Another month and another Audi is launched. You’d think its relentless pursuit of sales and market share would compromise the product, but Audi’s strategy is the very antithesis of the stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap so favoured by other manufacturers with less coveted brand values to defend. You can count on any Audi from the smallest A1 to the longest A8 to exude quality inside and out, and from stem to stern.
This new Q3 makes the point well. It’s not just an attractive car, it looks expensive too, which always goes down well with the image-conscious punter. Inside it’s a paragon of ergonomic efficiency, presenting a neat and clean driving environment and surprisingly large amounts of room for family and friends. In short, its showroom credentials are impeccable, and as that’s where cars like this sell, I expect it to do well.
But I wonder whether the time has come for Audi to change the record. Even though the Q3 is Audi’s first compact SUV, there is no magic to it. It could easily be a slightly rearranged A4, or a Q5 that’s shrunk in the wash. If you know Audis at all there’s nothing to be learned here, no secrets just waiting to be uncovered: it’s just another Audi. The element of surprise which I so look forward to in any new car I drive is notable only by its absence.
It has another problem too, though not of its own creation. This is the car with which Audi will need to wage war against Land Rover’s beautiful Evoque, a car of such dazzlingly original design it makes even very fluently executed opponents like the Q3 just seem dull by comparison.
Actually the Q3 is better than that. Currently you can only buy 2-litre petrol or diesel versions (though both are available with high and low outputs), but the top-spec 175bhp diesel model I tested proved effortless to drive and easy to live with. It did lots that was good, including offering smooth power over a wide rev range and providing the ride and refinement of a small luxury saloon, and nothing at all even to annoy, let alone enrage me. I thought its fuel consumption merely adequate and its handling rather homespun, but I’ve never expected much from cars in this class in these regards.
All it lacks, then, is sparkle in both its design and engineering. I expect the Evoque viewed objectively is probably an inferior being, but I know which I’d rather park outside my house, drive to work or Scotland. It may not be as carefully assembled nor as proficiently executed, but it has an undeniable sense of occasion that would lift your spirits not once in a while, but every time you saw it. For all its undoubted merits, that is the one thing the Q3 so singularly lacks.
Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Top Speed: 132mph
Power: 175bhp at 4200rpm
Fuel/co2: 47.9mpg, 156g/km