"The Audi Q3 brings the firm's first-class build quality and efficient engines to the crossover sector."
The Q3 marked Audi's entry into the ever-growing UK crossover market – cars that look like larger, chunky off-roaders that are as economical and easy to drive as a family hatchback. Designed to rival the likes of the BMW X1, Ranger Rover Evoque and MINI Countryman, the Q3 is built to Audi's usual high levels of quality, with a luxury interior that has easily enough space for five adults while keeping the outside dimensions relatively compact. The Q3 comes in two versions, the accessories-packed entry-level SE and the more performance-focused S line. Both petrol and diesel models get stop-start, to cut the engine when you put the car in neutral, and Audi offers quattro four-wheel drive on all models, which makes light work of rough terrain. However, the front-wheel drive cars are more efficient, offering class-leading economy and CO2 emissions.
The engine range is made up of two petrol and two diesels. The 168bhp and 208bhp 2.0-litre TFSI petrols are less efficient than the 138bhp and 175bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesels also on offer. The 138bhp diesel does 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, while the 174bhp model manages it in 8.2, compared to the 208bhp petrol's time of 6.9 seconds and the 168bhp's 8 seconds. All models come equipped with stop-start and the two lower-powered models are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox. The top-spec Q3 comes with a twin-clutch S tronic seven-speed semi-automatic that is more efficient but has a tendency to creep forward and can struggle to find the right gear quickly. Also, of the two specifications available, the sportier S Line's harder suspension and larger alloy wheels sacrifice too much comfort, making the SE the better balance of driving performance and ride quality.
The Q3 is the exception to the rule that Audi always builds cars with firm suspension. Provided you go for the base-level SE model that is - equipped with the standard suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels, it's very comfortable indeed. You do get a bit of body lean in the corners when driving at speed, but not so much that you regret the trade off. The sportier S line model, however, has much lower and stiffer suspension that greatly reduces ride comfort. Cornering is improved but bumps and cracks in the road become jarring, which isn’t the experience you want from a crossover, even if it's one designed to drive more like a conventional hatchback. Audi's Drive Select and adaptive dampers can be added as extras, which gives four driving modes – Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Efficiency - and suspensions settings that can improve matters, with the Comfort setting making the ride very smooth indeed. All models have a high driving position that affords an excellent view of the road ahead.
Here the Q3 lives up to Audi's reputation for build quality and reliability. All materials used inside are top notch and will withstand the rigours of family life, while the engine range is tried and test so unlikely to let you down. Plus, all cars get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and three years of RAC breakdown coverage. The Q3 is also equipped with six airbags (including curtain airbags that extend into the rear), electronic stability control and ISOFIX child seat anchor points as standard, while the options list includes lots of extra safety equipment. No surprise then that it secured the full five-star crash safety rating in the Euro NCAP tests.
The Q3 may be smaller than the Q5 but it's still roomy inside, even if it's not what you’d call spacious. However, the space for five adults, and rear leg and headroom is certainly on par with the A4 saloon or rivals such as the Ford Kuga. The 460-litre boot space is reasonable, and when you fold the split rear seats down it rises to 1,365, which is more than the Kuga – just a shame the seats don’t fold flat. This is compensated for a little if you choose the flat-folding front seat option, which makes it easier to transport longer loads. When fitted with four-wheel drive it's worth bearing in mind that the Q3 isn’t really designed for extreme off-roading but will handle itself in bad weather conditions.
Value for money
Compared to the likes of the more premium Range Rover Evoque, the Q3 looks like a bargain. However, it is more expensive that the equivalent BMW X1 across the whole range. Entry levels cars do come equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and an MMI integrated entertainment system as standard, making it decent value. But starting ticking boxes on the options list – for the likes of sat-nav, LED lights on the SE model, active lane assist and speed limit display – and the price goes up fast. Buyers can rest assured, though, that their Q3 will hold its price well in the used market, with all Audi models traditionally having strong resale values.
Audi claims that the entire Q3 has the crossover class's lowest running costs. The cleanest model is the front-wheel drive 138bhp TDI diesel paired with a manual gearbox, which returns 54.3mpg in fuel economy and emits 138g/km of CO2. The best balance of economy and cost, however, is the 175bhp 2.0-litre TDI – it costs a little less than the 208bhp TFSI petrol model but matches it for performance and is more efficient, plus the diesel models will hold their value better when it comes time to sell. Audi predicts that 85 per cent of UK sales of the Q3 will be diesels. If you opt for the Audi Drive Select, the Efficiency setting saves fuel by turning off the engine when you take your foot off the accelerator, allowing the Q3 to coast. Be warned, though – the speed drops pretty quickly and, on the motorway especially, it takes a couple of seconds for the power to kick back in once you’ve put your foot back on the power.