There is no shortage of options for buyers in the world of small- to mid-sized SUVs, those compact crossover vehicles straddling the line between everyday urban duties with rugged utility looks. It’s a crowded market, one where the combatants need to stand out if they are to trouble the sales charts.
Audi’s Q3 has been one of the German brand’s most popular vehicles since first launching in 2011. Even now, so very late in its life cycle, the Q3 remains Ingolstadt’s third best-selling model in Australia, behind bigger sibling Q5 and the small hatch and/or sedan A3. It is, in short, an important car for Audi, never more so than in Australia where the brand is struggling sales-wise. This year alone, Audi has seen a decline of around eight per cent over the same time last year, making this, the all-new Q3, an extremely important model for the brand.
The 2019 Audi Q3 will hit Australia in mid-2019, but CarAdvice has been given an advance screening at the model’s international launch in the Tyrol region of northern Italy.
And straight away, it’s easy to see this is an altogether more aggressive looking crossover. At once longer (by 97mm), wider (25mm) and lower (5mm), and with a wheelbase stretched 77mm over its predecessor, the new Q3 presents a menacing façade, further accentuated by an aggressive octagonal gaping grille with eight vertical slats. The overall lines of the Q3 are sharper too, edges where once lived curves. It’s well-proportioned, with a musculature simply lacking in its forebear.
Flanking that aggressive grille is a new LED headlight design featuring intelligent adaptive high-beam technology. Those headlights are connected to its tail-light counterparts by a prominent shoulder line running the length of the flanks of the Q3. If indeed, Audi’s designers set out to create an aggressive crossover SUV, then visually at least, they have succeeded.
Inside, the Q3 receives the latest Audi interior fitments. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit comes standard across the range, although there are 10.25-inch and 12.3-inch options. It matters not, though, as Virtual Cockpit continues to impress with its clarity, functionality and fully customisable interface.
Equally as impressive is Audi’s new generation infotainment system, with an 8.8-inch touchscreen as standard or an optional 10.1-inch screen. Integrated into the dash and angled towards the driver. The screen itself offers crystal clear images and is intuitive to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard as does voice control, as well as integrated satellite-navigation with real-time traffic alerts. Our test car at launch came with the optional Google Earth mapping and it is, simply, superb to look at.
And that real-time traffic alert functionality more than proved its mettle on the roads around the Dolomites in northern Italy, a honeycomb of backroads and autostrada in the midst of plenty of roadworks. Could we avoid it? Not in this instance, but we knew it was coming and it cushioned the blow somewhat.
Not that being stuck in traffic was unpleasant, not in this part of the world, with towering mountains and verdant fields and impenetrable forests flanking the roads. And especially not in the Q3’s beautifully executed interior, which is at once thoughtfully and artfully designed.
Those bold lines prominent on the Q3’s exterior carry through to the cabin, which is a sharp and modern take on interior design. There are angles and facets everywhere, surfaces where there ought not be and trimmed in unexpected materials – such as the amber brown Alcantara section of the terraced dash – an option, part of the Audi design selection concept for the interior, but spunky nonetheless. Brushed aluminium accents highlight those bold lines and surfaces, but it is in no way overdone. Simply, the interior invites tactility and I spent my time in the passenger seat touching every surface.
The interior's biggest party trick, though, is space. There’s lots of it. Those larger exterior dimensions – along with some clever packaging – have translated nicely into the cabin, which is at once roomier and airier than the old Q3. Nowhere is this more evident than in the second row, which now feels like a mid-sized SUV in terms of leg-, knee- and toe-room. It easily surpasses the outgoing Q3 – not hard as the previous model wasn’t exactly a shining beacon for second-row comfort – in every crucial measurement. And those seats are comfortable too, certainly the outboard pews. The back row slides fore and aft too, by up to 150mm in a 60:40 split fashion, while the seat backs recline for that bit of extra comfort.
That sliding helps to address another major criticism of the old Q3 – boot space. In short, there’s lots of it now, some 70 litres more than the outgoing model in even the smallest configuration. The new Q3 now offers 530 litres with the back row in use and slid to its rearmost position. Slide those pews forward and that expands to 675 litres while folding the back row (40:20:40) not-quite-flat frees up 1525 litres. The boot floor itself can be dropped into a lower position (by around 6cm) to offer even more depth, and thus space. Suddenly, the compact Q3 isn’t looking so compact any more.
Audi Australia hasn’t confirmed which engine variants of the four launched globally this week will find themselves on the back of a cargo ship mid-2019, nor has Ingolstadt’s local arm revealed pricing and specification. In Europe, Audi is offering the Q3 with autonomous emergency braking, side assist and active lane assist while adaptive cruise control, parking assist, rear cross-traffic assist and a 360-degree camera are available as options.
What we can safely assume, though, is that the entry-level Q3 35 TFSI front-wheel drive will again form the bulk of the Q3’s sales. Around 60 per cent of all previous-gen Q3s sold in Australia were of the small 1.4-litre two-wheel drive variety. No great surprise, considering that in today’s market, compact and mid-sized SUVs have become the urban vehicle of choice. In short, we don’t know yet which engine and drivetrain combinations we’re getting.
What we do know is the new-gen Q3 is being launched in Europe with three petrol engines and one diesel, along with either six-speed manual or Audi’s seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic. And depending on variant, drive will be sent to the front wheels alone or through Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system.
