The compact SUV segment is one that many of us struggle to grasp, despite the rampant popularity. At the very peak of the segment sits the Audi Q3 and on test this week, we have the 2016 Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI S tronic quattro Sport.
It has to be said that with prices starting from $52,300, you can’t accuse the Audi Q3 of being especially cheap. Our test model costs a whole lot more , too, but we’ll get to that shortly. The offset of the pricing structure, though, is premium build quality, plenty of 'street cred', and that feel-good factor that only a beautifully-built European vehicle can give the buyer.
Once upon a time, you had to pay the equivalent of a whole lot more than 53 grand to get that feel good factor, too.
So, back to pricing, which starts from the aforementioned $52,300 plus the usual dealer and drive away charges. Our test model has a hefty options list, adding nearly ten grand to the price.
It’s hard to believe you can build on the starting price by nearly 20 percent with options, but let’s take a look at how you can do exactly that.
There’s the $2490 ‘assistance package’, which brings side assist, active lane assist, high beam assist, hill hold assist, hill descent control and exterior mirrors with electric folding action, auto dimming on driver’s side and kerb view function on passenger’s side.
The $2490 ‘comfort package’ adds electric front seats, heated front seats and tailgate with electric opening and closing functionality.
The $2990 ‘technik package’ includes MMI navigation plus, park assist and the more premium version of Audi’s sound system. The attractive 18-inch alloy wheels are relatively cheap at $650, while metallic paint adds $1495.
Now, that’s not cheap in the overall scheme of things, but, to Audi Australia's credit, it has confirmed that it will continue to group options together into packages - which, at the very least, makes the choices a whole lot easier.
Audi Australia representatives recently told CarAdvice that this approach is the result of looking closely at what buyers want and determining the most appealing and cost-effective combinations. That’s right, if you had to add most of those options separately, it would cost even more money!
Slip behind the wheel, and the Q3 is like a micro version of everything we admire about a modern Audi interior. It’s cleverly designed, well laid out, beautifully finished and the doors close with a solid thud. The driving position is that of a high-riding hatch back and the forward visibility is excellent too.
Taller drivers will be able to get easily comfortable, but if there’s a passenger behind them in the second row, they won’t have a huge amount of legroom - although there is more than you’d expect in this segment.
The layout of the major controls is well thought out, and everything has a premium feel about it. There’s not a single surface or finishing touch that feels cheap inside the Q3’s cabin.
Tim made the point in his launch review that we should take issue with no Q3 getting satellite navigation standard, especially at this price, and he’s right. The MMI system is excellent, but you shouldn’t have to fork out nearly three grand to get it.
The other interior bugbear is the lack of normal USB inputs anywhere in the cabin. Buyers will need to go with the proprietary Audi cable/music interface system, located in the centre console. It works, but it shouldn’t be the only option.
The 7.0-inch screen atop the dash can be folded down, but it needs to be done manually rather than electronically. It’s crystal clear in any light and responds quickly to prompts from the control system mounted centrally in the dash.
We found the 460-litre boot to be spacious enough for what the average buyer in this class will need. It translates to easily fitting two medium-sized suitcases in under the retractable luggage cover. If you need to carry more gear, you can fold the 60:40 second row seats down and liberate a solid 1365 litres.
While there are cheaper Q3s in the range and a more frugal diesel engine available, this 2.0 TFSI petrol engine might in fact be the pick of the range. Under the bonnet, there’s a two-litre four-cylinder engine matched to a seven-speed S tronic transmission.
The engine punches out max figures of 132kW between 4000-6200rpm and 320Nm between 1400-3900rpm. Performance potential is some guide to the perky engine with a 0-100km/h sprint in 7.6 seconds. The ADR fuel claim against that performance is 6.7 litres per 100km.
On test, we saw an indicated average of 9.7L/100km, mainly around town in stop/start traffic. While this petrol engine is therefore a little thirstier than the diesel, its in-town turn of speed, effortless low-down power delivery and peak torque just off idle, make it genuinely impressive for the majority of daily driving tasks.
The way the torque is delivered, with the peak available from a properly low 1400rpm, mirror the flexibility of a diesel engine in many ways as well.
All variants of the new Q3 range - barring the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol model - get a revised version of the quattro drivetrain, as well as larger disc brakes, an updated torque-vectoring system and an off-road ESC mode that’s been designed to maximise traction on dirt and gravel. Let’s forget that last addition, because it beats me why any manufacturer would pretend that buyers in this segment take their vehicles anywhere near a dirt road, unless it’s by accident.
Those other improvements should, in theory, add to the Q3’s driving chops around town, especially on slick roads. They will add to what is already a very sure-footed platform.
While there are larger wheels available on the options list, we think the 18-inch rims fitted to our test model are the way to go. The ride is firm without being harsh, but the switch to 19- or 20-inch wheels, would definitely harden the ride up significantly. There’s a sharp, direct feel to the steering at all speeds, too - no doubt aided by the wide cross section, low profile rubber.
At launch, Tim noticed some harsher bumps being transmitted through to the steering wheel on rough roads on the larger wheels and tyres and you’d expect that to be an issue around town.
What is perhaps most impressive - for a compact SUV that will spend most of its time around town - is the way in which the Q3 responds to enthusiastic inputs when you find some winding country roads.
The sharp steering comes into its own, the quattro drivetrains delivers that sense of surety we’ve come to expect from Audi, and the engine’s power and torque are delivered in clean, linear fashion. The seven-speed gearbox shifts precisely too, further adding to the driving appeal for those of us that like to have a bit of fun.
The changes under the surface make microscopic improvements that you can’t really discern by the seat of the pants, but the Q3, which has always been sure-footed at speed, remains so. You can drive it a lot more like a hot-hatch than an SUV, which says more about the quality of the platform that underpins the Q3.
Intrinsically, it’s a well designed platform that works well in this segment. With the recent addition to the segment of the GLA, the Q3 needs to be dynamically impressive too, make no mistake about that.
Around town, the Q3’s diminutive size makes it the perfect runaround. It’s easy to slice through traffic, sneak into tight parking spaces and manoeuvre through narrow laneways. Parking is a cinch too, such is the visibility, the quality of the camera and the compact exterior dimensions. If you run round the CBD a lot, you’ll love the Q3.
The sharp steering is a revelation around town as much as it is on the open road. It makes driving more fun than it otherwise might be - or as fun as it can be when you’re negotiating our way through traffic.
While you can argue about the relevance of this compact SUV segment, you can’t argue with the sense of build quality and design execution that comes with spending time behind the wheel of any Audi. The Q3 is no exception and it feels like an expensive SUV - perhaps even one that should be more expensive than it is.
We’d like to see more standard equipment, especially for the more expensive variants in the range. If you're an Audi tragic, it probably makes more sense to buy a Q5 for the money a well-specced Q3 will cost. Despite that, there’s a lot to like about the driving experience delivered by the Q3 2.0 TFSI. It’s smooth, precise and fun in equal measure. A compact SUV isn’t for everyone, but if you need one, it’s still going to he difficult to choose between the Q3 and the new GLA.
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