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Audi Q3 4×4 (2011 – ) expert review

By Ivan Aistrop, 4th July 2014

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, and it’s also cracking to drive.

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Expert rating:

3.9

Pros

  • Sharp handling
  • 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 Audi Q3 takes on small SUVs like the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA and Range Rover Evoque, which are popular because they give the chunky styling of large 4×4s without the hefty prices and expensive running costs. To some eyes, the proportions will look more like those of a jacked-up hatchback, but there are enough SUV styling cues to have the desired effect. All versions have smart alloy wheels and daytime running lights, and if you go for the S line trim, you’ll get a sporty body kit, xenon headlamps and extra chrome details.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

It’s business as usual for Audi, and that means the Q3 has a cabin that’s a match for anything else in the class. High-quality materials in abundance? Check. Excellent seating position for people of all shapes and sizes? Oh yes. The standard infotainment system makes life easy, too, with its logical on-screen menus and easy controls. Go for the all-singing-all-dancing navigation upgrade, and standard maps are replaced with satellite images – a sure-fire way of impressing passengers.

Our rating: 5

3. Practicality

With enough room for five adults and a boot that expands from 460 to 1,365-litres, some may question the need to buy the more expensive Audi Q5 over the Q3. The extra size is likely to sway larger families towards the Q5, but for smaller broods, the Q3 will be absolutely fine. Importantly, it provides at least as much space in the cabin and boot as its rivals from BMW, Mercedes and Range Rover, and in most cases, more.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

This much depends on the version you go for. The lower-powered engines get front-wheel drive, while more powerful versions have Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system. The truth is that whichever format you opt for, the Q3 is very grippy and secure in the corners, and with impressive suppression of body lean and responsive steering, it changes direction in a very sprightly manner. It combines this agility with a comfortable ride, too, dealing well with bumps and potholes. However, if you choose the S line trim, you can have a lowered sports suspension as a no-cost option. Avoid it. It makes the ride far less comfortable, but doesn’t make the handling much more agile.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

All the Q3’s engines are turbocharged, and the petrol choices start with a 148bhp 1.4 that gives brisk acceleration and excellent refinement. It’s all most buyers will need, but if you want more poke, 2.0-litre units with 168bhp and 208bhp are also available. The pokiest of the bunch is the RS Q3 with its 306bhp 2.5, but while it’s insanely quick, it’s also insanely expensive to run. The diesels will be much more popular than the petrols, and 2.0-litre units with 138bhp and 175bhp are available. Both are strong, smooth and plenty fast enough, so the only reason to choose the more powerful version is if you’re desperate for its four-wheel drive. All of the engines are available with a super-smooth twin-clutch transmission as an option, while the most powerful versions have it as standard.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

The Q3 is far from cheap, but compared with its rivals from BMW, Mercedes and Range Rover, it’s very reasonably priced, especially when you consider the generous amount of standard kit you get for your cash. The most efficient engine is the 138bhp diesel (when combined with a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive) with a claimed average of 54.3mpg, while the cleanest petrol (the 1.4) returns 47.9mpg. All the engines deliver competitive figures for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, with the exception of the RS, which is frankly ridiculous. Other running costs are par for the course, but Audi’s strong resale values will help keep your overall costs down long-term.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

Audi is making cars with exceptional build quality at the moment, and the Q3 certainly feels no different. However, while the brand has a decent reputation for reliability, that’s not backed up by data from Warranty Direct. Audi is currently languishing near the bottom of the manufacturer standings, and although there’s no data on the Q3 specifically, the Reliability Index scores for Audi’s other four-wheel drive models are woefully low.

Our rating: 3

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 and an electronic stability programme help prevent skids, and the car scored a maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

The entry-level SE trim provides all the luxury kit you need, including Bluetooth, DAB radio, split-folding rear seats, climate control, four powered windows, remote locking, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers. S line trim adds bigger alloys, leather sports seats, some funky styling goodies and a shedload of badges, while the S line Plus trim adds sat-nav, front parking sensors and cruise control.

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 cracking all-rounder, but it’s especially pleasant to drive and to sit in. We’d easily recommend it over a BMW X1 or Mercedes GLA, and it gives the Range Rover Evoque a real run for its money.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 3.9stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior5
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance4
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability3
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Pick of the range:

Q3 2.0 TDI 140 SE 2WD manual

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

Most Economical:

Q3 2.0 TDI 140 SE 2WD manual

That’s a lot to do with why it’s our favourite

Best Avoided:

RS Q3 2.5 quattro

Stupidly quick, but even more stupidly expensive to buy and run

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