First Drive: Audi Q3

Audi only started making the current crop of big beefy off roaders in 2006 with the Q7, adding the still-big-but-not-as-massive Q5 a couple of years later.

Now, with the arrival of this altogether more sensibly sized Q3, there is an SUV in the range that you won't feel intimidated standing next to.
Audi reckons it will take sales from A3 owners wanting more space, A4 drivers not so bothered about it, and from those otherwise considering top-spec VW Tiguans and Ford Kugas. Naturally the Range Rover Evoque name was also thrown into the mix by Audi, which makes sense as the cheaper versions of the Evoque will dovetail nicely in terms of price with the top-end Q3s.

On looks alone, the two are not going to have people tossing a coin due to indecision – the Q3 is a much more subtle car than the Evoque, although that is not to say it is unattractive. It carries an understated charm that means it is more than a reduced Q5 and certainly not a bloated, pumped up A3.

This subtle charisma is carried over to the interior, where there is no doubting Audi's intention to postition this car as a premium product. This might sound strange given that Audi makes nothing other than top-end cars these days, but the car's biggest rival - the BMW X1 feels a little compromised in the luxury stakes.

While you will have to pay extra to get toys in the Q3 such as sat nav, blind spot warning system and Audi's drive select system which allows you to set the stiffness of the ride, you do get a decent amount of kit on the likely bestselling SE trim level.

This includes good-looking 17-inch alloy wheels, a flip-screen radio, dual zone climate control and aluminium roof rails all included as standard. But as with any Audi it is easy to get carried away on the options list and end up adding a hefty amount to the overall purchase price.

Our favourite option is the satellite navigation system that connects to Google Earth – a trick that is slowly making its way to Audi's smaller cars from the likes of the A8. This lets you see more accurately what sort of roads you are supposed to be driving down and is a fantastically opulent touch.

Another sign that Audi is not intending to flog the Q3 as anything less than a premium SUV is its launch engine line up – it starts off with just two petrols and two diesels, and none with less than 138bhp. This is in the entry-level 2.0-litre diesel and is by no means a weedy lower-powered option. While it promises to be a bit slower than the rest of the range to 62mph, it is the only model that will come as a two-wheel drive, as all the others use Quattro four-wheel drive technology.

This means the weight is reduced, and it feels just as spritely as the higher-powered diesel at lower speeds. It also reduces the CO2 emissions and improves the fuel economy, to 54.3mpg and 138g/km respectively. This is not quite as good as the BMW X1's new Efficient Dynamics model that drops emissions to 119g/km, but it is on a par with the X1's similarly powered model.

The 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel will claim around 50 percent of sales, and it is the best choice in our mind. The Q3 will not be bought to be a performance, driver's car, partly due to the handling. The steering is set at too light a level for our liking, meaning there is little engagement and no feel when it comes to turning corners enthusiastically or otherwise. Putting the Audi drive select into Dynamic mode helps matters if you are looking for a spirited drive, but this mainly as it firms up the suspension and reduces body roll. In normal the ride is perfectly comfortable for every day driving.

Granted this means that parking is easy though, and slipping the Q3 into tight spots is easy for a car of this size. This makes it a fantastic car for almost all the duties a demanding family could ask of it. It is comfortable, has enough space in the back for two adults in comfort and three at a push, has a generous boot and should not cost the earth to run. Its good looks and interior quality make it well worth a look.
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