The Q3 continues Audi’s process of shrinking its SUV models, joining the large Q7 launched in 2006 and the mid-sized Q5 released in 2008.
A Q1 model, based on the A1, is also anticipated, though for now the Q3 starts at $44,800 to start $17,400 below the cheapest Q5.
It’s a fraction costlier at entry than the rival BMW X1, which kicks off at $43,990, but is several thousand dollars cheaper than another competitor, the Range Rover Evoque that costs from $51,495.
The base Q3 is a front-wheel-drive variant featuring a 103kW 2.0-litre turbo diesel with a six-speed manual, which stands as the fuel consumption and emissions leader in the range with 5.2L/100km ad 137g/km.
Audi admits the lack of an auto for the base model isn’t ideal and says it’s likely to be 2013 before it becomes paired with a self-shifter.
The four-model Audi Q3 range is otherwise dominated by ‘quattro’ all-wheel-drive.
Audi’s other three engine options for the Q3 are also 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged units, forming an even split of petrol and diesel. All feature engine stop-start technology as standard.
The more powerful, 130kW diesel model comes standard with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and starts nearly $10,000 higher at $54,500.
The engine produces 60Nm more torque for a total of 380Nm, peaking in the same rev range of 1750-2500rpm. Fuel use is rated at 5.9L/100km with a CO2 output of 156g/km.
Petrol options begin with a $47,000 2.0 TFSI that produces 125kW and 280Nm, put to the ground via either a six-speed manual or ($1950 extra) seven-speed twin-clutch auto. Fuel consumption is lowest with the manual, with a figure of 7.3L/100km, but quicker with the ‘S tronic’ dual-clutch, taking 7.8 seconds rather than 8.2 to reach 100km/h from standstill.
The auto makes the entry petrol quicker than either of the diesels – 9.9sec for the 103kW and 8.2sec for the 130kW version.
At the top of the pile is a 155kW 2.0-litre petrol that costs from $56,000 and features the engine from the VW Golf GTI hot-hatch.
Mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto only, it will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds and reach the highest top speed of the Q3 pack – 230km/h.
It’s also the thirstiest and dirtiest, though, with figures of 7.7L/100km and 179g/km.
The Audi Q3 is 4385mm long, making it 244mm shorter than the Q5.
The Audi Q3 shares the basics of its underpinnings with the Golf-based VW Tiguan (where the Q5 is A4-based), including the use of the same Haldex all-wheel-drive system.
The German luxury brand has made significant changes underneath, with more extensive use of more expensive, high-strength steels, while the bonnet and tailgate are also made of aluminium rather than steel.
Audi says the Q3’s coefficient of drag figure of 0.32 gives it class-leading aerodynamics.
Audi Australia once played down the sales potential of the Q3, which was previewed back in 2007 by the Cross Coupe concept, saying then that the Q5 was a better-sized SUV for the country. But it says the market has changed since, with consumers clearly wanting more SUV choices.
“There is a constant surge for new ideas [in vehicle development],” says Uwe Hagen, Audi Australia’s managing director. “And there is demand for smaller SUVs worldwide.
“Looking to Australia, in 2011 there was 25 per cent SUV growth.”
The company’s product planning manager, John Roberts, now believes the Q3 will match the mid-sized Q5 in local sales.
“We would expect the Audi Q3 to be similar to Q5 sales, with both about double Q7 sales,” he said. “We are anticipating about 2000 units per year approximately.”
Audi has sold about 340,000 Q7 models since 2006, with the Q5 currently at about 480,000 despite having been on sale since only 2008.
The Audi Q5 is currently the country’s best-selling luxury SUV, though the ageing Audi Q7 has slipped behind its rivals that include the BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery 4, Volkswagen Tiguan, Lexus RX and Volvo XC90.
The Audi Q3 is built in Spain.
Mercedes-Benz will belatedly produce a rival SUV for the likes of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 when it puts a model into production based on the A-Class. Lexus is also looking to build a smaller SUV than its RX and LX soft-roaders.
Click to read CarAdvice's Audi Q3 Review.