What is it?
The Q3 is Audi’s best-selling model in India, and it’s not hard to see why. While sedans still, as always, hold a lot of appeal, SUVs are clearly the flavour of the moment. And this is the most affordable of Audi’s SUVs, which has opened the brand up to newer, younger buyers – a fact the company is quite happy about (the tagline for this new Q3 is ‘Start Young’). The outgoing Q3 is also the best-seller in its segment, and even came out on top in our comparison test with its closest rivals, the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Not one to rest on its laurels, however, Audi has been quick to bring the facelifted version of the car to India, and we’ve sampled it on Indian roads to see if it takes the successful formula further.
First off is the exterior design, which introduces Audi’s new family face to the Indian market. The headlamps are slimmer and, as you see on this car, will be full LED units on the top trims. The indicators at the front and rear ‘swipe’ outwards in the direction of the turn, much like in the A8 and R8. There are new 17-inch alloy wheels too, as well as three new paint shades, one of which you see here. But of course the thing you noticed first was the big new chrome-lined grille. Soon to be seen also on the all-new Q7, the wide chrome surround for the single-piece grille gives the nose a lot more presence, and combined with the angular new front bumper, it makes the Q3 look a lot chunkier than before.
On the inside, you can now get a choice of either all-black or black-and-beige upholstery. The basic layout hasn’t changed, but subtle modifications to the formula make it feel altogether more upmarket. The wood trim has been replaced by a nice textured metallic finish, and there are a lot more brushed aluminium inserts all over the cabin too.
The bigger news is the equipment list, which is an area where the outgoing Q3 did lag behind ever so slightly. It’s come in the form of a new top-spec add-on called the Technology Pack, although lower trims will likely get a few more goodies too. The Q3 Technology Pack, however, adds satellite navigation, a 20GB onboard hard drive, a second SD card slot, and a new sound system. It also gets a rear-view camera and a panoramic sunroof as standard. A smaller change is the new colour screen between the dials that gives you easier access to a lot of basic functions – like navigation directions and phone call information – without taking your eyes too far off the road. Subtler still is the new cradle for your phone in the cubbyhole between the seats that lets it use the car’s antenna to receive its signal, which saves you precious battery life. It’s the little things, you know.
What is it like to drive?
The 2.0-litre diesel engine, called the 35 TDI in this 174bhp guise, remains unchanged, and for now, there’s no word on a petrol option. In fact, the gearbox and the rest of the mechanical set-up, remain the same too, which is no bad thing really. Unsurprisingly then, it’s exactly the same to drive as before, apart from one, very welcome difference. Audi has given the Q3 paddle shifters, and for a lot of owners who drive themselves, this is a great way to occasionally get a bit more out of the fantastic engine-gearbox combination. The motor is smooth, free revving and very punchy, if a little audible inside the cabin. The gearbox is quick to respond too, and then you have to factor in Audi’s Drive Select, which alters the engine, gearbox and steering to fit either Comfort, Sport or Auto modes. As before, the shift from one mode to the next doesn’t dramatically transform the way the car behaves, but you will like the way Sport mode lets it rev to the redline, and how much easier the steering gets in Comfort mode.
Ah, the steering, not a traditional Audi strength when it comes to driver involvement, but its lightness and directness make piloting the Q3 very easy. What is a big strength of the Q3 is its ride. The engineers who worked on the suspension for India and other ‘rough road’ countries have managed to nail a great comfort-handling balance. Okay sure, it will thud hard through sharp bumps, and it is a tall SUV, so you will get some body roll if you go hell for leather in it. But the compromise that’s been arrived at is rather impressive.
Should I buy one?
As we found out when we compared the outgoing Q3 to its competition, it was still the best car in its class, but it was lacking in certain areas. The Merc GLA, for instance, scored higher on feel-good factor and road presence, the BMW X1 (which will be replaced by a brand new model next year) was more fun to drive, and the Q3 missed out on some equipment. This updated Q3 may drive the same as it did before, paddle shifters aside, but it’s clear the other two shortcomings have been addressed this time around. The added equipment does bring it up to speed with the rest, and the bold new face is definitely more eye-catching than before. All these updates have come at a premium, of course, especially considering the new, range-topping Technology Pack, but that was only to be expected. As a product, however, its position as the best in the class has only gotten stronger. And with the model range likely to expand with the return of a 2.0 TFSI petrol variant and possibly, maybe even – whisper it – the bonkers 335bhp RS Q3, there will be plenty of choice within the range as well.