Even casual observers can’t fail to have noticed that the average car size has ballooned in recent years. Today 4x4s roam city centres as much as country lanes with many ‘Sports Utility Vehicles’ troubled with nothing more challenging than the school run. Safety, comfort and presence on the road are some of the main advantages of SUVs, not to mention the space they offer, but price, parking and economy are the main thorns in their side. Lately manufacturers have been making moves to address said thorns in a bid to deliver a vehicle with city centre agility that won’t fold at the first sign of frost and the ‘Baby SUV’ class has been born. The Q3’s two main rivals for the newly established motoring middleweight crown are the BMW X1 and the Range Rover Evoque, and the Q3 probably falls somewhere in the middle: much more attractive than the dog’s dinner that is the X1 but much classier than the WAG mobile that is the Evoque.
The model I find myself driving out of the Audi showroom for a weekend cruise is the SE 2.0 TFSI Quattro 170 PS. I was pleased to get keys for the 6-speed manual version rather than the 7-speed S tronic as I’d planned a drive up to Berwick to get to know the Q3 a little better, and the manual version certainly helped break the ice.
First impressions were extremely good; there’s a superb amount of standard equipment on the SE model which comes laden with plenty of gadgets and Vorsprung durch Technik. Before you even need to consult an add-ons sheet the Q3 already has 17” 10 Spoke alloys, rear parking sensors, concert radio with 6.5” manually retractable colour display screen, bluetooth connectivity, Audi Music Interface (AIM), an electric handbrake and dual-zone climate control. Unfortunately the first feature I got to grips with was the horn after a driver in front decided to cut me up before proceeding to forget that green means go – a polite parp from the Q3 seemed to have the desired effect.
Using the electric handbrake when you first park up is rather disconcerting; a certain degree of trust is required to believe that the flick of a small switch will render a few tonnes of baby SUV stationary. What’s more, when pulling away you don’t have to disengage it, maths and science recognise that you’re ready to make a move and release the handbrake automatically as you begin to drive. This feature certainly helps nullify the tedium of constant hill starts in city centre traffic.
My girlfriend was only too happy to join me on my foray up to the Borders and we both admired the views and enjoyed the smoothness of the ride as we cruised north. Initially the weather couldn’t have been kinder to us: a bright, crystal clear day with clouds at a minimum was the outlook as we joined the A1, but as we approached Northumberland the wind began to make its presence felt. Not that you would have known it from inside the quiet Q3 cabin; the car didn’t flinch, sticking to the road like glue. The all-wheel drive crossover takes corners like they’re not there thanks to the quattro technology that’s been giving Audi the edge on the rally circuit for over 30 years; the technology ‘reads’ the road and senses changes in the surface to make alterations to grip and force. Clever stuff – it got me thinking that the springs and dampeners must have to work pretty hard to combat Britain’s pockmarked streets.
Aesthetically the Q3 is very pleasing on the eye with a flowing roofline and aerodynamic shape, it looks more like a coupé on its tip-toes than a regular SUV but does have notably less of a physical presence than its older brothers the Q5 and Q7. Inside you still have the benefit of being raised with good vision forward and back and you get the sensation that you’re behind the wheel of a sizeable 4x4 rather than a crossover, thanks to the safe and sturdy drive.
With four doors you don’t have to worry about people clambering all over the beautiful suede and leather seats, passengers can have no complaints about the amount of leg room and are sure to be impressed with the cup holders that wouldn’t look out of place holding Captain Kirk’s cocoa in place on the Starship Enterprise.
After crossing the Tweed we nimbly nosed the Q3 around Berwick in search of parking and had no problems whatsoever squeezing into a space in the town centre. Following an afternoon of coffee, cake and a bracing stroll across the river for a closer inspection of Robert Stephenson’s Royal Border Bridge, we returned windswept to the comfort of the Q3 cabin and headed home. With the cruise control set and my girlfriend dozing, I admired Holy Island in the twilight and casually switched from the music player to the digital radio to catch the football results – balancing the speakers to the driver’s side so she didn’t wake and demand Ben Howard’s gentle folk rock be reinstated on the eight speaker sound system – a fine ending to a chilled out day.
As well as the 2.0 TSFI petrol engine that I had the keys to, the Q3 is also available with a 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit which develops either 138 bhp or 175 bhp. The TFSI engine comes with either 168 or 208 bhp and even though I was at the wheel of the latter it needed no encouragement at all to get up to speed.
With no diesel engine in the range below 2.0-litres there’s no true eco version of the Q3, but the automatic version does employ stop-start technology which switches off the engine while you’re stationary to keep the MPG figure high and CO2 emissions low enough to rival that of the BMW’s X1s. Audi have also introduced an optional efficiency mode if you want to really keep Mother Nature happy. When the car is moving or braking, the S Tronic dual-clutch disengages the clutch and allows the Q3 to roll freely, to help save fuel. Another optional extra is the park assist button which lets the car size up a parallel parking space before steering itself into it while you control the speed – as close to Knight Rider as you’re ever likely to get.
In truth, you don’t need the optional extras as the Q3 already comes packed with great features as standard. Whether you’re getting it muddy or loading it with shopping, it will deliver. The baby SUV category is certainly stronger for its addition and Audi should be very proud of its new bundle of joy.