What do we want? Attractive compact SUVs! When do we want them? Like, yesterday!
It's hard to pinpoint a class of car that's more competitive, faster growing or littered with options than the crossover segment. Plus, head toward the pricier end of the spectrum and you'll find some of the most attractive, coveted cars on the road – the Audi Q3 chief among them.
Aimed squarely at image-conscious, city-dwelling owners with a bit more money to spend and a few more passengers to fit, the new-generation Q3 small SUV landed in late 2019, bringing the promise of more room, better fuel economy and an overall improved driving experience.
At the moment, your Q3 options in Australia include the base 35 TFSI variant reviewed here, in either regular or Sportback style, or two 2.0-litre 40 TFSI variants with all-wheel drive – the 40 TFSI quattro or the 40 TFSI quattro S line. There's an all-wheel-drive Sportback offering too, some performance RS models due later this year and a mild-hybrid also in development.
In base spec, the Q3 starts at $46,400 plus on-road costs, but the one I drove was kitted out with the 'Comfort Package' ($2600) and metallic paint ($1250), which brought the as-tested price to a hefty $50,250 plus ORCs. For that extra $2600, you'll effectively get seat heaters, folding side mirrors, electric front seats and adaptive cruise assist with emergency assist.
That price isn't cheap by anyone's standards, but for those with a German-friendly budget, it's arguably a manageable entry point for a car of this size. For comparison, competitors like the Volvo XC40, BMW X2, Lexus UX and Mercedes-Benz GLA (which has a new-gen version on the way) offer base models that range from $44,450 for the UX, up to $46,400 for the X2, with the others somewhere in between.
As such, the Q3 can be considered right on the money. Plus, it looks expensive. Which, let's be honest, certainly counts for something.
Under the bonnet of the Q3 you'll find a 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine capable of 110kW and 250Nm paired to a six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission driving the front wheels. It's a real breeze to drive – quick to respond, with firm brakes and a steering wheel that requires very little input to elicit the desired response. The car feels light, nimble and straightforward. Those craving a powerful, sporty driving experience might find the Q3 somewhat lacking, but most regular city and freeway drivers will find it more than fits the bill.
While this looks like an SUV, I'd argue the ride is more akin to a hatchback – it certainly doesn't absorb rough roads as well as other SUVs, which feel like they have a bit more padding. I wouldn't say the Q3 is a hard ride, just one that isn't as cushioned as you might expect from something calling itself an SUV. Regardless, I wasn't bothered by the occasional bumps and jolts.
Where the Q3 really stands out for me is on the design front. It looks fresh, elegant and like it's not trying too hard, and I think will date well. I loved little details like how the tail-lights flash horizontally when you lock or unlock the car (in a way that reminds me of classic ’80s flick Tron), or the diamond stitching pattern on the leather seats. It feels modern without being too futuristic – a fine line plenty of car companies struggle to walk.
Inside, the silver accents across the black dash make the interior feel light and bright, not to mention forgiving for fingerprints and dirt. The 10.1-inch central touchscreen is less forgiving of fingerprints, but highly functional and user-friendly. In fact, I was grateful for the clean, intuitive layout of the entire dash – the essentials were all there, but I didn't feel overwhelmed by the options.
The only features I found frustrating were the hockey-stick door handles, which appear to prioritise form over function. They open back towards you at an odd angle to grasp and feel too flimsy to support the weight of the doors.
I'd suggest the car key could also do with an update, given it lacks a traditional ignition in which to stick the older-style fold-out key blade. It's there as a backup for the mechanical door lock should keyless entry fail for any reason, if you were wondering, but there are better ways to hide it in a 'premium' car.
The rest of the Q3's interior doesn't sacrifice practicality for elegance – there are plenty of sensible storage options throughout and enough room for all five occupants. Head clearance in the car is ample, while rear leg room is sufficient. My six-foot-three husband had his knees right up to the back of my driver's seat, and said he could happily manage a one-and-a-half-hour road trip but not much more. Given the backs of the front seats are hard, rough plastic, taller passengers might find their knees feeling a little sore at the end of a long trip.
Back-seat occupants get two air vents, plus a large centre armrest with pop-up cupholders, two USB-C ports, and two strangely shaped side bins placed by the door, just below the hip point. When I pondered aloud what they could possibly accommodate (too narrow for water bottles, too deep and long for knick-knacks), my colleague pointed out they were perfectly sized for a woman's clutch bag. He's not wrong.
I was impressed by the Q3's boot size – which is a substantial 530L to 675L depending on how the rear seats are positioned when upright, or 1525L with the seats folded – and can be accessed via the car's power tailgate, which boasts foot-activated keyless entry. The car's keyless locking system was, for me, a little more temperamental than the keyless entry, although I appreciated the car mirrors stowing away upon locking (part of the $2600 Comfort Package I mentioned earlier).
Nervous Nancys like me will appreciate that the Q3 is a very safe car. It gets a five-star ANCAP rating and scores autonomous emergency braking including pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist as standard.
Also standard are the reverse camera, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors – all of which work in harmony to ensure the Q3 is the quintessential city car, able to navigate squeezy CBD streets without earning any unfortunate scrapes. An optional parking package adds a 360-degree camera and park assist technology – I'd argue the former should be standard.
Other highlights included the presence of wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto as standard, a wireless phone charger, a beautifully high-res, detailed satellite navigation display and, finally, excellent adaptive cruise control. The latter is, unfortunately, also part of the Comfort Package.
A few things were notably absent from the Q3. The first was a head-up display, which I noticed because the speedometer tended to get visually lost amongst the expansive 10.25-inch instrument display. I would have also liked the electric parking brake to auto apply and release, but that's me being picky.
Another notable omission is the lack of an idle-stop system in the Q3. This was discontinued as of the new-generation Q3. Anecdotally, a family member of mine purchased the last-gen Q3 and traded it in after six months because they couldn't stand the clunkiness of the idle-stop system and the fact you couldn't turn it off permanently. Cut forward a year later and Audi has dropped it altogether, given the car is still able to meet emissions targets without it (quoted CO2 emissions are 164g/km). Probably a good call.
Without this idle-stop system in place, fuel economy can creep up. My personal best was 10.7L/100km, while my highest reading was 11.3L/100km. The promised combined fuel economy is 7.2L/100km, but I wasn't exactly driving like a demon and it struggled to come close to this number. Still, my week of regular freeway and city driving barely made a dint on the fuel tank.
Overall, I'd suggest the Q3 is more of a roomy hatchback than a full-blown SUV experience when it comes to behind-the-wheel feel. Still, families will be well served with its expansive cabin and boot, and solid list of safety features, while younger buyers will feel it has enough X-factor to warrant splashing some cash.
For me, the test of a good car is forgetting that it isn't mine. I grew immediately comfortable with the Audi Q3 – it's an eminently driveable car that seamlessly blended into my everyday lifestyle. When I first learned the price, I was pleasantly surprised given it looks and feels like a much more expensive car. However, finding out certain key features weren't standard (adaptive cruise, heated seats, a 360-degree camera, folding side mirrors, parking assist, etc) made me feel a little less enthused.
Still, I'd suggest the Q3 is a logical entry point for those who want a stylish, functional German car, as long as they're willing to opt out of some driver-assist comforts. Sure, for this price, cars from mass-market manufacturers will throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, but will they look this good? And will they bear the Audi badge?
That's a no to both, and I'd suggest that's a deal-breaker for this category of buyer.