"The Audi Q3 brings the firm's first-class build quality and efficient engines to the crossover sector."
The Audi Q3 ushered Audi into the ever-growing market in the UK for crossover SUVS. The desire for cars that resemble larger, chunkier off-roaders that are actually as easy to drive and as economical as a family hatchback has been grown by the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, BMW X1, MINI Countryman and Volkswagen Tiguan, so the Q3 has some stiff competition on its hands. It's built to Audi's usual high levels of quality, with a luxury interior that offers more than enough space for five adults to sit comfortably, while still keeping the outside dimensions fairly compact. The Q3 comes in two main specifications: the accessories-stuffed entry-level SE and the more performance-focused S line. All engines come fitted with stop-start to turn off the engine when you put the car in neutral, and Audi offers quattro four-wheel drive on all models too, to make lighter work of any rough terrain. We’d recommend the front-wheel drive cars, however, as they’re much more efficient and offer class-leading economy and CO2 emissions.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The most efficient engine on offer in the Q3 is the front-wheel drive 138bhp TDI diesel (when it's fitted with a manual gearbox) that returns 54.3mpg in fuel economy and emits 137g/km of CO2. That places it in road tax band E and will cost you £125 a year. However, in our opinion, the 175bhp 2.0-litre TDI offers the best balance of economy and cost - it's a little less to buy than the 208bhp TFSI petrol model, but matches it for performance and is more efficient. The diesel models will hold their value better in the used car market when it comes time to sell - Audi claims that 85 per cent of Q3 sales in the UK will be diesels. Plus, if you choose the Audi Drive Select, the Efficiency mode further saves fuel by allowing the Q3 to coast rather than use up fuel.
Interior & comfort
Audi has a bit of a reputation for building cars with firm (some would even say uncomfortable) suspension. Luckily, the Q3 is definitely the exception to that rule – provided you choose the entry-level SE model fitted with the standard suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels. If you do, it's actually very comfortable indeed. There is some body roll when driving through the corners at speed, but not enough to make you regret that little bit of extra cushioning you get as a trade off. However, if you go for the sportier S line model, which has much stiffer and lower suspension, you’ll find the ride comfort is greatly reduced. It certainly improves cornering, but any bumps and potholes in the road actually feel amplified and become jarring – hardly the experience you expect or want from crossover, even in one that's designed to drive more like a conventional hatchback. If you want more control over the comfort levels, then Audi's Drive Select and adaptive dampers can be added as extras, offering four driving modes: Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Efficiency suspension settings that do improve matters. The Comfort mode makes the ride very smooth indeed, even with the larger alloys. All models offer a high driving position that gives the driver an excellent view of the road ahead.
Practicality & boot space
The fact that the Q3 is shorter, narrower and lower than the Q5 means that it's closer in size to mainstream family hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus than larger SUVs. However, it's still roomy inside, even if it's not exactly what you’d call spacious. There is enough room for five adult passengers to sit comfortably, with head and legroom being very similar to the likes of the Audi A4 and the Ford Kuga. The lump in the floor in the back is a bit intrusive, though, greatly reducing the legroom for the passenger sitting in the middle of the back seat. The boot offers 460 litres of space with the standard-fit split-fold rear seats still in place. Drop the back seats and the boots expands to 1,365 litres of storage capacity, which is more than the Kuga. It is disappointing, however, that the seats don’t fold flat. You can compensate for this by choosing the flat-folding front seat option, which makes it much easier to transport longer objects. It is worth bearing in mind that when the Q3 is fitted with four-wheel drive, it's not really designed for any extreme off-roading, but it can handle itself well in bad weather conditions.
Reliability & safety
Audi made something of a comeback in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, climbing up five spots to break back into the manufacturers top ten. Obviously, having yo-yoed about a bit in recent years, it needs to focus on some consistency to give buyers some true peace of mind, but Audi's overall reputation for build quality and reliability remains strong. The Q3 lives up to that reputation, despite not figuring in the Driver Power top 150 cars list. All materials used throughout the Q3 are top quality, and should easily withstand the demands of family use, while range of engines on offer is tried and test so unlikely to let you down. Also, all cars come with a strong three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which includes a great-value three years of RAC breakdown coverage. In terms of safety, the Q3 secured the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, coming fitted with six airbags (including curtain airbags that extend into the back), electronic stability control and ISOFIX child seat anchor points as standard equipment, there are also plenty of safety systems available as optional extras, including active lane assist to keep the Q3 in the correct lane and a speed limit display.
Engines, drive & performance
The Q3 comes with the choice of two diesel engines and one petrol model, with the 168bhp and 208bhp 2.0-litre TFSI petrols proving to be less efficient than the 138bhp and 175bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesels. The 138bhp diesel goes from 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, while the 174bhp model manages to do the same in 8.2 seconds, compared to the 208bhp petrol's time of 6.9 seconds and the 168bhp version's 8 seconds. Fuel economy is aided across the range by stop-start technology being fitted in all models, while the two lower-powered specs are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox for greater control. The top-of-the-range Q3 is fitted with a twin-clutch S tronic seven-speed semi-automatic that is that bit more efficient but sometimes struggles to find the right gear fast enough. Also, of the two specifications available, the sportier S Line has harder suspension and larger alloy wheels that sacrifice too much ride comfort, making the SE by far the better balance of driving performance and ride quality.
Price, value for money & options
In relative terms, the Q3 looks something of a bargain next the likes of the more premium Range Rover Evoque. However it is more expensive to buy that the equivalent BMW X1, across the whole range, so you may want to consider your options carefully. Entry-level SE models come fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and an MMI integrated entertainment system as standard equipment, so you do get a lot of equipment for your money. We’d suggest treading carefully with the list of optional accessories, though, because if you start ticking the boxes for the likes of sat-nav, LED lights on the SE model, active lane assist and speed limit display, you’ll see your purchase price quickly going through the roof. Potential buyers can rest assured, however, that the Q3 will have fairly strong resale value on the used car market, with all Audi models traditionally performing well and attracting solid second-hand deals.