Audi Q3: Detailed Review
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Have the mechanical updates plugged all the gaps in the Q3's formula? We sampled the petrol as well as the diesel avatar of Audi's entry-level SUV to find out just that!
When the Q3 first landed on Indian shores back in 2012, it was a runaway success for the Ingolstadt-based brand. The mini-SUV looks paired with the bragging rights of the four-ringed badge meant that the Q3 was quickly lapped up. But, it always had it’s share of negatives - it wasn’t all that involving to drive, the equipment list seemed sparse for the money and it wasn’t as flamboyant as its rivals.
While the first update for the SUV (in 2015) focussed purely on aesthetics, the changes are mechanical this time round. The diesel engine is a notch more powerful, and, more importantly, there's finally a petrol engine under the bonnet. Have the updates plugged all the gaps in the Q3's formula? We sampled the petrol as well as the diesel avatar of Audi's entry-level SUV to find out just that!
You would have to be a hardcore Audi geek to spot the difference between the 2017 facelift and the 2015 version. We'll save you the trouble — there are just two. The front bumper has been redesigned, with the faux air inlet being slightly larger than before. Secondly, there's an added dose of cladding that gives it a typical rough-roader look.
Everything else remains identical to the outgoing version. But, that's not a bad thing. The all-LED headlamps look slick, and the daytime running lamps grab attention. The dynamic turn indicator (LEDs blink sequentially in the direction of the turn) is a cool party piece too. What we particularly like are the loud colours the Q3 is offered with. The Aqua Blue and Bright Red shades you see in the pictures look stunning and suit the youthful nature of the Q3 quite well. We recommend skipping the subtle black, white and silver and look at these instead — they transform the little SUV into a head turner.
The Q3 is unmistakably Audi in its design. Aesthetically, it might not have the flair of a GLA, but with its crisp lines and upright stance, it is definitely likeable. To put it simply, the little Audi looks more like a scaled-down SUV than a blown-up hatchback.
Measuring in at 4388mm x 1831mm x 1608mm (l x w x h), the Q3 isn't the longest or tallest in its class, neither has the largest wheelbase. The BMW X1 is a full 51mm longer (and 10mm taller), while the Mercedes-Benz GLA has a 96mm longer wheelbase. The Audi is the widest car of the lot, measuring 10mm wider than the BMW and 27mm wider than the Mercedes.
The interiors have remained largely unchanged since its debut in 2012. Step inside the Q3 and the age of the design immediately comes to the fore. In today's age of big central touchscreens that control practically everything, Audi's old-school dash looks cluttered. The rotary knobs for the dual-zone climate control and the tiny multi-information display wedged between the speedo and tacho don't look all that premium anymore. However, compare that to the A4's touch-sensitive climate control interface and the virtual cockpit, and you know the Q3 is due for a generation leap.
But, ignore that for a bit and it comes across as thoroughly practical and usable. The electric seats (now standard across the range) offer a healthy range of travel for reach and height, and the tilt-telescopic adjust on the steering only makes it easier to slip into a comfortable driving position. All doors house a sizeable bottle holder, and there's a generous 420-litre boot as well.
The rear bench isn't particularly roomy, but there's enough space for the average Indian. The Q3 is a strict four-seater in our books. The transmission tunnel that runs through the spine of the floor is quite high which eats into foot room for the middle occupant, and the rear air-conditioning takes up crucial millimetres of knee room. Use it as a car for four, and it doesn't disappoint. The massive panoramic sunroof adds a sense of space to the cabin.
Again, the basics are in place - the ergonomics are right, the build quality is upmarket and there's enough space for four and their luggage. It lacks the wow factor that the GLA's cabin has, but makes up for it by offering practicality.
Infotainment duties on the top-spec Technology variant are handled by Audi's 'MMI Navigation High' system, paired to an 180W 10-speaker setup. The 6.5-inch screen acts as the command centre and can be controlled using the dial and buttons on the centre console. It isn't a touchscreen interface, but the upside to that is you can use it on the go without taking your eyes off the road.
While it is easy to get used to, the graphics and the interface does seem dated. Also, what’s particularly surprising is the lack of a USB port. Naturally, there's no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on offer either. This means you need to pair your phone via Bluetooth for the music and the calls, and rely on the car’s navigation system. This also forces you to use the 12V socket that’s placed inside the central armrest. Not very convenient. That aside, the infotainment unit does feature an in-built 20GB hard-drive (that can be used to store songs via the Audi 'Jukebox') and SD card-based navigation.
Let's talk about the new engine first, shall we? The 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol motor has done duty under the hoods of a lot of cars in the Volkswagen-Audi family. Under the Q3's bonnet it runs the familiar 150PS/250Nm tune we've seen in the A3 and the A4. Notably, while the sedans get a 7-speed gearbox, the SUV gets a 6-speed unit.
Start the Q3 up, and you’ll realize the noise levels are a notch higher than what you were expecting. Get going and the engine’s thrummy noise continues to be audible. Look past (or hear past) the noise, and the turbo-petrol seems just about enough to carry the heft of the near two-tonne SUV. Drive around with a light foot, and the Q3 is easy to drive. The engine too feels at ease pottering around the city. You won’t really feel the turbo kick in unless you stomp on the accelerator pedal. For most overtakes, a gentle increase in throttle input is enough to get you past. Get a bit too adventurous with the throttle, and the Q3 pushes you into the back of your seat with a sudden surge of torque.Go easy on the A-pedal, and driving the Q3 1.4 is cakewalk.
