Audi’s rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW are busy bringing in expensive, high-end hatchback cars in the form of the A-class and the 1-series, but Audi isn’t joining the fight with the A3 Sportback. Instead, the carmaker is taking its baby SUV a few notches down in price to compete directly with the aforementioned hatchbacks. The advantage of this strategy is quite plain to see – the Q3 is more SUV than hatchback and, as such, will be bigger and offer better perceived value than the Merc or the BMW. Throw in the Indian love affair with the SUV, especially one that has four rings on its nose, and you can see that this move by Audi is more clever calculation than gamble. What will also help tremendously here is the fact that Audi will start assembling the Q3 in India, thereby attracting less duties.
And that’s not all. Audi’s taking another unprecedented step – this Q3 2.0 TDI (it will be called the Audi Q3 S) will come with a six-speed manual gearbox and won’t have Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Also, the key challenge for Audi lies in cutting down on equipment without making the Q3 feel too pared down – buyers will still expect it to feel like an Audi.
The Audi Q3 S we got is a test mule and has fabric upholstery, manual seat adjustment and all-black interiors, but the company says the final car will have all the trappings that customers will expect from an Audi, and that means leather seats, climate control and the optional sunroof. What it won’t have, and what might matter to owners, are Audi’s signature LED headlamps, which were just too expensive to leave on the Sport’s standard equipment list.
The front-wheel-drive Audi Q3 comes with a lower powered 140bhp 2.0-litre engine, identical to the one in the A4. Audi knows that for buyers of entry-level luxury cars, the badge is more important than the engine. They don’t want best-in-class performance as long as they are not left wanting. That’s exactly the case with this Q3. Press down on the light clutch, engage first gear and you’ll discover a smooth clutch action. The Q3’s engine makes a healthy 32.6kgm from as low as 1750rpm and torque stays healthy till 2500rpm.
The Audi Q3 S is quite enjoyable to drive – the gearbox is slick, light and positive and you will often find yourself shifting gears just to revel in the shift action. This Q3, despite its lower power (the Quattro comes with 177bhp), never feels slow. This is partly due to the fact that this car, at 1445kg, weighs a considerable 140kg less than its all-wheel-drive sibling.
That means this two-wheel-drive Q3 gets to 100kph in 9.9sec as against the Quattro’s 8.3sec – not too bad a disadvantage, and in the real world, has more than enough performance. Compare it to rivals like the BMW X1 and the Mercedes-Benz A 180, and you’ll see that it is pretty much par for the course.
Like we’ve come to expect of recent Audi diesels, this four-cylinder, 2.0-litre TDI is smooth and very refined, and Audi’s ARAI-certified fuel efficiency figure is a decent 17.3kpl.
As for the way it drives, this Q3, in the dry conditions we drove it, had plenty of grip and we really didn’t miss the all-wheel-drive traction of its sibling. The handling is secure, if uninspiring, and the Q3’s stability at speed is rock solid. It rides well too – the suspension is pliant and handles broken surfaces well.
As for the insides, even on this test mule, fit and finish are as good as you would find on any Audi, and there’s really no difference in the way the dashboard looks in the Q3 S. The dials are the same, the steering wheel and gear lever are leather wrapped, and there’s even an MMI system. Sure, there is some lightness to build quality, but even in this trim, the dashboard feels a lot more interesting than say the BMW X1’s.
This is a compact SUV, so the cabin is a bit cramped, especially at the rear. Legroom and headroom are just about adequate, but not if you’re very tall. The seats are nicely cushioned and have a nice upright stance that’s good for long drives. Compared to the A-class, the Q3 is far more spacious and practical but then again, compared to the stunning looking baby Merc, the Q3 looks boring. If there’s a weakness, we feel it’s with the Q3’s styling – it’s too generic and fails to excite.
Audi plans to price it at Rs 24.99 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), a good Rs 2.5 to 3 lakh less than the current Q3’s starting price. At this price, Audi also hopes it will tempt people who are in the market for other soft-roaders like the CR-V and the Captiva.
As is, the new Audi Q3 S is a reasonably spacious, practical and well equipped soft-roader that will appeal to a broader spectrum of people than its intended competition. It comes with a strong, refined diesel engine, an easy-to-use manual gearbox and has most of what owners will expect from an Audi. We think Audi has a winner on its hands.