Audi Q3 4×4 (2011 – ) expert review

By Andy Goodwin, 29th June 2011

The verdict

The Audi Q3 takes on the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque for the right to be called the most desirable small 4x4. It’s certainly one of the most advanced and efficient.

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Expert rating:

3.9

Pros

  • Appeals to a wide audience
  • Economical diesel engines
  • Quiet, comfortable cabin

Cons

  • Limited off-road ability
  • S line suspension gives a hard ride
  • Design is a little conservative

Full Review

1. Exterior

The latest Audi Q-car has been designed to take on the BMW X1, Land Rover Freelander and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. Increasingly these small 4×4s are becoming models people choose for their style and design and not just because they are more affordable cut-size versions of bigger 4×4s. To this aim, the Audi Q3 has a “coupe-like” roofline, flattened rear window and trinkets including snazzy alloy wheels and LED lights. We think it’s more successful than the awkward X1, but its looks can’t quite compete with the ultra-cool Evoque.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

It’s business as usual at Audi, which can now add another fine interior to its portfolio. High-quality materials in abundance? Check. Excellent seating position for people of all shapes and sizes? Oh yes. There’s a new design of steering wheel, but that’s about as radical as it gets. The standard stereo looks a little basic, but UK customers will get the better Concert system as standard, with its 6.5-inch screen, which rises up from the dashboard. Go for the all singing, all dancing MMI navigation plus and standard maps are replaced with satellite images – a sure-fire way of impressing passengers.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

With enough room for five adults and a boot which expands from 460 to 1,365-litres, some may question the need to buy the more expensive Audi Q5 over the Q3. Indeed, for couples who rarely carry many passengers and luggage, we’d agree the Q3 is all the car you’ll ever need. The extra rear seating space and boot size is likely to sway families towards the Q5. The BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque have 420 and 405 litres enlarging to 1,670 and 1,350 litres.

Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

The basic 140bhp diesel model is available with front-wheel drive, while all the other engines get quattro four-wheel drive. Ride and handling is also affected if you choose the S line suspension option, which firms up the chassis and adds larger alloy wheels. We found the most basic diesel model the best to drive, which is good news as it is predicted to be the top seller in the UK. The steering is very light, but it’s predictable and the Q3 will corner confidently. Its body leans only slightly in bends and everything happens with the minimum of fuss – in fact it feels rather like the Audi A3 has swallowed a packet of growth hormones. At the limits of its grip, the Q3 features a system which brakes the wheels hugging the apex of the corner, helping to prevent it from skidding wide of the mark. If you do go for the S line trim level, we recommend sticking with the standard suspension over the sports setup. There was no opportunity to drive the Q3 off-road at its debut, which says something about Audi’s target market. This is clearly a car aimed to spend 99.9 per cent of its life on tarmac. But, with quattro four-wheel drive fitted and increased ground clearance we see no reason why it shouldn’t cope with snow, fields and tracks. Serious off-roaders will probably not consider the Q3 as a rival to the mud-plugging Freelander.

Our rating: 3

5. Performance

When we stepped from the 138 to the 175bhp diesel, the car didn’t feel a whole lot quicker, partly because the addition of four-wheel drive also makes it a heavier car. For that reason, it only makes sense to go for the top diesel if you want its seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox over the six-speed manual of the entry-level car. We can see why you might, it shifts smoothly and efficiently and paddle shifters behind the steering wheel allow for some human interaction if you’re in the mood – or need to control the gears off-road or when towing. The 168bhp 2-litre petrol is the quietest engine, but its high-revving power delivery doesn’t feel as well suited to the Q3 as the grunty diesels. We also got to try out a prototype 2.5-litre five-cylinder Q3 with around 300bhp. Impressive acceleration and an addictive soundtrack certainly made the Q3 feel like a hot hatch from behind the wheel, and would prove to be an exciting addition to the range – if Audi decide to build it.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

Choose a Q3 with S tronic transmission and you’ll get a new fuel-saving piece of technology, which disconnects the engine from the gearbox when you are coasting. It’s imperceptible from behind the wheel, but helps to bring costs down by a few more percentage points. Most impressive is the lower powered diesel, with provisional figures of 54.3mpg for average fuel consumption and 138g/km of CO2 emissions. That’s just ahead of the equivalent BMW X1, managing 53.3mpg and 139g/km and the Land Rover Freelander with 47.1mpg and 158g/km of CO2.

Our rating: 5

7. Reliability

Audi is building cars with exceptional build quality at the moment and the Q3 certainly feels no different. Its engines are all tried and tested, as are its gearboxes and legendary quattro four-wheel drive system. The level of fit and finish in the cabin of our test cars was impressive – even the prototype we tried.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

The Audi Q3 is fitted with front, side and curtain airbags as standard while rear side airbags are an optional extra. ISOFIX child seat anchor points are located along the rear bench seat and the front passenger airbag can be deactivated. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and an electronic stability programme (ESP) help prevent skids, and the car scored a maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

In Britain we’ll get SE and S line trim levels, the first offering 17-inch alloy wheels, aluminium roof rails, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, iPod connection, auto lights and wipers and a Concert stereo with 6.5-inch retractable screen.  S line adds 18-inch alloys, exterior and interior styling enhancements, xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lamps, LED rear lights and the no cost option of firmer suspension. Options include headlights which turn into corners, 3D mapping for the sat-nav, WiFi, blind spot warning and lane assist.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The Audi Q3 offers all the economy and versatility of a hatchback, with the style and luxury of a premium 4×4. It’s a better all-rounder than the BMW X1 and should appeal to a different market than the off-roading Land Rover Freelander. It’s likely to be the Range Rover Evoque which will be its stiffest competitor.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 3.9stars

  • Exterior3
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance4
  • Running costs5
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:

Q3 2-litre TDI 140 SE manual

We liked the simplest Q3 best. Great economy and fun to drive.

Best-seller:

Q3 2-litre TDI 140 S line manual

Same formula, but with more tech and style.

Blow the budget:

Q3 2-litre TFSI 208 S line quattro S tronic

Smooth and punchy engine matched to seven-speed gearbox.

The Audi Q3 offers all the economy and versatility of a hatchback, with the style and luxury of a premium 4×4