It’s is reasonably efficient too - returning 10.24kmpl inside the city, and 14.56kmpl on the highway. What maximises the fuel efficiency number is the petrol Q3’s ‘Efficiency’ mode that is coupled with the auto-start-stop tech that switches the engine off when you come to a halt and restarts once you lift off the brake pedal. In this mode, the throttle response is dulled out a bit. When you accelerate, there’s a second worth of lag before power actually kicks in. If you’re on a highway cruise in this mode, you will need to plan your overtakes. On a related note, the effectiveness of the air conditioning takes a hit in this mode. We’d avoid this mode purely because it left us sweaty at the end of our fuel efficiency test.
Other driving modes on Audi’s ‘Drive Select’ include ‘Comfort’, ‘Auto’ and ‘Dynamic’. Toggling between the three alters throttle and gearbox responsiveness. That said, there isn’t a day and night difference between the modes, and ‘Auto’ mode works just fine for the daily drive. In ‘Dynamic’, the Q3 feels slightly eager to make progress — the gearbox is usually in one gear lower and lets the engine rev up all the way to the redline. This isn’t particularly useful in day to day use, and we’d recommend switching to it only for that uphill drive around the ghats where you feel the need for all the power all the time. On test, the Q3 clocked a 0-100kmph time of 10.91 seconds.
The star of the package has got to be the ’S-tronic’ gearbox. The 6-speed dual-clutch automatic is quick to respond to throttle inputs. If you slam the accelerator pedal to the floor, it downshifts a couple of gears - giving you the power you need to make a quick overtake instantly. Unlike the diesel version, the petrol variant does not get paddle shifters. But, we didn’t really miss it since the gearbox practically reads your mind.
With the update, the Q3 Quattro has earned a power bump of 7PS. Is the added power noticeable? Nope. But, compare it to the petrol variant, and it feels like a completely different car. The extra 130Nm of torque makes its presence felt, especially when you are on a highway drive. Put your foot down, and the diesel Q3 lunges forward with gusto. You can be assured keeping the throttle pinned will have you go past the car in front. The numbers are proof: the diesel Q3 is quicker to 100kmph by 2.65 seconds (thank you Quattro!), at 8.26 seconds, whereas in-gear acceleration from 20-80kmph is quicker by nearly two seconds (5 seconds vs 6.75 seconds).
Power delivery is nice and smooth, and there’s no annoying turbo lag that’d hold you back in traffic. Most of this is down to the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which does a really good job of selecting the right gear. Yes, there are paddle shifters on offer, but we rarely had to use them while testing the car. Surprisingly, the diesel engine is appreciably silent inside-out during idle. Push it, and it lets out a grumbly sound which is oddly likeable. In case you do not like the sound of a diesel engine, even moderate volume on the music system will cancel it out.
The diesel Q3 doesn’t feature an efficiency mode, nor does it have the auto start-stop tech. In spite of that, and being heavier, it proved to be significantly more efficient — returning 12.84kmpl inside the city and 18.5kmpl on the highway.
Ride and Handling
Inside the city, the Q3’s ride will give you next to no reason to complain. Broken road surfaces are dismissed with a muted thud. More importantly, the cabin doesn’t get upset too easily while dealing with potholes. What’s not so good is that the tyres are slightly noisy. The sound intrudes into the cabin, which does dampen the premium experience a bit.
The suspension does have a bias for comfort, which becomes apparent once you start getting up to triple digit speeds. The cabin has a ‘floaty’ feeling, as it exhibits some vertical bobbing. This is particularly apparent in the petrol version, the diesel does fare slightly better. But the bumpiness felt amplified on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway where, in the Q3’s defence, the concrete surface isn’t in the best of shapes to begin with.
In case you’re looking for some driving pleasure, we’d recommend you look elsewhere. The steering (in typical Audi fashion) feels too light and lacklustre. It is clearly set up for convenience and not fun. What we liked is the super light-weight wheel inside the city. It takes next to no effort to manoeuvre the Q3 in traffic, and parking is a no-stress affair. We would have liked the steering to weigh up a bit more as the speeds climbed.
It’s a similar story around a set of winding roads. You have to keep guessing what the front wheels are up to. This, in effect, means you have to correct the steering input constantly to make the Q3 corner like you want it to. Being a tall SUV, there’s some body roll as well. It won’t upset the occupants if you go around corners at low speed. However, speed up a bit and the Q3 will cause passengers to reach for the grab handles to stay seated where they are.
For the twisties, it’s the Quattro-equipped diesel that we’d pick. It feels more planted, holds its line and the all-wheel drive gives you enough grip to throttle out a lot faster from the corner.
The Q3 features a total of six airbags that are standard across the range. Also standard are anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Other safety tech includes electronic stability program (ESP), hill-descent control and traction control (ASR). The top-spec Technology variant additionally features a rear parking camera over the standard rear parking sensors.
The Q3 is available in a total of three variants with varying engine options. Features standard across the range include all-LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, six airbags and electric seats. The all-wheel drive diesel version additionally gets paddle shifters, SD-card-based navigation, a reverse camera and a coloured multi-information display.
A lot of optional kit is now standard across the range, costs for which are included in the asking price. To answer our first question, no - the Audi Q3’s gaps have not be plugged. The only noteworthy upgrade is the new petrol motor. The petrol Q3 serves as a nice stepping stone into the world of Audi, as it remains a sensible all-rounder that gives you a healthy blend of familiarity, good quality, space for four and some snob value. Yes, the engine isn’t too much fun to drive, but we always have the diesel all-wheel drive version to make up for it.