The Audi Q3 has been a mainstay of the German brand’s burgeoning crossover line-up for a while now – and very successful it’s been too. Slotting in between the Q2 and Q5 it sits in a family hatchback-sized footprint, offering Nissan Qashqai levels of practicality and usability, but in considerably sharper and more expensive suit. Now in its second generation, the Q3 is pushing even further upmarket and promising both more adroit driving dynamics and greater refinement. Oh, and of course its been generously smeared with the latest tech. Crucially for an evo audience it’s now available with what is essentially a VW Golf GTI engine. Like all new Audi’s the Q3 is subject to the same baffling numbering system that denotes the engine displacement and power output. Our car, being the 227bhp model is labeled a 45 TFSI. Got that?
Audi hasn’t strayed too far from a winning formula when it comes to the new car’s styling and in profile you’d be hard pressed to win any points in a game of spot the difference. Closer inspection reveals not only larger dimensions (it’s wider and longer but fractionally lower), but also the now familiar collection of creases and angles that mark out the latest from Ingolstadt. As before there are Sport and S line trims to choose from plus the newer Vorsprung flagship models. The S line is identified by its more aggressive lower bumper treatment, side skirts and 19-inch alloy wheels – the Sport gets 18-inch rims and the Vorsprung gets 20s. Inside it’s bang up to date Audi, meaning wall-to-wall TFT screens and an environment that’s waist deep in perceived quality. Ahead of the driver is the configurable Virtual Cockpit dial pack, while a glossy touch sensitive infotainment screen sits to the left of that. The materials are all top notch, while our test car also benefitted from some surprisingly tasteful orange Alcantara inserts for the dash and door trims. Oh, and a backlit quattro badge ahead of the front seat passenger.
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Like the latest splurge of transverse engine VAG product the Q3 is based on the company’s MQB scalable platform, meaning it shares much of its DNA with the VW Tiguan, SEAT Ateca and Skoda Kodiaq and Karoq. Hanging off this is a fairly straightforward suspension layout comprising struts at the front and a multi-link rear axle. The S line gets stiffer springs and dampers, while adaptive units are fitted to the Vorsprung or an extra cost option elsewhere.
In terms of innovation there’s not much to write home about, although the Q3 does benefit from the latest driver assistance aids, including lane departure warning and optional adaptive cruise control.
Engine, transmission and 0-62mph time
Lurking under the Q3’s bonnet is the same versatile EA888 turbocharged 2.0-litre that powers almost every moderately hot VAG product. Here it’s tuned to deliver 227bhp and a moderately muscular 258lb ft at just 1500rpm. When combined with the standard seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox and Haldex controlled four-wheel drive it results in a sprightly 6.3 seconds dash from 0-62mph and a 144mph top speed.
As always, this unit is a punchy and refined performer, helping it make reasonably light work of the Audi’s not inconsiderable 1620kg kerbweight. Initial getaway feels a little sluggish, unless you ramp up the throttle response by toggling through the driver modes to Dynamic, but once the revs climb past 3000rpm the Q3 delivers a rather startling turn of speed, gathering pace with almost hot hatch alacrity. It likes to rev too, spinning to 7000rpm with a distant yet pleasing growl – this really is one of the great forced induction fours. Less impressive is the gearbox, which like many VAG DSG/S tronic ‘boxes suffers from a hesitancy and lack of smoothness at low speeds, which is particularly pronounced and frustrating when leaving junctions or entering roundabouts. Still, when you’re on the move and travelling at a fair lick it’s far better, shuffling ratios with commendable speed and smoothness.
What’s it like to drive?
Putting aside all the usual caveats about SUVs it’s actually not that bad, demonstrating a composure and agility that’s at odds with its high rise stance. It can cover ground at a fair old lick as well, the combination of commanding driving position, a decent turn of speed and biddable chassis allowing you make swift progress. It’s not an involving or acrobatic experience, but it’s mightily effective as a press on point-to-pointer.
The steering is quick and accurate but predictably mute, while rifling through the various driver modes merely adds artificial weight rather than adding any life to proceedings. Still, there’s decent bite from the front tyres, which are aided in their adhesion by an effective and natural feeling torque vectoring system. There’s some initial roll even with the dampers in full Dynamic lockdown, but it’s far from excessive and is tightly controlled once the car is settled. In fact body control overall is impressive for such top heavy machine. Obviously you don’t get something for nothing and the price you pay is an inconsistent ride. With dampers softened off the primary ride is good and on smooth surfaces the Q3 has just the right amount of waft. But ripped and torn surfaces ruffle it, the large wheels thudding, and occasionally crashing into potholes. There’s also the typical SUV ‘rock roll’ that sends sharp lateral movements through the car. Still, what you lose in ultimate comfort you’re compensated for with decent refinement, the Q3 cutting quietly through the air while its mechanicals are nicely isolated.
Price and rivals
Prices for the new Q3 start at £30,770, which buys you the 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol, but for our 45 TFSI you’ll need at least £37,670. It’s only available in S line trim and with a seven-speed S tronic gearbox. It comes with most of the kit you’ll want, but desirable extras such as adaptive LED headlamps and adaptive dampers will require a deep dip into your wallet.
For £36,585 there’s the Volvo 245bhp Volvo XC40, which comes close to matching the Audi for outright urge yet offers more engaging handling – although the normal SUV caveats apply. It’s interior is a work of minimalist art, but its eight-speed auto sacrifices snappy responses for smoother lower speed progress.
The Mercedes GLA was old hat when it launched a few years ago and time hasn’t been kind to it. The £35,215 GLA250 looks decent value on paper, but its 208bhp four-pot is underpowered and the chassis is lead-footed. Of course there’s always the AMG fettled 377bhp GLA45, but at £47,960 it’s cripplingly expensive, plus dynamically inferior and no more practical than the new A35 hatchback.