Car reviews - Audi - Q3 - range
Performance, comfort, refinement, dynamics, improved value, exceptional quality
Room for improvement
Firm ride on bigger wheels, expensive options, tight rear-seat headroom, poor side and rear vision
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4 Jun 2015
CYNICS might question the level of depth Audi has gone to in updating the Q3, but the Spanish-built crossover has been one of the more appealing premium compact SUVs since it arrived, so why mess with such a winning formula?Launched in mid-2012, the Volkswagen Tiguan-based rival to the BMW X1 and Mini Countryman quickly shot to the top of the sales charts, luring buyers in with powerful yet economical engines, sharp handling, and superb build quality.
However, the arrival of the hot-shot Mercedes GLA and the imminent release of the second-gen BMW X1 means the Ingolstadt firm cannot afford to stand still – hence the facelifted Q3, out now from $42,900, plus on-road costs.
As far as makeovers go, this one’s pretty light-on, involving a wider and shinier grille, new headlights and tail-lights, and a series of colour and cabin material updates. Nothing earth shattering, but then the Audi didn’t really need it.
Of more importance is the fact that there is now somewhere between $4000 and $7000 worth of extra gear included, depending on which model is chosen, addressing one of the Q3’s key weak points.
Still, has Audi done enough to keep its fast-selling SUV fresh?The vast majority of buyers choose the front-drive 1.4 TFSI version, which gains Cylinder-On-Demand tech that shuts down half the engine under light loads to save fuel. As this has long been one of the nicest powerplants on offer, there’s not much to say except that – save for a bit of off-the-line hesitation – the base Q3 also remains one of the sweetest.
If a bit more oomph and grip are needed, both the 2.0 TDI quattro turbo-diesels on offer – 110kW/340Nm and 135kW/380Nm – are stronger alternatives, especially if wet and/or snowy roads come into the mix, while the 132kW/320Nm 2.0 TFSI quattro is faster still out of the starting blocks, and loves a rev, making it the sportiest and most refined of the quartet. This is probably our pick of the range.
On all versions, the Audi’s lauded steering, handling and roadholding integrity remain strong points, with secure and involving dynamics that are more car-like than most SUVs manage. Note, though, that with only 170mm of ground clearance, the German crossover shouldn’t be used for crossing over any rough terrain.
However, fraying edges are beginning to show on the ageing Q3, especially if the optional 19-inch or 20-inch alloys are chosen.
For starters, they have a negative impact an already firm ride, making it feel unsettled even over smooth roads, and quite jarring when surfaces deteriorate.
Over certain bitumen, they also tend to drone relentlessly, ruining the silky drivetrains’ hard-won refinement levels.
Secondly, and in relation to the bigger wheels, we noticed squeaks and rattles in the Q3’s door trims, and that’s heresy in an Audi. This brand is about quality and craftsmanship, so if it’s less-than-acceptable, then something might be amiss here.
Finally, the interior architecture is suddenly beginning to look dated – especially compared to the latest Audi cabins such as the A3 and TT. Add the tight rear-seat space that has plagued this vehicle from day one, as well as limited cargo capacity, and it is clear that things are beginning to seem a bit old inside the brand’s smallest SUV.
Luckily, then, that Audi has improved the value and efficiency of the Series II to keep the Q3 in contention. It may not be the most modern, but there is still enough engineering capability to keep buyers interested. Just make sure you don’t choose the wrong wheel/tyre package.
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