and takes on a more sporting persona. We check out the quickest quattro-enhanced 45 S Line variant.
Eight years ago, Audi’s Q3 was the smallest in its SUV family but that’s no longer the case as the cute wee Q2 now inhabits that spot. That has allowed the second generation of the company’s compact family wagon to expand, and with that it takes on a more serious, more sporting persona. Gone is the rounded conservative styling of the original and in its place, a more vibrant outline, with styling akin to a shrunken Q8. As it happens both were penned by Audi’s new style chief, Mark Lichte, responsible for the brand’s refocused design language.
This is more angular, more chiselled than the original, and shows off to good effect the octagonal single frame grille, now with eight vertical bars, along with large air inlets, mild quattro wheel arch blisters, and a curvy character line that runs atop the door handles. Auto-acting wedge-shaped LED lights up front and faux exhausts incorporated in the bumper - they terminate underneath - are other design flourishes.
As mentioned, it’s bigger and roomier, thanks to being 97mm longer than its predecessor (at 4485mm), with a wheelbase extended by 77mm to 2680mm. Along with an 18mm increase in width it now has more interior space, practicality enhanced by rear seats that can slide 150mm to either optimise legroom or cargo area. Backrests also tilt for extra comfort and carrying capacity, so with all five seats in use figure on 530 to 675L of space back there, depending on how you’ve configured things. With 40/20/40 split folding, that expands to 1525L and the floor can be positioned high or low, depending on what you’re carrying. To make matters easier, all models feature a powered tailgate that can be activated by gesture control. A kick beneath the bumper also initiates closure automatically.
There are a few other user friendly aspects to Q3 as well. It has comfort entry for ease of locking and unlocking, while the push button starter is handily placed in the center console rather than hidden from sight by the rim of the wheel. Ingress is easy, simply open the door and slide across into the sports seat, clad in leather-like upholstery, powered and heated. Keeping things simple, conventional rotating buttons facilitate temperature changes of the dual zone system while another alongside handles volume control. We wish tuner functions were as simple, relegated to submenus on a pesky touchscreen. On the end of the left indicator wand, a button cancels lane keeping.
We’ve been driving the 45 Advanced S line example for a couple of days, and it’s currently the most expensive of the line-up at $84,900. At the other end of the price range, the base front-wheel drive 35 TFSI Advanced goes for $60,990. The intermediate model is the 45 Advanced quattro which costs $10k less than the S line variant at $74,900. Both Advanced models feature contrasting paint finishes and 18-inch alloys, while the S line runs on 19s and gets a full-paint finish. Ours had optional 20s ($3800). The other significant cost option is a premium Bang and Olufsen surround sound system ($2300)
There are two engines on offer currently, the base 35 TFSI variant with the 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged direct injection four that’s linked to a six-speed twin-clutch transmission. Meantime, the big dog 45 TSFI gets a 2.0-litre 169kW four-pot turbo, good for an accompanying 350Nm from 1500rpm. Braked towing capacity is 2100kg so it’s not just a pretty face. Its engine is similar to that of the Golf GTI. The 45 is all but as quick too, the fast shuffling seven-cog box helping it to a 6.6sec 0-100 time. Audi claims 6.3sec but our test strip was a touch damp at the time.
Average fuel economy is a stated 7.5L/100km and while we saw an initial figure of 8.2 average, that was on a gentle motorway commute. Out of town and pushing on, it rose to a high of 12.3L/100km, but settled eventually around 10, less if you opt for the Efficiency Drive Select mode. For the overtake, reckon on about 4.8seconds, providing you’re either in Dynamic or you’ve hauled the shift lever back into Sport (both do the same thing, for acceleration at any rate). In town, in the Comfort setting the transmission upshifts early, but there’s good torque off the bottom and this encourages light fuel use. Going harder, in S mode, responsiveness is excellent, so the paddles affixed to the wheel don’t often get activated.
The S line Advanced specification gets sports suspension, while adaptive dampers are a $2100 cost option. It’s a worthwhile extra if you’ve gone for the 20s to help balance the dynamic edge with a plusher progress. Even in Dynamic mode the Q3 rides in fairly accommodating fashion. But we preferred the Auto setting which is a nice halfway house. This feels just right when dissecting more interesting byways, while Comfort mode is also perfectly acceptable. All of these modes seem to ensure good control of body roll through corners. The big serving of rubber helps keep the show on the road, and despite the fitting of low profile 20-inch Ventus S1 Evo2s, the ride is never in any way nervy or bony. So you get this most accomplished level of sports handling while enjoying compliant progress. Only two aspects detract from an otherwise convincing dynamic performance. The first is road noise; there’s more of it than in the similarly priced S60 we drove a week before, and the steering feels more remote. It does turn well though, with progressive steering which means a bit over two turns lock to lock, and it steadfastly refuses to run wide of the line, right up to when you’re nearing the ragged edge. Being AWD even getting the ESP light to flicker, let alone the system to intervene, takes a degree of commitment.
The Audi Q3 comes standard with a new MMI touch system which is still overly distracting, and full navigation for our S line model. Sonar front and rear help with parking while commuting is simplified with lane departure warning. Hill descent control and an off-road drive mode help with any green laning you might not do.
The updated cabin is a pleasant place to be, as expected of a modern Audi, with huge headroom in the rear, and seating for 2.5 adults. There’s phone hook up for both types, Qi wireless charging too and a 360-degree camera view.
Despite the all-new status, plus its five-year/150,000km warranty and three-year transferable service plan, the price is similar to that of its forebear. Safety is inbuilt, with a recent five-star ANCAP crash test rating.
Expect mild and plug-in hybrid variants at some point but no diesel. Want something with a bit more firepower? An RS Q3 is coming this year, likely with the Sportback body. Its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbopetrol pushes 294KW/480Nm, getting it over the 100km/h mark in 4.5sec. Features include lowered stance, active dampers, performance brakes, and Nappa leather and Alcantara trim. Meantime, new Q3, especially in 2.0L form steps up to the challenge laid down by new Evoque and GLA Class, X1, XC40, Lexus UX, and Jaguar E-Pace.
Model Audi Q3 45 TFSI quattro Price $84,900
Engine 1984cc, IL4, T/DI, 169kW/350Nm
Transmission 7-speed twin-clutch, all-wheel drive
Vitals 6.61sec 0-100km/h, 7.6L/100km, 175g/km, 1714kg