2012 AUDI Q3 REVIEW
Vehicle segment: Compact SUV
|Tested||Power/Torque||0-100km/h||Fuel Use (claimed)|
|2.0 TDI||103kW/320Nm||9.9s||5.2 l/100km|
|2.0 TDI||130kW/380Nm||8.2s||5.9 l/100km|
|2.0 TFSI||155kW/300Nm||6.9s||7.7 l/100km|
The SUV segment - 'Sports Utility Vehicles' - is a messy bucket of a category populated, in the main, by vehicles that are anything but 'sports'.
Many, most maybe, look pretty good but are heavy, a bit slow and dynamically... well, fairly crap.
But not this hot-box - Audi's new Q3.
If it wasn't an SUV, you'd call it a hot-hatch. Even the base model manual 2.0 TDI 103kW diesel FWD bares a sporting soul should you fire it through the slick six-speed box.
And the range-topping TFSI with 155kW, S tronic seven-speed DSG and sports suspension, has the handling balance and raw urge to take the game right up to the likes of VW's Golf GTI and similar sporting drives.
But it's also an SUV with 'quattro' AWD and enough ground clearance to take you some way off the beaten track (or on a rapid dash to the snow).
Likewise, there's an upright seating position with good all-round visibility, enough head and shoulder room to accommodate five adults, and a reasonable boot. None of which you'll find in a hot-hatch.
So if you've been looking at a GTI, WRX or 1 Series hatch, don't do anything till you've had a look at the Q3. With this car, hot-hatch meets SUV 'urban-escape' wagon: you can have your cake and eat it to.
Price of course is a consideration; the Q3 range starts at $44,800, with a spread all the way to $56,000.
That puts it squarely in the upper quartile of the compact SUV sector. But it's a premium buy, with a premium feel and a premium badge. And that doesn't come cheap.
On even the base model, the moment your eyes wander across the dash, console and into the rear, the quality of the interior is apparent.
You'll notice it immediately in the well-shaped seats (a leather and leatherette mix), in the smart understated style and appealing soft-feel surfaces, in the leather-wrapped sports wheel, in the sports-look instruments, and in the discrete metal garnishes on the dash and framing the centre-stack and gearshift.
The controls and switchgear also feel exactly as they should.
And there are no lines that jar nor anything that looks out of place. It's elegant, crisply modern and intelligently laid-out (though not the best in the class - Mazda's new $46,200 Grand Touring CX-5 holds the mantle here).
With any Audi however, the feel of quality is evident: you can see where your money has gone.
There is also a nice palette of earthy colour choices for the leather trim, with tans and browns joining the obligatory shades of grey, charcoal and beige. The colour options extend to the lower dash and door trims.
Features and options include a standard 6.5-inch screen, parking assist, Bluetooth audio streaming and handsfree calling, iPod connectivity, dual-zone climate control, a driver information system and multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, among a list of premium features.
The long options list (it's a German car after all) includes adaptive lights for the 'xenon plus' headlights, high-beam assist, panoramic glass roof, LED interior lighting and power-adjustable front seats.
Also, depending upon the model and specification, there are a number of infotainment modules for the Q3 including the MMI (multi-media interface) with 7.0 inch colour display, 3D graphics and a 14-speaker Bose surround sound system.
And lastly, though the rear hatch is steeply raked, the internal packaging allows a very reasonable 460 litre boot space that can grow to 1365 litres with the 60:40 split-folding seats laid flat.
Something else out of reach of a hot-hatch.
On The Road
We spent most time in the base model 2.0 TDI 103kW (front wheel drive only), the 2.0 TDI 130kW with quattro AWD and S tronic seven-speed DSG, and the range-topping 2.0 litre petrol 155kW and 300Nm TFSI, also with the seven-speed S tronic DSG.
The latter two are seriously quick, but the manual 2.0 TDI 103kW is no slouch.
The base model manual in fact was the biggest surprise. It feels genuinely lively - with 103kW and 320Nm, it could hardly be accused of lacking - and is superbly hooked-up although relying on front-wheel-drive only.
(It's a point we've made before, but the case for AWD is increasingly diminished with the increasing sophistication and grip of front-wheel-drive systems such as you find in the Audi Q3.)
