Audi Q3 SUV (2014 - ) review
The Audi Q3 is a compact SUV that majors on style and has a smart interior, but it's more for on-road driving as an alternative to a family hatch back than a proper 4x4.
Interested in buying Audi Q3?
The Audi Q3 takes on other small SUVs like the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA and Range Rover Evoque, which are all popular because they give the chunky styling of large 4×4s without the hefty prices or expensive running costs. To some eyes, the proportions of the Q3 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 bright Xenon headlights are standard. Go for the sportier S line model and you get full LED headlamps, fancier rear lights and larger alloy wheels, plus a smarter interior with a few well placed 'S line badges' dotted around the sporty cabin.
Step into the Q3, and it’s business as usual for Audi, and that means a cabin that’s almost a match for anything else in the class. High-quality materials in abundance? Check. Excellent driving position for people of all shapes and sizes? Oh yes. Downsides? Well, the standard infotainment system is no longer as impressive as when the car was launched, with a low-resolution screen and some occasionally sluggish responses. The menus are logical, though, and the physical controls well placed, near the top of the centre console. The dash plastics are not quite as impressive as they are in the latest A3 and A4, however. The seats are mounted high and upright, which gives a great view of the road ahead, and it's easy to place the Q3 on a narrow road. Go for the all-singing, all-dancing navigation upgrade, and standard maps are replaced with satellite images, but it's not really worth the extra outlay.
The Q3 treads a fine line between usability and practicality. The dinky dimensions make it a doddle to drive around town and park, but in the front or back, it's no roomier than a normal A3 inside. However, that does mean there's enough space for four to sit in decent comfort, and a boot that expands out from 420 to 1,365 litres. It's easy to live with everyday, too, with a flat floor, no loading lip, and rear seats that lie close to flat when folded down. There's a proper luggage cover, too, for keeping your valuables hidden from view when you're parked. Perhaps more importantly, it provides at least as much space in the cabin and boot as its rivals from Mercedes and Range Rover, but it feels less cramped inside than the latter pair. The latest BMW X1, though, has the Q3 beaten if you want a car that's a proper family hold-all.
Ride and handling
The Q3 drives very differently, depending on the version you go for. The lower-powered engines get front-wheel drive, while more powerful versions have Audi’s often-hyped Quattro four-wheel-drive system. The truth is that, whichever format you opt for, the Q3 is very grippy and secure in corners, with good resistance to body roll. The steering is overly light, which makes it easy to drive and feel nimble, but it's not especially confidence-inspiring. It combines this agility with a decent ride, which is soft enough to absorb most bumps, but can jostle you and your passengers about a bit on rougher roads. However, if you opt for S line trim or a larger set of alloys, you can also choose a lowered sports suspension set-up as a no-cost option. Avoid it. It makes the ride overly firm, but doesn’t improve the handling. The Q3 has the same 'Drive Select' system as larger models in the Audi range, which lets the driver pick between different modes, including, comfort and dynamic, but they don't have a major impact on the way the car behaves, making only subtle changes to its responses. The range-topping RS Q3 has a set-up all of its own, and while the prospect of a high-riding compact SUV being made into a performance car shouldn't really work, the RS is actually really good fun to fling about.
All the Q3’s engines are turbocharged, and the petrol choices start with a 148bhp 1.4 that gives brisk acceleration and excellent refinement. This engine can also deactivate half of its four cylinders when appropriate, to help save fuel. It’s all most buyers will need, but if you want more poke, a 2.0-litre unit with 178bhp is also available. The quickest of the bunch is the RS Q3 with its 362bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder, but while it’s insanely quick and sounds fantastic, it’s also insanely expensive to run. The diesels will be much more popular than the petrols, and 2.0-litre units with 148bhp and 181bhp are available. Both are smooth and just about quick enough, so the only reason to choose the more powerful version is if you’re desperate for its four-wheel drive. All the engines are available with a super-smooth twin-clutch transmission as an option, while the most powerful versions have it as standard. The manual is slick and precise, though, with a light, easy throw that matches the light steering.
The Q3 is far from being a cheap car, but compared with its premium 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. That said, a Nissan Qashqai is considerably cheaper to run and buy outright, and is better equipped and roomier than the Q3 in the first place.The Audi's most efficient engine is the 148bhp diesel (when combined with a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive) with a claimed average of 61.4mpg, while the cleanest petrol (the 1.4) returns 50.4mpg. In fact, 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.
Audi is making cars with exceptional interior build quality at the moment, and the Q3 certainly feels no different from behind the wheel. However, while the brand has a decent reputation for reliability, that’s not backed up by data from Warranty Direct. Audi is 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. The same applies for the JD Power satisfaction survey, as the Q3 performs especially badly, although not much worse than its key rival, the BMW X1.
The Q3 is fitted with front, side and curtain airbags as standard, while rear side airbags are an optional extra. On top of that, Isofix child-seat anchor points are located along the rear bench seat; 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 the older style of Euro NCAP crash tests. However, some modern compact SUVs offer a much wider range of safety features, including autonomous emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control, neither of which are available on the Q3.
The entry-level SE is fairly well-equipped, providing almost all the kit you might need, including Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio, 60:40 split-folding rear seats, climate control, electric windows, Xenon headlights, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers. This is the version we'd choose. Push the boat out for an S line version and you'll get a powered tailgate for the boot, as well as bigger alloys, leather and Alcantara sports seats, some funky styling goodies and lots of badges. At the top of the range sits the S line Plus trim, which adds sat-nav, front parking sensors and cruise control.
The Audi Q3 offers the economy and versatility of a hatchback, with the added style and luxury feel of a premium 4×4. It’s a cracking all-rounder, but it’s especially pleasant to drive and to sit in, even more so with a nippy petrol engine under the bonnet. We’d easily recommend it over a Mercedes GLA, and it gives the Range Rover Evoque a real run for its money - although it undercuts that car's price by a considerable distance. There are better-value, better-equipped and bigger SUVs for this price, though, outside the premium pack.