One of Audi’s bestsellers has been revamped bumper to bumper, making us question what is our favourite boutique midsize SUV...
Launched in 2011, the first-generation Audi Q3 was an instant hit right when the market went crossover crazy. Often outselling its A1, A3 and A4 cousins in global markets, Audi’s boutique midsize SUV offered an impressive blend of practicality, style and tactility. In our first test of a Q3, we went as far as questioning whether there was any need for consumers to upgrade to the larger Q5 when the smaller vehicle did so many things so well. Fast-forward eight years and, buoyed by a midsize crossover market that’s ballooned to the most important and profitable one for manufacturers to partake in, Audi’s launched Q3 version two.
Underpinned by the celebrated MQB platform instead of the heavier PQ35 item that serviced the first generation, the new Q3 is streets ahead in terms of technology, practicality and refinement, yet overall it’s lighter, too. Tested here is the S line model, which sits at the pinnacle of a surprisingly simple range. Only one engine and transmission combination is offered across three trim lines: basic (R565 000), Advanced (R585 000) and S line. There’s no Quattro model for now, and the options list has likewise been trimmed; where the old Q3 had up to 80 individual items on offer, the new iteration boasts just 30 extra-cost conveniences. Like its other models and its German and Swedish rivals, Audi has bundled together a number of these spec items into packages.
As is the norm in the motoring world, the new Q3 has grown from generation to generation. Measuring an additional 96 mm from bow to stern, with a 77 mm bloat in its wheelbase, the Q3 cuts a distinctly conspicuous figure. That might also be the result of the more expressive design, which ditches the outgoing model’s ovoid roof line in favour of a decidedly chiselled air. A neat design trick is the sculpted shoulder/wheelarch lines, plus the multi-layered dynamic turn signals sitting alongside standard-fitment LED headlamps. Unlike BMW and Benz, you won’t mistake the Q3 for its larger (Q5) or lesser (Q2) siblings.
Fitted to S line variants are, among other, smaller items, deeper bumpers and skirts, matte- silver and grey elements (you’ll have to make up your own mind on the aesthetic success of those front-bumper inserts, or whether the massive grille isn’t a spot too prominent), 18-inch alloy wheels and, crucially if you’re considering this model, sport suspension.
The S line trim level does not extend to the interior (there’s a separate option pack available at R15 900), but the standard Q3 interior arguably doesn’t need spicing up. This is a more expressive environment than we’re used to from Audi (and is even more so if different colour trim elements to the greys and blacks of this test vehicle, including orange Alcantara on the dash and door armrests, are selected) incorporating a jumble of sharp angles and elegant, flowing lines. Despite the busyness, there’s a welcome congruity to the overall design and perceived quality is generally excellent aside from some plainer plastics on the centre console surrounding the cupholders, and a spot too much smooth silver plastic surrounding the door pulls.
Taking centre stage in this press unit is a 10,1-inch MMI Navigation Plus infotainment screen neatly inserted into a surround of smudge-prone gloss-black plastic. It costs R33 500 as part of the Technology Package, whichbumps up the instrumentation to 12,3 inches and adds aluminium trim and ambient lighting; an 8,8-inch screen is standard. MMI is a simple system to master and because the screen does without the Q8’s haptic feedback functionality, which requires inputs to be made with a quite deliberate action, it feels instantly responsive. It’s also feature-rich, offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and playback via two USB ports, one a type C for quicker transfer rates. Impressively, all Q3s come standard with a 10-speaker, 180 W audio system. A Bang & Olufsen setup is optional.
Space-wise, the new Q3 is family-friendly. The rear bench slides by 150 mm for maximum legroom of 716 mm (26 mm more than before) or maximum boot capacity of 320 litres, a jump of 48 litres. The loading height is 43 mm lower, making it easier to lift heavy items through the hatch opening over a metal-strip protected sill. The boot has various additional storage spaces and convenient hooks. We measured rear headroom at less than the previous model – which makes sense considering the new Q3 is lower – but taller passengers won’t be robbed of room, even with the panoramic sunroof fitted.
The seating arrangement up front is less universally pleasing. While some tall testers appreciated the range of adjustability on the driver’s seat, shorter members complained of a steering column which doesn’t adjust high enough, leading to a perched driving position. There were some grumbles about the placement of the volume knob to the far left of the facia, too, but that can be overcome by using the scroller on the right-hand steering spoke.
As mentioned, all local Q3s run the tried-and-tested 1,4-litre turbopetrol engine that featured in the previous Q3 and does service in a range of current VW Group products offered locally. Internationally, the 1,5-litre is offered alongside diesel options. Unlike the Q2’s S tronic dual-clutch transmission with its seven forward ratios, the Q3 35 TFSI is paired with a six-speeder, the marriage of which is occasionally acrimonious…
While the Q3’s drivetrain displays little of the off-the-line lethargy inherent to some DSG/S tronic-equipped vehicles, the dual-clutch ‘box has an irksome tendency to hold onto gears when the conditions are sufficiently mild enough for it to select a higher ratio. Moderate throttle inputs on a level road can see the S tronic unit holding on to second gear until 4 000 r/min before coupling third, denting the Q3’s otherwise excellent rolling refinement.
Operated within the bottom half of its rev range, the 110 kW/250 N.m engine makes an agreeable companion, shifting the 1 584 kg SUV swiftly past slower traffic. Ask for more punch and there’s some unwelcome gruffness not present in the Volvo XC40 T3 and its three-cylinder powertrain. Still, overtaking acceleration wasn’t too far off the times we recorded with a more powerful, torquier Q3 2,0T FSI in July 2012 and the new Q3 always feel like it has a little extra shove in hand should a brisk overtaking manoeuvre be required.
What more is there to say about the dynamic rewards offered by the MQB platform? Composed, fool-proof and chuckable, it’s a great base for the Q3. The S line suspension adds a brittle edge to the ride on some surfaces, certainly, but it’s hardly uncomfortable, while the electrically assisted steering is quick and direct, with a pitch-perfect weighting at urban speeds. In fact, coupled with mostly unimpeded visibility outwards, it’s a cinch threading the Q3 through traffic.
On our mixed-use 100 km fuel route, the 35 TFSI engine recorded 6,8 L/100 km which, on a generously sized 64-litre fuel tank, guarantees a country-crossing driving range of 941 km. The Q3’s braking performance lets the side down somewhat, with an average of 3,10 seconds from 10 emergency stops earning it a “good” rather than the more common “excellent” rating.
The new Q3 is as rigorously engineered and refined a product as we’d come to expect from Audi, offering upmarket exterior design cues, a well-finished interior and polished driving dynamics. The transmission calibration needs some fine-tuning, certainly, and there are some spec anomalies that don’t quite make sense following Audi SA’s rationalising – why is adaptive cruise control not even offered as an option? – but on balance the newest cross-over from Ingolstadt looks set to continue where its predecessor left off. Only now, the market has a few more players than it did in 2011 and, based on this first acquaintance, our vote still goes to the captivating Volvo XC40 ... but only just.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Audi Q3 price and specs here