It’s never good news for the competition when the best-selling car in its class gets an update, and that’s exactly the case with the 2015 Audi Q3.
The premium German brand’s smallest SUV claimed an almost 40 per cent share of its segment last year, and while it’s facing a strong challenge from the Mercedes-Benz GLA this year, it continues to lead the way with almost one third of the market.
The mid-cycle updates – which come a little over three years after the compact crossover first arrived in Australia – focus on boosting specification and value (the major criticism of the old model) and increasing fuel efficiency across the simplified four-variant Audi Q3 range.
One of the greatest beneficiaries is the entry-level Q3 1.4 TFSI, which kicks off the range at $42,900 plus on-road costs (up $600 from before). New standard features in the anticipated top-selling variant include a reverse-view camera and front parking sensors (joining the already standard rear sensors), xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights.
The sole front-wheel-drive variant also gets an upgraded four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with cylinder-on-demand technology, which allows it run on just two cylinders under light throttle and when cruising. The system helps cut the 110kW/250Nm engine’s fuel consumption by more than 6 per cent, lowering its official combined cycle consumption claim to 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
Our trip computer displayed a reasonable 8.5L/100km after a spirited drive along some of the sensational roads of the Gold Coast hinterland on the launch of the updated Audi Q3 earlier this week.
The engine and six-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission combination can be a little tentative at low speeds under light throttle, though otherwise form a refined partnership that feels progressive rather than particularly quick when accelerating.
Available from $47,900 (though unavailable to sample on the launch) is the Q3 2.0 TDI. For $400 more than before it picks up all the extra standard features of the base petrol and gains an extra 7kW and 20Nm (now 110kW/340Nm), uses 10 per cent less fuel (now 5.2L/100km), and is more than half a second quicker from 0-100km/h (now 9.3sec).
All engines other that the 1.4 TFSI are teamed with a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission and a revised version of Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. Other mechanical upgrades introduced across the 2015 Audi Q3 range include larger rear brake discs, an updated torque vectoring system, and an off-road ESC mode that’s designed to maximise traction on dirt and gravel.
Above the base duo sits a pair of Q3 Sport variants: one petrol and one diesel.
The 2.0 TFSI Sport splits the middle between the old 2.0-litre petrol options for performance and price, producing 132kW and 320Nm and $52,300, and is 13 per cent more fuel efficient than both (6.7L/100km). We achieved 9.5L/100km across a mix of twisty mountain and country highway driving, over which the larger engine displayed markedly more responsiveness and gusto than smaller 1.4.
The 2.0 TDI Sport is a modestly uprated version of the old diesel, gaining 5kW for 135kW and 380Nm in total. It’s also marginally quicker (0-100km/h in 7.9sec) and more fuel efficient (5.4L/100km) than before. It proved its real-world efficiency in an hour-long freeway run, on which it claimed to use just 5.2L/100km.
Though it’s the heaviest of the bunch at a rather portly 1700kg, the Q3 Sport diesel is also the most effortless. It’s noticeably stronger than its petrol equivalent, pulling consistently with peak torque on tap between 1800-3250rpm.
It’s the loudest engine of the quartet, however, and unlike the others can still be heard at cruising speeds over the road noise, which is louder than it should be in a premium model.
Road noise is amplified in models with wider tyres and larger alloys, as is the number bumps that are transferred from the road to the cabin. Riding on 18-inch wheels (standard on Q3 Sport, optional on base variants), the ride is firm but composed. You hear many more bumps than you feel. Comfort deteriorates with the larger optional 19- and 20-inch wheel and tyre packages, however, which pick up many more imperfections in the road, leading to a busier overall feeling.
Many of those bumps also find their way up the steering column, with vibrations felt through the wheel particularly when travelling on coarse roads. There’s noticeable kickback over mid-corner bumps, but the steering is otherwise smooth and accurate.
Drivers are rewarded for giving the wheel a workout, too, thanks to the Q3’s balanced nature and grippy tyres.
Those familiar with sitting behind the wheel in the Audi Q3 will note there’s little different inside the updated model. That’s a good thing from a quality perspective, as the cabin abounds with soft-touch and silky plastics, leather surfaces, brushed metal highlights, and buttons and controls that feel nice in your fingertips.
The Q3 lacks a modern tunnel-mounted rotary dial and touchpad to operate the infotainment system like those seen in other newer Audis, instead featuring smaller buttons on the centre stack for the 6.5-inch monitor that rises out of the top of the dashboard.
It’s criminal that no Q3 gets satellite navigation as standard, with customers given no choice but to option it as part of the $2990 Technik package. The pack also adds semi-automated reverse parking and an enhanced sound system.
Also, unlike newer Audi models that have scored USB ports, Q3 drivers are still forced to make do with the brand’s propriety ‘music interface’ system, which connects to phones via a cable in centre console bin.
Heated and electric seats and an electric tailgate are also options, available as part of the $2490-$2990 Comfort package, while Audi charges a premium for its advanced safety features, bundling side assist, active lane assist, high beam assist, hill hold assist and hill descent control, and auto folding, dipping and dimming mirrors into the Assistance package for another $2490.
You can easily spend $15,000 on options if you tick the boxes for all three packages above as well as the $5600-$7600 S line Sport styling package and opt for metallic paint ($1150), taking both Q3 Sport variants well over $70,000 with on-road costs factored in.
The Q3 looks particularly stingy when shopped against the GLA, which even in $48,300 base spec comes standard with 18-inch alloys, emergency auto braking, semi-automated parking, electric-folding mirrors, electric tailgate, sat nav, DVD player, and a USB input.
At least your battered hip pocket can rest comfortably in the Q3’s supportive front and soft rear seats. There’s good legroom for rear-riders and decent headroom so long as you give the $2150 panoramic sunroof option a miss, though the Q3 lacks a centre armrest and a ski port.
Boot space is generous at 460 litres, however, and that can be expanded to 1365L with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats pushed forwards. The boot now also gets an extendable luggage cover, replacing the old shelf that stayed flopped over the boot.
The Audi Q3 has always impressed dynamically, practically and offered trademark levels of interior quality, and the added efficiency achieved by the updated engines only sweetens an already appealing driver’s package.
But Audi’s failure to boost equipment levels with features that should be standard is a missed opportunity in the cheaper variants and insulting in the more expensive ones, and may open the door for better-equipped rivals to usurp its top-selling status.