AUDI A4, A5, AND Q3 QUATTRO REVIEW
Audi Q3 Quattro
Engine/Trans: 103kW/320Nm 4cyl diesel | 7spd DSG auto
Price: $47,500 (plus on-roads) As tested: $57,740
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.8l/100km
Audi A4 Quattro
Engine/Trans: 130kW/380Nm 4cyl diesel | 7spd DSG auto
Price: $65,800 (plus on-roads) As tested: $67,955
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.3l/100km
Audi A5 Coupe Quattro
Engine/Trans: 165kW/350Nm 4cyl petrol turbo | 7spd DSG auto
Price: $75,700 (plus on-roads) As tested: $85,295
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7l/100km
Quattro. It’s a word that holds a lot of meaning for Audi.
Audi Australia's split of quattro models across its range has increased from 26 percent in 2004 to 67 percent in 2013. Now that the base A4 and A5 models get quattro as standard, that percentage should solidify further.
As of MY14, Audi is also introducing options packages to make specifying cars easier.
You can now choose from Style, Technik, Comfort and other option packs which bundles together what would otherwise be costly options.
Audi invited TMR to test the new additions to the local range.
While the launch took in the three base models, there’s nothing “entry-level” about Audi’s interiors.
So, what's on offer?
The cheapest of the three tested, the Q3, is Audi’s most popular model here. With fine-grained, soft-touch plastics, tight assembly and classy metallic accents, the Q3’s interior really is the best in this segment.
Our test car was optioned with Fine Nappa leather, a $2150 option, but one that adds comfort and a super-premium feel.
The driving position is quite high, giving a good view of the road ahead and visibility is excellent. The rear seats utilise a straight up-and-down seating position, which creates more legroom than you’d expect from an SUV of this size.
It’s as comfortable as you'll find and there is no sense of things having been stripped out to keep the costs down – it's just how a premium compact SUV should feel.
Like the Q3, the A4 sets the benchmark for interior build in the premium mid-sized segment.
Its instrumentation goes one step further and incorporates a turret-style feel with a gauge cluster deeply inset into the dash.
The fascia layout is quite driver-focussed, and free of clutter and unnecessary adornment and ostentation.
Audi has struck a neat balance between austere and flamboyant, with enough light accents to break up what could be a big slab of dark grey.
While we may sound like a broken record, the fit and finish is top-notch.
Now included on quattro models is rear parking sensors and a reversing camera as standard.
Not much else has changed in A4-land, however, with the new quattro drivetrain being the highlight of this model update.
The A5 has been with us for near-on five years now, and while it’s familiar, it’s still gorgeous to look at.
Materials and build are all first class, and those sports seats are fabulous.
It does get a bit claustrophobic in the back row however, with the long, sloping roofline giving the car perfect proportions but not doing much for space.
Long-legged drivers will also impede on rear legroom.
The big news for the Q3 is that the range is now exclusively quattro AWD.
To demonstrate the Audi's prowess in less-than-grippy conditions, we were challenged to a motorkhana – on grass.
The cars were all in Off-Road mode which effectively disables the ESC, only letting it cut in when you’ve really overcooked it.
If you came in too fast, the car would simply slide through the turn. Get on the power too aggressively and all the torque supplied is wasted in spectactular (but slow) slides.
The best technique, as offered by ace driving instructor Steve Pizzati, was to brake early, turn through the corner and gently get on the accelerator, letting the quattro system shuffle between front and back (with up to 100 percent drive going to either end), helping to drive the car through.
The Q3 under these circumstances does not feel at all like a front-wheel-drive car which - when needed - sends extra power to the rear.
With this quattro system, you can feel the torque being evenly apportioned so that there’s no lagging delay when the car senses slip.
Of course, with the ESC back on, there’s little chance of slip at all (meaning the Q3 is very safe in all conditions).
With our runs timed, and testosterone flowing, it’s a matter of self-control to execute a clean lap.
The result? TMR won the day with a time of 38.1 seconds.
ON THE ROAD
Out on the blacktop, the Q3’s road manners become apparent.
It’s a high-riding, well-controlled SUV with a ride leaning to 'firm'. On smooth, undulating highways it remains composed and has excellent body control, but can get ruffled on uneven surfaces.
The base model’s 2.0 TDI diesel engine produces 103kW and 320Nm and is extremely refined, both at idle and at speed.
Now that the base model includes quattro, it also features a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission as standard, which works seamlessly and is well-matched to the engine.
It’s not particularly quick though – 0-100kmh takes 9.9 seconds – and slotting it into Sport mode only delays shifts rather than bringing some urgency to the table. But driven in the relaxed manner, the Q3 is an affable urban companion.
And at $47,500, it outdoes the base BMW X1 not only on price but on the number of driven wheels for the entry model.
Our test car was the 2.0 TDI putting out a respectable 130kW and 380Nm.
This model now replaces the 3.0TDI multitronic, and despite that being a cracking engine, this new TDI model doesn’t give anything away in driveability.
Also equipped with the seven-speed S-tronic DSG transmission, the A4 can be hustled along very quickly.
The extra urge of the diesel is apparent right across the rev-range and despite manual control being available, its electronic brain is clever enough to keep it slotted in the right ratio the whole time.
The steering has nice weighting but is lacking true feel, a blight on most of the A4 range.
It holds its line faithfully through corners and unlike A4s of the past that could be 'crashy' on rough tarmac, the ride is firm but supple enough to iron out sharper bumps.
Better than a 3 Series?
Dynamically, no, but if you live in an area where there’s a lot of rain, mud or snow, the A4 quattro is the surer bet.
The worst part will be deciding between a truly excellent diesel or the cracking 165kW 2.0 TFSI quattro – they both list at $65,800.
Our time in the A5 covered a lot of gravel, so the quattro system combined with the ESC got a chance to prove its worth.
With much better steering (in both weight and feel) than the A4, the A5 2.0 TFSI quattro could be placed millimetre-perfect on unsealed roads, with superb balance when flicked around.
Despite happily wagging its tail on command, with the ESC on, it allowed a degree of slip to alert you to what the car was able to do. But it was always there waiting to reign in excessive sidways movement (so you didn’t end up in the roadside ditch).
The quattro system also allows for very quick starts on gravel and with its 165kW/350Nm engine (think Golf GTI) is able to get from 0-100kmh in just 6.4 seconds – on bitumen.
It still returns an ADR-tested fuel economy of 6.7 l/100km which is down 0.3l from last year’s model.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The quattro system is not only a selling point for Audi, but genuinely good technology.
As a safety mechanism in itself, it’s hard to argue against. It will keep you out of trouble but still allow some fun on the right road (or surface, as the case may be).
Compared on a price basis to their most logical competitors, the Audi quattro models have an advantage in technology, equipment and pricing.
Each car in the range is a pleasure to hop into. We'd certainly recommend some time behind the wheel if you're cross-shopping these Audis against their rivals.
More quattro models are on the way for Australia and our guess is it won’t be long before Audi is an exclusively quattro brand.
Maybe the four rings will soon represent four-wheel-drive?