First drive: Audi's forgotten Q3 leaps into SUV contention
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Obvious statement of the day: Audi’s Quattro rally car certainly made a big impact. Considering it’s about to tick over 40 years since the debut of the Audi Quattro in 1980, the company still draws on and harks back to the ground-breaking hero halo rally and road car of the era.
‘Quattro blisters’ is the term used to describe the pumped guard look of Audi’s latest Q3 compact SUV. And the creases that run above the front and rear guards of the Q3 certainly do add an element of width and muscle to the otherwise fairly traditional three-box design.
It’s an important segment for Audi, with compact SUVs representing 11 percent of the total market; “Audi is known for having lots of models,” says Audi NZ general manager Dean Sheed, especially considering the growing dominance and importance of SUVs in NZ new car sales: “60-65 percent of our business is SUVs.
“This is the start of a wave of new models over the next six months” he adds. “We do very well with our Audi Sport high-performance range… and next year will be the year of Audi Sport and electrification for us.”
Today, north of Auckland, it’s time for an all new Q3, the company’s compact SUV, neatly and numerically located between Q1 and Q5.
Audi has a core two-model, three derivative line-up for the latest Q3; colloquially titled the 35, 45 and 45 S line. At $60,900, the entry ticket into the 35 TFSI might initially appear high, but it’s actually cheaper than the previous Q3. That money buys a front-driver 1.4-litre turbo four offering 110kW and 250Nm through a six-speed S Tronic gearbox, good for 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds and fuel use as low as 5.8L/100km; they’re decent numbers, especially if occupants are unaware of the modest engine capacity from the perky engine. It hits a class above its capacity classing, and the 1.4 is more than adequate and responsive, urgency and characteristics of a 1.8L, to keep the Q3 on pace with traffic, or when the need arises to pull out and pass it.
Over 18in wheels, all the ‘basic’ mod-cons are there: CarPlay/Auto with an 8.8in MMI touchscreen, reverse camera, lane-assist, LED lights front and rear, hill-hold and descent control, cruise control, and a dual-zone AC system and electric tailgate with kick-to-open function. Fabric seats are also standard on this $60k SUV, unless the optional packages are picked: the $3000 Leatherette pack is an option: as is the $3200 Tech & Comfort Pack, for example, that adds adaptive cruise, active lane assist, 360 degree camera and electric seats - all features which the discerning Audi buyer would probably prefer not to be seen without.
Other optional packs include the $550 Connectivity Pack (larger 10.1in touchscreen), and the $2900 S line pack, a 12-piece addition that arguably offers the most value and, crucially, the look of the S line at one-fifth the price premium.
Naturally, these packs filter in as the range and standard spec level rises, with the $74,900 45 TFSI offering quattro all-wheel drive and a 2.0-litre turbo engine and seven-speed S Tronic transmission that really perks up performance: 169kW/350Nm means 0-100km/h in 6.3secs, and only a slightly petrol penalty, down to 7.4L/100km.
The Q3 range-topper is the S line, and at $84,900, it’s a fully loaded version that takes the ‘normal’ 45’s mechanicals, and packs in most of the good stuff from those optional packs, plus 19-inch alloys (20in are optional), and standard progressive steering. Colour-matched exterior trim is standard, though ‘Contrast Paint’ (the black trim pieces of the lower-trim models, in lieu of body colour) becomes an option, for those who want the S line look, but prefer a little more black to break it up.
The grille is also new, sporting Audi’s new signature bold vertical bars, and a thicker outline to push the brand’s corporate identity out loud and proud. And with the gloss black on grey paint, it’s particularly good looking.
In the rear, split sliding seats are not just impressively comfy and spacious for knee, leg and foot room, they move and tilt to offer 70L more cargo space than previous to 530L and up to 1525L with the seats folded flat. Which is, for a compact SUV, quite generous.
After a few hundred km of Northland roads, offering a mix of motorway, B-roads and the ability to carve some curves, there are no real bad surprises behind the wheel for the Q3: in fact there’s really only a mild difference between the base 35 and 45, particularly with typical SUV commuting. Of course the 45 quattro is faster, and jumps out of corners, but the 35 offers a pleasing compromise for the price.
The 45 models certainly improve overall performance, but even the entry level 35 model is a strong package that offers a good range of equipment, performance, economy and practicality. Add the S line and Tech & Comfort packs, and there’s the looks and equipment of the model $20k its senior. The biggest bugbear is the price, and while there are cheaper brands and models that offer more for less, they’re not an Audi, and in the image-conscious 2020s, a bells & whistles Korean car just doesn’t carry the cache of the four rings.
With a Q3 Sportback not far away, and Audi stating that not only is the 2.5-litre RS Q3 NZ-bound, but with news from GM Sheed that Audi will offer a halo performance variant for every vehicle in its range, everything in place to turn around a solid but unremarkable 2019 for Audi, and with perfect timing for the original Quattro’s 40th birthday celebrations in 2020.