Fire either around a mountain road and the real sporting character of the Q3 range is evident.
The AWD models, in particular, have beautifully neutral sporting handling and simply carve through corners at speeds that would make a hot-hatch proud, let alone an SUV.
On gravel or bitumen, the front end can be pointed in with absolute precision - the feedback through the wheel and rapid, connected steering response is first class.
The traction control is also nicely calibrated; it allows just the right amount of slip and sideways movement in press-on driving. On gravel, each we drove proved very quick and a lot of fun at the wheel.
There is a trade-off however; we found the damping and spring settings a little too firm on broken tarmac, but, to Audi's credit, each in the range can cope with rapid undulations and hollows without pitching or unsettling the ride balance.
Despite some very quick point-to-point driving, neither Q3 felt as if it was going to throw us into the vegetation. An SUV shouldn't stick this well - you'd reckon - but the sporting Q3 does.
Overtaking, similarly, is rapid and safe - in the 2.0 TDI 130kW and 2.0 TFSI 155kW you're out and around in mere moments.
Diesel or petrol, throttle response is as good as instantaneous. As is kick-down in the DSG - once you discover and stab through the detent at the bottom of the accelerator travel.
We're not enamoured - we have to say - about the physical operation of the DSG: you have to push it through a dog-leg to move from 'Sport' setting to manual operation, but have no complaints about the way it operates. It would be better with paddles, but they're optional extras.
On the road, mechanical NVH is exceptionally low.
The diesels, both the 2.0 TDI 103kW and 2.0 TDI 130kW, make an appealing distant growl at highway speeds, and, even under the whip, each spins freely (to a 5500rpm deadline) without any intrusive or unpleasant clattering or thrashing.
The 155kW TFSI petrol howls like a Banshee at the top of the rev band, but it's a beautiful noise.These are very sophisticated and sublimely-balanced drivetrains.
In the sports models, the 2.0 TFSI 155kW and 2.0 TDI 130kW, each sitting on bigger 18-inch and 19-inch wheels, there is some tyre roar that finds its way into the cabin but is rarely intrusive.
We took each a little way off-road, probably as far as any buyer would consider taking them.
The good ground clearance will get you over rocks and channels without bottoming (there is an optional off-road kit that includes additional underbody protection), and the AWD provides enough traction for loose slippery tracks and small grassy climbs.
Each also features stop/start technology, switching off when stopped but springing into life instantly once pressure is lifted from the brake pedal or the accelerator squeezed.
Our fuel consumption figures, at one stage rising to above 11.0 l/100km for both petrol and diesel models, can be ignored as a guide: we had these cars seriously under the whip for the greater part of the drive.
(We averaged 6.8 l/100km in the 130kW TDI for the transport section back to Brisbane airport.)
First Drive Verdict
If you, like me, like the notion of a hot-hatch, but want the versatility of an SUV, Audi has the answer in its hot-shoe Q3 range.
It's a space once occupied alone by the sorely missed Forester GT. But the sporting SUVs from Audi are far classier and better in every way than that old Forester.
Whether choosing petrol or diesel, each in the Q3 range goes like a cut cat and sticks to the tarmac like all four wheels have been individually nailed there. These are sharp handling cars in anyone's language.
And each of the three models we drove was beautifully put-together, elegantly styled with swoopy coupe-like lines, and surprisingly roomy inside.
We have little doubt that, with the Q3 range, Audi has launched the segment leader for on-road dynamics and sporting verve.
Is it a better drive than Mazda's CX-5? The answer, if considering the AWD 2.0 TDI 130kW and 155TSFI, is yes - these premium Audis emphatically put the "sport" back into Sports Utility Vehicle and are the new benchmarks for the sector.
But for the price of the base model front-wheel-drive Q3 2.0 TDI, and manual only, you can buy the Grand Touring Mazda CX-5 diesel with the lot. That will make your choice hard.
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- 2012 Audi Q3 2.0 TDI manual - 103kW - $44,800
- 2012 Audi Q3 2.0 TDI quattro S tronic - 130kW - $54,500
- 2012 Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI quattro manual - 125kW - $47,000
- 2012 Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic - 125kW - $48,950
- 2012 Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI quattro manual - 155kW - $56,000
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.