Road test: Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI

The redesigned newbie is pricey but a flawless performer.
Two updated Q3 models will launch in the Middle East in March, one with 180hp and 320 torque, and the other with 220hp and 350Nm. Audi
Two updated Q3 models will launch in the Middle East in March, one with 180hp and 320 torque, and the other with 220hp and 350Nm. Audi

Audi’s Q3 may be a hot seller in markets such as China and Europe, but it’s been a relative sleeper in the Middle East, as its larger Q5 and Q7 siblings have hogged the lion’s share of the brand’s SUV sales here. It’s not surprising, as many buyers in our region equate bigger with better and, in any case, fuel is so cheap that any additional outlay at the fuel pump for driving a hulking behemoth is minimal.

One possible reason for the Q3’s limited sales in this region is that its Dh120k-plus entry price puts it in a no-man’s land of sorts for a compact crossover. That said, it’s always stacked up as a competent and well-finished vehicle since the original model launched in mid-2011.

More than three years have elapsed since then, so Audi has decided it was time to wave the makeover wand at the Q3, with the key upgrades being more potent and frugal engines, along with a few exterior tweaks to help it stand out from the burgeoning compact crossover horde.

The updated model lands here in March, with local pricing and spec levels to be announced closer to the launch date. There’s also the tantalising prospect of the stove-hot RS Q3, propelled by a fire-breathing, turbocharged five-cylinder, but, sadly, the business case for it may not add up here as it would likely cost around Dh280,000 – too high for a compact crossover, regardless of its performance potential.

So what we’ll get for now are the more mainstream Q3 models, powered by a choice of two 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engines. The first of these ekes out 180hp and 320Nm, which doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but that peak torque figure is on tap all the way from 1,400 to 3,900rpm, making for effortless flexibility and overtaking urge. This version sprints to 100kph in a respectable 7.6 seconds and hits 217kph flat out.

The high-spec 2.0L unit is decidedly punchier, as reflected by outputs of 220hp and 350Nm, with the max twist figure again at the behest of your right loafer across a wide range – all the way from 1,500 to 4,400rpm. The range-topper blasts to 100kph in just 6.4 seconds and tops out at 233, which positions it ahead of pretty much every other compact SUV in our market

Both engine options are capably backed up by the excellent seven-speed S-Tronic ­dual-clutch automatic transmission, which pings up and down seamlessly through its selection of ratios. You can spec your Q3 with rims ranging in diameter from 17 to 20 inches, and apart from enhancing the visual appeal, the larger rims and low-­profile tyres obviously help boost grip levels for drivers who like to pedal with a bit more gusto.

There’s also Audi’s “drive select” module, which enables the optional adaptive dampers to be set with appropriate firmness to suit your mood and the terrain being traversed. It’s unlikely any Q3s will be subjected to anything as gauche as off-road driving, but the options list does include Hill-descent Assist, just in case you have the audacity to venture off the beaten track.

Visually, the newbie is distinguishable from the outgoing Q3 by its bling-laden chrome grille surround and redesigned xenon headlights (LED beams are optional). The LED lighting package comes with dynamic turn signals that illuminate sequentially from the inside out in the direction the driver intends to turn. It’s a cool design element, although the likes of the Ford Mustang have already had this feature for a few years now.

The derrière has also been tweaked via new LED tail lights and a smartened-up bumper/diffuser that incorporates the fog lights and reversing lamps, while inside there’s the usual Audi premium ambience, with neat, clean design pervading throughout. There’s the familiar MMI control knob and comfy seating for four – even five in reasonable comfort – and enough space to stash 460L of luggage (which can be increased to 1,365L by folding down the rear pews). Available features that boost practicality and ease of use include a rear-seat pass-through and power tailgate. Roof rails and a new, extensible luggage compartment cover are standard.

Out on the road, the Q3 impresses with its refinement and securely planted feel – even in Munich’s bucketing rain – aided by Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. As mentioned, the 2.0L turbo engine offers adequate pulling power, and the S-Tronic transmission goes about its business imperceptibly.

Really, there’s not a lot to fault with the Q3. You could argue that its proportions don’t gel quite as well its handsome Q5 big brother, but that’s pretty much it. All in all, it’s a thoroughly well-­engineered and immaculately finished compact SUV. It may cost more than virtually any other contender in its segment (barring the pricey Range Rover Evoque), but there’s no doubt it represents money well spent.

weekend@thenational.ae

Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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