First drive: 2015 Audi Q3 and RS Q3 in Germany
Let’s face it, the Audi Q3 is not a big seller in the GCC. We never even drove one before either. But we went all the way to Munich, Germany to try out the facelifted 2015 model. And to be honest, it’s a pretty nice car. Especially in RS Q3 form.
The Audi Q3 is essentially a hatchback on stilts, designed for those who prefer the ride height of an SUV with the city-friendly size of a small car. Crossovers of this size are all the rage in Europe and elsewhere nowadays where fuel prices are very high, but in the GCC, they sell fewer of these than their larger Q5 and Q7 brethren.
It can be had in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive form with a variety of engines, but only two 2.0-litre “TFSI” 4-cylinder turbo variants are confirmed for our region, the “180” one with 177 hp and 320 Nm of torque, and the other “220” one with 217 hp and 350 Nm, both mated to 7-speed automatics. The RS Q3 Quattro, with the 335 hp 2.5-litre 5-cylinder churning out 450 Nm via a 7-speed automatic, is not coming to the UAE anytime soon, although it still has more of a chance than the 148 hp 2.0-litre “TDI” turbo-diesel model we also drove there, with 340 Nm of torque through the front wheels and a 6-speed manual!
The Q3 features the usual conservatively-styled Audi interior, with just enough firm “soft-touch” surfaces on above-the-waist areas to match its rivals. Lower surfaces are all hard-plastic, but the leather-padded areas are done well, matching the pretty leather-trimmed seats. The seat-bolstering is thicker on the RS model, for obvious reasons. Space inside is decent, both front and back, with a good-sized cargo floor, even if the upper volume is compromised by the sloping roofline. There’s also a dial-controlled multimedia/navigation screen that gets easier to use over time, if you know where to look for certain options.
The Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI Quattro we drove was the “180” version. The engine isn’t going to set the world on fire in a drag race, but its low-end torque is very good so it feels strong in part-throttle acceleration. The motor also settles down for silent highway cruising even on the Autobahn where we were legally doing 170 kph. Mated to a decent automatic, this engine is perfectly adequate for daily driving duties, so we suspect the “220” version will be more than adequate for a bit of fun, going by our experience of that powerplant in other Audi-Volkswagen products.
The Q3 rides fairly smooth, with acceptable sound-deadening. It’s not jiggly in the slightest, which is a good thing when doing Autobahn speeds, and the handling is expectedly car-like. There’s nothing in the way of feedback from the steering, but it is fairly direct and responsive, as are the brakes.
The Audi Q3 2.0 TDI version drives exactly the same, except for the characteristic clatter of the diesel engine. The example we drove was front-wheel-drive and manual, so it was a bit more entertaining to drive, with wheelspin on take-off and an easy shifter-clutch setup. With an early redline, the engine wasn’t as spritely as the petrol version though, so it not being offered in the Middle East isn’t a huge loss.
The Audi RS Q3 on the other hand is a more interesting beast. With more than 300 horses on tap, it feels respectably rapid, although most of the kick is at the higher revs. The exhaust note is suitably grunty, with racy crackles on occasion, but it’s somewhat muted compared to its pricier siblings such as the Audi RS7.
The lower-riding RS can be had with optional damper control, which lets you choose between “comfort” and “sport” settings, among others. In “sport,” it rides firmly and confidently, with every road imperfection felt clearly. Switching to “comfort” only introduces a bit of floatiness at high speeds, but the jittery ride stays due to the ultra-low profile tyres. Still, it’s not a bad way to kill distance on the Autobahn.
The RS Q3 is a proper corner-carver, even in the slightly damp weather that we were driving in. Point, and it will shoot with tremendous grip from the “Quattro” all-wheel-drive system. It is nearly impossible to upset the system, whether turning into a curve a bit hot while braking or generally just flooring it out of turns. It’s all a bit too clinical, but it’s safe at speed. The sharp steering is responsive, but lacks feel. The brake pedal offers up a linear action, making it easy to dial in as much braking power as you need to the big brakes.
But getting back to the Audi Q3, it is a very nice car, and the real definition of a crossover. It’s supposed to be a well-appointed and practical city-runner that also happens tackle highways, gravel roads and mountain twisties with competence, being an Audi after all. However, as straightforward as its goals are, it kind of falls in a niche between the smaller A3 and the larger Q5, all yanking at the purse-strings of the same consumer set.
For detailed specs and prices, visit the Audi buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury and Audi.