We sampled the 35 TFSI at launch, with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol with modest outputs of 110kW and 250Nm. That power is transmitted to the front wheels via Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto, helping move the Q3 in a brisk, if not neck-breaking fashion. A 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.2 seconds isn’t anything to shout at the rooftops about, after all, but then, nor does it need to be a traffic-light grand prix winner.
What the 35 TFSI does, and does extremely well, is provide a supremely comfortable level of every day motoring. That 1.5-litre four (having gained 100cc over the old 1.4-litre it replaces thanks to a longer stroke), is perfectly willing to go about its day job with ease and refinement.
That last word can’t be emphasised enough. Refinement. The first thing you notice about the Q3 in this form is just how damn quiet it is, in every regard. On more than one occasion, we had to double check that we’d started the damn thing (we had), it’s that quiet. We at CarAdvice often sing praises of engines that hum and purr and thrum and yes, sometimes scream, for their supper. But in this segment, and at this entry point, we’d venture that is not something high on the list of prospective buyers.
Moving off from a standstill does invoke a slightly gravelly note from the four-pot up front, but once on the move, there’s not a lot of noise coming from the bonnet. That’s not to say the performance is dulled by its lack of noise. The 35 TFSI is perfectly able and willing to negotiate most situations effortlessly, and working in tandem with the S tronic dual-clutch, offers an engaging and relaxed driving experience.
The dual-clutch auto is a breeze too, intuitively maintaining the correct ratio for whatever you demand of the Q3. There’s no hesitation, no lag, just a simple and methodical get-up-and-go with the minimum of fuss. Ask more of it by stepping on the right pedal, and you’re rewarded with a spritely downshift of a couple of cogs and a burst of speed, while not exactly manic, certainly quick enough to get you out of trouble.
That refined feeling extends to the Q3’s suspension setup which is, again, sublime. There’s nothing revolutionary about the MacPherson setup at front and the four-link rear design, but it’s at once compliant and quiet, ironing out every obstacle in its way with barely a ripple. Even larger hits like speed humps were dealt with deftly and quietly, the Q3 traversing the obstacle with minimal fuss.
If there’s one complaint, and it’s a long-running complaint with Audi, it’s the steering. Our test car was fitted with Audi’s optional progressive steering setup and while it offers nice weighting and is razor sharp in its precision, it does lack a little feel. There’s no feedback, no connection to the road. But again, is this something the intended customer will notice in their day-to-day driving?
What they will notice, is excessive road noise. And the good news for Audi is, this is one of the quietest Audis we’ve ever driven. Perhaps it was the relatively fat rubber wrapped around 18-inch alloys, but the levels of noise intruding into the cabin are minimal. Only did the coarsest of surfaces evince some tyre roar into the cabin, while wind noise was next to non-existent, with only the wing mirrors offering the merest hint of a whistle at autostrada speeds. In short, it’s whisper quiet inside, refined.
Of course, those wanting a sportier experience can step into the 40 TFSI or 45 TFSI, variants of the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine. The 40 offers a healthy 140kW of power and a sprint-to-triple-digit time of 7.4 seconds, while the 45 ups outputs to 169kW of power and 350Nm of torque, capable of propelling the Q3 to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds.
We spent some time in the more powerful of the two 2.0-litre options, and immediately, it’s apparent this is a perkier Q3, with an urgency lacking in its smaller-engined stablemate. That 6.3 second claim, while not tested clinically, feels about right. It still doesn’t come packed with drama – no doubt that theatre will be loaded into the inevitable SQ3 variant – but there’s a spriteliness to the 45 TFSI that’s endearing.
The ride is firmer too, no doubt in part due to the low-profile rubber married to some spunky 20-inch alloys, and to the optional sport suspension fitted to this example. It still displays exemplary manners, with excellent bump absorption and minimal cabin noise, but there’s a slight firmness to the ride, especially in dynamic mode. It’s perfectly within acceptable limits though, and not anything that will set your teeth on edge.
At autostrada speeds, the 45 TFSI, like the 35, is happy to lope along with a minimum of effort. However, call upon it for a burst of overtaking speed and it is, unsurprisingly, more willing and effortless, those 350Nm of available torque happy to oblige.
There’s the same numb feel to the steering but again, as far as precision and weighting goes, the 45 TFSI provides enough of both for this to be a minor annoyance, certainly not a deal-breaker.
Externally, our launch car is fitted with the black styling package, which essentially replaces all chrome trim with either gloss or matte black. Everything, from the window surrounds, to the grille and even all brand and model badging gets the blackout treatment and, when combined with this particular car’s Pulse orange paint, certainly stands out.
That Pulse orange theme continues inside with contrast stitching and swathes of orange Alcantara. Sounds gaudy, but in fact, it works.
In fact, the new Audi Q3 just works. There really isn’t a lot wrong with this compact SUV. Even in its lowest spec, the 35 TFSI, the Q3 handles daily driving duties with dignity and a touch of flair, if not theatre. Instead, it presents as a compelling package, at once stylish and edgy, while also remaining functional and extremely practical.
Style over substance is not an epithet that can be levelled at the new Q3. Simply, the new Q3 impresses in just about every area asked of it.