First Drive: Audi Q3 2.0 TDI SE

2011 Audi Q3What do you do if you hit on a sales winner? Simple really: make variations on the theme and snare as much business as you possible can. Audi already has some form in this department: the Q7 SUV made a huge dent in the fortunes of rival luxury 4x4s, and successfully spun the smaller Q5 off it by using largely the same recipe.

Now the third act has arrived in the shape of the Q3 and as the name would suggest, it is the smallest of the Audi SUV family. With some obvious rivals from premium and non-premium manufacturers, the Q3 has the potential to be even more successful than its bigger brothers.

There’s no shocks in store when it comes to the exterior design. Perhaps sensibly so, the Q3 looks a good deal like a shrunken version of the Q5 although there is more than a hint of the A1 premium compact at the front end. Regardless, it is a slick and modern piece of car design and with the numerous colour and wheel combinations to choose from it will undoubtedly catch the eye of those tempted to trade up to a vehicle in this segment.

In terms of size the Q3 is fractionally bigger than the A3 hatch but smaller than the A4 saloon, and so is a world away from the giant Q7 at the other end of the scale. That doesn’t result in compromises in terms of interior space however. Climb aboard any of the Q3’s five seats and there is a class-competent amount of room, and even those in the back aren’t short changed. 460 litres of boot space are on offer too, extendable to 1,365 litres when the inevitable need to carry something awkward or lengthy occurs.

There are plenty of options as always from an Audi: anyone with a need for serious practicality can choose a boot organiser that can lock items in place, and if you want to turn a Q3 into a pseudo-luxury urban warrior there are high-end audio systems and luscious trims to choose from. Yet the standard fayre is none too shabby – whatever version you choose there is smart, functional design, quality materials and a high level of fit and finish. Despite leather being almost a default choice at this level, even the cloth finish is tasteful and quite desirable.

Like any Audi there is a broad choice of engines and transmissions, but crucially the Q3 is the first of the Q-models to be offered in front-wheel drive form as well as the 4×4 Quattro layout. Crucial because even more so than its bigger brethren, the Q3 is less likely to be earning its spurs off-road and instead ploughing through traffic and ploughing along the motorway. With just two driven wheels doing the work, weight is saved and there is less friction in the drivetrain giving the potential for greater economy.

2011 Audi Q3 (3)Plump for the 2.0-litre TDI model with front-wheel drive tested here, and the Q3 can deliver 54.3mpg combined and emit a very reasonable 138g/km. Yet the engine still gives up a healthy 138bhp and 236lb.ft of torque. Despite being arguably the humblest model in the range, there’s something very appealing about its simpler approach. With less weight over the front wheels, two-wheel drive and skinner wheels and tyres as a result, the Q3 2.0 TDI steers very sweetly and has a feeling of being light on its toes that isn’t quite the same with Quattro on board. You still get the refinement, cabin ambience and ride quality as with the rest of the range, but if you really aren’t planning any off-road adventures it will cope admirably with all you can throw at it.

However, this is still a car with luxury aspirations and there are ways to make it even more of a hedonist’s paradise. There’s a higher power version of the 2.0-litre diesel or the strong 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine if you really want to get a move on. There’s even suggestions of a hot version that will use the 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit from the RS3 and TT RS.

But the fact that the bog-standard car hits the mark proves that the basics are spot on. Choice is something you’ll not be short of in this sector, but once again Audi has proved it knows how to give people what they want.

Audi Q3 2.0 TDI SE, £24,560
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel producing 138bhp and 236lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 126mph, 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds
Economy: 54.3mpg combined
Emissions: 138g/km

By Matt Joy

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