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As Audi's most recent addition to its extensive, 24-model line-up, the Audi Q3 is also its smallest and least expensive SUV to date.
And in typical Audi style, there’s a lot to choose from in the Q3 model range, with a total of eight variants on offer with a mix of both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive versions, petrol and diesel engines, and automatic and manual transmissions.
As if that wasn’t enough, every Audi Q3 (whether diesel or petrol) is powered by a 2.0-litre engine employing turbocharging and direct injection technology that allow for a range of power tunes from 103kW up to 155kW for the flagship 2.0-litre TSFI petrol version.
CarAdvice already covered most of these engine variants in our March review of the Audi Q3, but for this review we focus solely on the entry-level model – the 2.0-litre TDI.
At $44,800 plus on-road costs, it’s something of prestige bargain undercutting the least expensive diesel-powered Range Rover Evoque eD4 Pure edition by almost $7000 and the BMW X1 2.0 20d by $5100.
However, the Audi Q3 is based on the Volkswagen Tiguan and you have an all-wheel-drive 2.0-litre 103TDI for $35,990 – considerably less that the Q3 equivalent.
However, one possible drawback of being the base model in the Audi Q3 range is that the only transmission available is a six-speed manual unit, with no automatic option available.
But make no mistake - from the moment you climb into the cockpit of this junior Audi SUV, you’ll be getting a 100 per cent premium experience.
Leather, and beautifully supple it is too, is standard fit across the entire Q3 model range, as is the pop-up screen, high-end audio system, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio, and an electrically operated handbrake.
It’s all very driver-centric inside, with lots of proper metal accents spread among a well laid out centre stack, instrument cluster and door trim – and typical Audi attention to detail.
The steering wheel is thick-rimmed with especially tactile leather binding, providing good feel and grip. It also has the usual remote audio controls, but all the screen functions are managed from the centre stack.
Even the stubby sports car-style shifter feels like a premium bit of kit.
Despite its billing as the smallest SUV Audi has to offer, there’s loads of space inside the Q3 - that’s five adults and a good bit of luggage. Fold the rear seats (they don’t fold flat) and the cargo space expands from 460 litres to 1365 litres.
Rear legroom isn’t bad, either, but the tapered roofline means that those passengers over 190cm tall with find rear headroom less than desirable.
The overall driving position in the Audi Q3 is superb. The driver sits well into the vehicle and the seats, which don’t at first appear to have enough bolstering, provide excellent support even when conditions allow for a more spirited driving style.
Styling-wise, no-one will have any trouble in recognising your latest purchase as an Audi. Like all models in the Audi range, the large vertical grille on the Q3 dominates the front end and the slim-look rear light assembly is similar to that on the larger Q5.
Audi engineers have done well to muffle the usually intrusive diesel clatter from the 2.0-litre engine and there’s even a bit of a growl during in-gear acceleration in third and fourth gear ratios.
It might be the least powerful engine tune on offer in the Q3 model range, but 103kW and 330Nm mated to a light-shifting six-speed manual means this Audi Q3 is anything but dull.
Throttle response is more eager than expected and the engine feels more refined than other 2.0-litre diesels we’ve driven, though the engine prefers to operate above 1500rpm.
On paper, the Q3’s 9.9-second sprint time from 0-100km/h isn’t all that inspiring, but using all the advantages of a light-shifting manual box and a respectable torque curve and the entry-level Audi Q3 makes some decent pace.
As a front-wheel-drive SUV, we might have expected a degree of torque steer, but even under heavy load there’s nothing to speak of. It’s all very well behaved in that department.
The electro-mechanical steering is relatively light at low speeds (not uncomfortably so) for what is essentially an urban-bound SUV, but weighs up nicely at freeway speeds. And while there isn’t a lot of communication transmitted through the steering wheel, the Audi Q3 goes precisely where you point it.
Audi has worked hard to minimise the weight of the Q3 to just 1445kg by employing a host of lightweight solutions including an aluminium bonnet and tailgate that collectively weigh in at an astonishingly light 19.6 kilograms.
The Q3 is well balanced. Pushing the vehicle through a series of tight S-bends produced minimal body roll and no discernible weight shift. It’s not as sharp as the Range Rover Evoque through corners, but the Q3’s chassis feels more settled and there’s plenty of grip to inspire driver confidence and make the Q3 often feel more like a big hatch than an SUV.
It’s the same story with ride quality. It simply doesn’t matter how bad the road surface is, the suspension simply absorbs everything in its path for what is a superior ride comfort to anything in its class.
If driven with a gentle right foot, the base model Audi Q3 will return less than 5.0 litres per 100km. Jump on the throttle and you will still average less than 7.0L/100km of diesel.
Apart from a few minor annoyances such as the lack of a rear seat centre arm rest and no standard satellite navigation on the pop-up screen, the entry-level Audi Q3 2.0-litre TDI is still a highly appealing prestige offering.