Audi’s Q3 crossover adds a little soul

New Audi Q3 can now face a growing number of rivals with confidence

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Audi has had a problem of late: its mid-sized crossovers have set the standards for rivals in terms of interior fit and finish, drive smartly and improve with every edition. Yet they all seem to lack soul.

It’s that hard to define something that sets the heart racing. Things are looking up, however, all starting with the good looking fun Q2.

Now the second generation Q3, fighting a tough battle against some strong rivals, is taking Q2 lessons on board.

Potential Audi Q3 buyers will need a full book club lunch to work their way through the changes Audi has made to its compact SUV. And yet they’re not immediately evident to the passing crowd. It’s an issue at Audi that as its standards get better, the difficult incremental work can often go unnoticed.

To date the premium brand’s quite ordinary small crossover has sold to 1.1 million customers, but in the Republic it lags behind the BMW X1 in the premium class. In 2017 new car registrations list 284 for the Audi while 480 for BMW . The sector is getting busy with recent arrivals like the Volvo XC40, Jaguar E-Pace and the upcoming Lexus UX all catching the eye.

The Audi crayons have been put to good use with the impressive looking second generation Q3. Audi assigned the same exterior designer that gave us the stylish Audi Q2 crossover in 2016. The new car is based on Volkswagen’s tried and tested MQB platform used with its Tiguan SUV, Golf and many other vehicles in the group. Dimensions of the Q3 have grown, adding 97mm in length, 18mm in width and the longer wheelbase helps not only the ride quality but also frees up interior space.

The exterior is now substantial with a larger footprint than not only an X1 but also the volume selling Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Qashqai. The body features more of the complex sculpting in the metal panels that made the Q2 such and interesting design. The new highly sculpted LED headlights look like eyes focused on a task.

Benchmark cabin

The cabin is thoroughly made over and features Audi’s flush surfacing styling, first seen in the new A8 and A7. A digital dash display is standard and there are three interior finishes you can choose from. The finish and layout of the dash area is excellent and there is a definite bias towards the driver. The layout is crisp, logical and for remains best in class.

The 12.3 inch virtual cockpit plus driver display from higher end Audis feels like a familiar friend. The 10.1 inch centre touch screen display in our highly equipped cars is beautifully mounted. Entry grades get an 8.8 inch centre display as standard and a 10.25 virtual cockpit display.

Legroom is on par with rivals, as is headroom, and better than new arrivals like the UX. The rear split seats can be tilted and also slide forward and back individually, along with folding flat in a 40/20/40 split. You can also stow the parcel shelf when needed. The boot holds 530 litres or 675 if you tilt and push the rear seats forward. This is further expandable to 1,525 litres with the rears folded down.

Advanced driver assistance systems are plentiful with adaptive cruise, cross traffic alert, hill descent control and auto parking some of the highlights. A four camera 360 degree virtual surround view is a handy parking aid also, oh and there is auto parking available too. Needless to say the Q3 is back up at benchmark level with its available tech.

Numbering engines

Initially a four-cylinder engine range that features one petrol and three diesels, all direct injection turbocharged, will be available from launch. A further diesel with 190hp is coming later next year. The star is the entry point 1.5 litre four cylinder TFSI petrol. It pushes out 150hp and features cylinder on demand technology that shuts down part of the engine under light loads to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. This size of car is seeing a swing back to petrol power in Ireland. After only a few moments the new Q3 proved that the quieter fuel can work very well in a machine this size. Unlike saloon Audis when you specify S-Line with a Q3 the ride height doesn’t lower, but you do get stiffer springs for sportier handling. Audi’s Drive Select dynamic handling system is available as an option also. The adaptive suspension system is taken from VW’s Tiguan, but tuned by Audi.

On the road the seven-speed S-Tronic automatic works really well combined with the petrol 1.5 front wheel drive Q3 35 TFSI. The number 35 is part of Audis new naming convention. Instead of putting a car’s engine size as a badge or identifier, the premium four-ringed badge has opted to break the mould. With numbers ranging from 25 to 70, the numbers themselves relate to nothing about the car, they merely create a spectrum of power upon which each car resides. So models with “25” powertrains, have outputs up to 106bhp, while those with 35 - like our test car - have power outputs of 145bhp to 159bhp. Confusing? Audi reckons we’ll get used to it, and they are probably right. Engine size is no longer relevant given that some small modern engines put out more power than old big V8s, and with the roll-out of electric power, numerals related to the cubic capacity of a combustion engine are increasingly irrelevant.

For a true premium feeling an auto gearbox is a must. Annoying stop start traffic is less of a chore with a go and a stop pedal.

The steering is light and precise and while there is little in the way of steering feedback I didn’t really miss it. Audi stresses that this is an SUV not a performance crossover.

The Q3 feels nimble to drive and about town it is effortless to live with. The six speed manual diesel with its Quattro all wheel drive did what it said on the tin but having sampled the auto petrol first felt obviously a little crude. Higher performance diesel engines (Quattro also) will be available but there is probably no reason for most Irish buyers to go there. Clever money would spend on more options or a higher grade of trim. The Q3, even with its Quattro rally inspired arches isn’t about spirited driven it’s about making a statement and a good one to the premium car buying tribe.

Adding some soul

The Hungarian built Audi Q3 goes on sale here this November. Irish pricing will be announced closer to launch but expected to start in the upper €30,000 range.

Audi has an impressive history of inspirational models, but in its efforts to work towards engineering perfection, sometimes with its crossover models it has foregone some of that soul in favour of Vorsprung durch technik. The Q2 shows you can achieve that goal while retaining charm and fun. The Q3 may not have that level of spirit, but it does inherit a lot more character than before.

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