Audi attempts to make its entry-level Q3 the automatic premium compact SUV choice.
Although the name isn’t new, the Audi Q3 2.0 TDI now adds an important feature that is guaranteed to boost its popularity – an automatic transmission.
Previously just one per cent of Q3 buyers chose the 2.0 TDI entry-level model, which was available only with a six-speed manual transmission. Now, coinciding with an MY14 facelift, the entry-level version of Audi’s soft roader picks up standard all-wheel-drive and a six-speed dual-clutch ‘S tronic’ automatic as standard.
The new starting price is $47,500, up from $44,800, but a $2700 premium is about typical for an auto option, so consider that the Q3 2.0 TDI picks up a ‘quattro’ badge and it appears better value than before.
It also picks up as standard an Audi Music Media Interface (MMI), which is the German manufacturer’s code for iPod and USB music connectivity.
Arguably, however, those features should be standard on a car approaching $50K, yet other mandatory luxury equipment remains optional, such as satellite navigation and a rear-view camera. Those features are bundled in with front parking sensors and a premium audio system as part of a Technik package, but it adds a hefty $3790 to the price.
Likewise electrically-adjustable front seats are packaged with front seat heating, an automatically dipping rear view mirror, auto entry and Nappa leather for $3990 extra. Leather trim is, however, standard, in addition to basics such as 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth audio streaming, and automatic headlights and wipers.
Well equipped for the money this premium compact SUV is not, though. Not only is the Mazda CX-5 Akera, for example, similarly priced and packed with much more standard equipment, but it also offers more power and torque and better claimed fuel economy.
The entry Audi diesel produces 103kW of power at 4200rpm and 320Nm of torque between 1750rpm and 2500rpm, and claims 5.8L/100km combined consumption – 26kW/100Nm down on the Mazda, yet 0.1L/100km thirstier.
Audi argues that the Q3 2.0 TDI quattro is competitive with what it deems a ‘premium’ rival, the BMW X1 sDrive 18d, which produces the same torque and 3kW more power for around the same price, but drives only the back wheels.
There can be no doubt, though, that the Mazda offers the more premium diesel engine.
Adding mechanical parts that drive the rear wheels in addition to the fronts also adds weight to the Q3 2.0 TDI, which moves from a weighing 1445kg to a fuller 1645kg. Although the new automatic matches the manual’s 9.9 second 0-100km/h claim, drivers will be more excited with fuel pump numbers than those on the stopwatch.
The diesel engine is refined, and the S tronic is quick to shift and not too jerky off the mark, but it is otherwise a fairly uninspiring drivetrain for the price. That’s particularly considering one of Audi’s brilliant petrol engines of the same capacity is available in the Q3 2.0 TFSI quattro for just $1950 more than the 2.0 TDI quattro.
It’s worth noting, too, that the specifications for the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel tested here are identical to that in the Audi Q3’s kissing cousin, the Volkswagen Tiguan, which retails for $38,490 in automatic guise.
The diesel engine itself isn’t a new-generation unit like that in the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf, either, both of which share a new, lighter platform that delivers better performance and economy for less than the Q3.
The argument is that the high-riding Q3 is worth paying extra for due to its all-wheel-drive capability and extra space inside.
Certainly in terms of off-road ability the Q3 is solid, with an all-wheel-drive system that can send 100 per cent of torque to either the front or rear wheels depending on the conditions.
Audi set-up a course through a muddy field for us to test the all-wheel-drive system of the Q3, and it will indeed oversteer in conditions that the manufacturer claims closely mirrors driving on ice.
Just how many Q3 owners in Australia will drive on muddy fields, however, is unclear, though most manufacturers claim that buyers of compact SUVs rarely go off road.
The test Q3 2.0 TDI quattro was optioned with 18-inch alloy wheels – bundled in with xenon headlights for a further $2000 – and the ride quality on sweeping country roads around Albury, on the NSW and Victorian border, proved at times tetchy. Body control, however, is excellent and remained so when the bitumen ended and dirt tracks began.
As with most Audi models, the steering is light and quick, though not as direct as the best competitors in the class – X1 and CX-5 – and there’s some vague patches on rotation.
In handling terms, the Q3 remains surprisingly dynamic for a compact SUV, with a grippy and composed disposition, but without the ultimate agility of the BMW and Mazda, in particular.
Despite sharing its platform with the Tiguan, the Audi Q3 is differently packaged. There’s less rear legroom, for example. Unlike the X1 and CX-5, though, there are at least rear air vents standard, and the high-set seat means the legs of rear passengers drop down further to the floor aiding under-thigh support.
Although the seat base doesn’t slide as it does in the Volkswagen, boot capacity is 65L larger, with a 460-litre volume also above average for the class.
Because the tail-lights lift up with the tail-gate the loading area is wide, although the boot’s usability is hampered by a shallow floor area, tapered roof line and a fixed, not retractable, cargo cover.
As with most SUV models with all-wheel-drive hardware, the loading lip is high. In terms of securing items, Audi has added a net secured by lashing points on the boot floor, a side net, 12V socket and extra luggage compartment light on all MY14 models.
The biggest selling point with the Q3 range continues to be its interior design, which does feel premium.
There are some ergonomic niggles – the dual-zone climate control doesn’t have a ‘sync’ button, so a driver without passengers must seperately adjust two dials to keep the cabin temperature the same – but the execution of trim and plastics is superb.
There are some hints that the Q3 is an older car than the A3 hatchback that costs around $10K less, however; there’s a smaller media screen with a less intuitive interface, for example, and a monochromatic display between the tachometer and speedometer where its younger sibling uses a larger colour monitor.
The Audi Q3 is also an older car in terms of its platform, which is arguably too heavy given its compact size and premium positioning, and that affects the performance of the 2.0 TDI quattro which is no better than average. The equipment level for the price, meanwhile, certainly dips below it, and if the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class shakes up the pricing of the premium compact SUV segment like the A-Class did in the premium hatchback class, then Audi (and BMW) will be forced to include equipment that should be standard.
For its benchmark interior quality and impressive refinement, the Audi Q3 still feels like a worthy premium compact SUV entrant, but the pick of the range remains the petrol models.