By now I'm developing a reputation as a bit of a grump when it comes to SUVs and crossovers. It's not that I don't think some of them are perfectly fine, even very good in some cases. It's just that, by and large, they're inferior – in an engineering and dynamic sense – to their saloon and estate counterparts. Plus, I'm naturally suspicious of anything that's wildly, overwhelmingly popular. Yes, I've got my eye on you Ed Sheeran.
The old Audi Q3 I held not in especial derision, but at a kind of middling-level of disappointment. It was . . . fine. Reasonably good looking, not awful to drive, but cramped inside and never what you'd call exciting.
I also never quite forgave Audi for not building the amazing A5-based Quattro Coupé and instead ploughing development funds into making a high-performance version of the Q3: the entirely fatuous SQ3.
So you might expect me to be a bit pre-underwhelmed by the new Q3. A bit disappointed before the fact. And that’s probably true.
Anyone who says that writing in general – and consumer reviews in particular – is entirely objective is lying or a fool. We all bring our subjective prejudices to the game, bumping along behind us.
So here’s where the surprise comes in. I actually quite like the new Q3. I mean, I’m not exactly giddy with excitement about it. It’s not getting an automatic slot on my Lotto Cars list, nor will I be Blu-Tacking a poster of it to my bedroom wall, but this time around I can certainly appreciate it as a well-honed, capable, nicely executed product.
The most important thing about the new Q3 is that, as with all but a few Volkswagen Group products, it switches to the MQB chassis setup. That brings huge dividends. Compared to the cramped confines of the old Q3, the new one feels like an open-plan apartment with panoramic views of the coastline.
The most crucial figure is that the wheelbase has been stretched by 77mm (3ins) compared to the old model, and that has opened up broad new vistas of cabin and boot space. Slide the rear seats forward a little, and the boot can now swallow up to 530 litres, which at last makes the Q3 a genuinely practical family crossover, a role the old one could never convincingly fulfil.
Up front, the cabin is gorgeous. I mean, you expect that from Audi, but the combination of the big 25cm (10in) Virtual Cockpit digital instruments (standard across the range) and the equally huge 25cm infotainment screen in the middle, makes the Q3’s cabin look super classy.
It feels just as good, too. Audi rarely makes a mis-step when it comes to cabin quality, and the Q3 is among its better efforts. The fact that it lacks, relative to the A6 and A7, the second, lower-set touchscreen is actually to the Q3’s benefit.
With the heating and air conditioning controls still affected by physical buttons and knobs, it’s much easier to use the cabin, negating the temptation to take your eyes of the road to work out the on-screen menu.
It also has one of the rare infotainment systems that’s better to use than Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The only ergonomic snafu is the volume button for the stereo – it’s too far away and too low down, so you end up adjusting the passenger-side cabin temperature, rather than Kylie Minogue’s loudness.
To drive, the Q3 is slightly mixed, but mostly good. Our test car was a 35 TFSI S-Line. Translating Audi's mildly-confusing new model naming system (which is kinda-sorta based on the kilowatt output of its power units, electric or internal combustion, that means it's the familiar 1.5L TFSI turbo petrol four-cylinder engine which is rapidly spreading out across the VW Group's model ranges.
It’s a smooth engine, very refined, but here in the Q3 it feels a little underpowered. It doesn’t struggle, as such, but you feel the lack of thrust when engaging in an overtaking manoeuvre, or tackling a long incline.
Keep it in town, and it’s fine, although you will notice a hesitancy when pulling away. Not sure if that’s the engine, or the seven-speed S-Tronic automatic gearbox, or some combo of the two, but it’s there and frequently annoying. It’s not as bad as you’ll find in Audi’s diesel models, though.
The steering, although rather light and not good at feeding back any feel from the road, is quite sweetly balanced, and lends the Q3 a pleasingly agile, chuckable feel. Again, it’s not enormous fun, but it always feels sure-footed.
The only mark against it is that, in S-Line form, the stiffer sports suspension and big 48cm (19in) wheels don’t do the ride comfort any favours. If comfort is your thing, maybe go for an SE-spec Q3. It’s also a bit too noisy at a main road cruise, as those big wheels send lots of tyre roar up into the cabin. It does look good, though. The styling is so much better than that of the old Q3, even if there’s (from some angles) a bit too much of the Richard-Kiel-as-Jaws about the massive grille.
It also needs a strong colour to look at its best – the “greige” of our test car (officially Chronos Grey) was rather too dull. So, it’s not perfect. But the new Q3 still managed to rather charm me during my time with it. It’s not a car I’d choose for myself.
If you choose it, though, I’ll be a lot less grumpy about you doing so.
Model: Audi Q3 35 TFSI S-Line S-Tronic Price: €54,700 as tested (Q3 starts at €38,600) Power: 150bhp Torque: 340Nm 0-100kmh: 9.2 seconds Top speed: 207km/h Claimed economy: 4.9-litres/100km (57.6mpg) CO2 emissions (motor tax): 128g/km (€270)
Verdict: Not thrilling, but a well-executed car Our rating: 3/5