The Q3: Audi’s likeable compact SUV

INTERNALLY, Audi calls it “the product firework”. With 12 new models introduced in the last five years and seven more planned for introduction by 2015, it seems the Four Rings can do no wrong. The Ingolstadt manufacturer seems to have an almost alchemic ability to find success in whatever niche it enters.

But it is a bit late to the party with its latest Q3 compact SUV. Premium rivals have beaten Audi to the segment including BMW with its X1 and Range Rover with its excellent Evoque. Good then that the Q3 is a very worthy rival.

Prettier by a country mile than the Bimmer, if not as sassy as the Evoque, Audi’s take on compact soft roader posh may be predictable in terms of its styling but is genuinely surprising in terms of its character. Ingolstadt may not be known for creating the most emotionally engaging of cars but I find I warm to the Q3 quickly. Maybe that’s because it is aimed at people like me – it may be an SUV, but the primary audience for the Q3 is clearly City urbanites.

At just over four metres long, the Q3 is essentially the same size as the Audi A3 Sportback. The most surprising thing is how spacious it feels inside when outside it neither looks nor seems that big. I found I could jump in the back – behind the driver’s seat when it was set up for me – and still had plenty of space between my knees and the seat in front. At 5’9” I may only be averagely tall, but the Q3 passed this quick, if crude, real-world measure of rear passenger legroom.

I was driving Audi’s Q3 on roads of questionable quality. Avoiding potholes, pheasants and sheep was the order of the day, a not inconsequential task when you are lost in dense fog somewhere on top of the North Yorkshire Moors near Witby. But the crappy roads showed just how refined the Q3 is. I drove the 208bhp 2.0 TFSI Quattro S tronic petrol model and the 170bhp 2.0 TDI Quattro S tronic diesel. I found both cars to be quiet and refined at speed and the ride – despite such tricky tarmac – very comfortable, in all but the sportiest “dynamic” setting.

Though quicker and more powerful, the petrol version wasn’t a patch on the diesel. Its 4-cylinder engine felt distant and detached to me. In the less powerful diesel car, I found I could carry more speed in and out of the corners thanks to better gearing. In the 2.0 TFSI the car felt like it was constantly too high or too low revving, as if the engine was a little flustered. This resulted in too frequent gear changes and a driving experience that lacked the more satisfying fluidity of the torquier diesel model which was a lot more fun to drive.

Inside, the car has the same premium quality that we have come to expect of Audi. The two models I drove certainly felt luxurious and were packed with the kind of in-car tech that the Audi brand has become synonymous with. One word of warning though, the options list was long on both cars with list prices inflated to a wallet-shrinking £40k for each. Despite this, the Q3 comes with some generous kit as standard including air conditioning, alloy wheels, an energy recuperation system and a start-stop system. Which means you might find you need to spend little more than the basic price. Which makes the car a bit of a steal.

THE FACTS: AUDI Q3 2.0 TDI QUATTRO S TRONIC

PRICE: £27,650
0-62MPH: 8.2secs
TOP SPEED: 132mph
CO2 G/KM: 156g/km
MPG COMBINED: 47.9mpg

THE VERDICT:

DESIGN ****
PERFORMANCE ****
PRACTICALITY ****
VALUE FOR MONEY ****