Audi Q3

Audi Q3 2018 review - hero front
Audi Q3 2018 review - hero front

The second-generation Audi Q3 compact SUV is launching in a marketplace a world away from the one the original version entered in 2011.

Then, the Audi was one of a rare breed. Now that the segment has exploded, not only does the Q3 now have a plethora of rivals – the Volvo XC40, Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz GLA for starters - but also its own baby SUV sibling.

The Audi Q2, launched in 2016, replaces the Q3 as the marque’s entry-level SUV, and Audi naturally wants plenty of differentiation between the two. As a result, gone is the first-generation bulbous crossover and in its place is a chiselled vehicle looking to play a more serious SUV game, at least in styling terms.


It's heavily inspired by the new, flagship Audi Q8. It’s also larger than its predecessor, which again gives more breathing room between it and the Q2 and, of course, promises to also improve interior space, something that was criticised in the first generation, particularly in the rear seats.

That makes it the longest in the segment at 4485mm, 97mm longer than the outgoing car and 46mm longer than the BMW X1. The Audi's wheelbase has also grown by 78mm to 2681mm which is identical to the Jaguar E-Pace’s, but not class-leading.

Understanding the Q3 line-up

The other major changes to the car relate to technology and driver assistance systems, bring the Q3 up-to-date with its newest siblings, including the range-topping Q8 SUV.

What’s most notable about the new Q3 is its relative good value for money. The entry-level Sport trim in 1.5-litre 35 TFSI guise starts from just under £31,000 and has a plethora of decent features thrown in. For starters, it has LED lights, the MMI Navigation plus infotainement system, 10.2in Virtual Cockpit screen, power-operated tailgate, rear parking sensors, cruise control and lane departure warning.

There are two more trims, S-Line and Vorsprung, with S-Line expected to be the biggest seller.

From launch, there will be three TFSI petrol engines and one diesel engine. The most popular engine will be the 1.5-litre TFSI with 148bhp and 184lb ft, badged 35 TFSI and driven here, followed by the 2.0-litre diesel with 148bhp and 251lb ft, badged 35 TDI. A second diesel with 187bhp will arrive later. All versions will be available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission and either front-wheel drive or quattro all-wheel drive.

No electrified versions are offered, but a plug-in hybrid is expected further down the line.

How does the Q3 perform on the road?

Behind the wheel, the Q3 is a mixed bag. You’d expect it to be a better car than its predecessor, and in some ways, it is, but there are some blips that come as a surprise.

Firstly, the engine. The turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol with cylinder-on-demand (temporarily switching off cylinders at low load) works beautifully in the Volkswagen Volkswagen Golf – smooth, refined and effective. But in this Q3, it’s not the same story. In terms of power, the unit is perfectly sufficient for the car’s weight and in this sense, it’s likely to be the most sensible choice for an average Q3 driver.

It achieves 0-62mph in 9.2secs and moves along happily on urban roads, country lanes or the motorway. The sticking point is how that power is delivered. Even from low speeds, you can hear the gruff engine really having to work hard to achieve results. The sweet spot is between 2000 and 4000rpm but even then, you can notice turbo lag. Put your foot down above 4000rpm, and the engine revs in a deeply unhappy fashion.

This disappointing set-up is more noticeable when paired with the seven-speed dual-clutch Tiptronic gearbox, which regularly struggles to find its feet. It coasts along effortlessly, but any other time, you get the sense it’s always trying to change up – probably to help fuel consumption – and can’t respond appropriately when it unexpectedly goes down a gear or you’ve put the throttle down and it needs to, perhaps, jump two gears.

Those two criticisms stand out as something which you’d have expected Audi to have nailed. While not confirmed by Audi, we suspect it’s an effect of the new WLTP test cycle, and that other engines might have similar characteristics. Sibling brand Volkswagen has already admitted that some of its engines aren’t so effortless as a result. Talking to Autocar on the topic earlier this year, Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess said: “The risk is that we lose a bit of the performance and responsiveness of the engine".

Despite those foibles, there are plenty of positives. We were in the entry-level Sport trim with 18in wheels - the smallest offered - and front-wheel drive, and the ride was compliant and comfortable, albeit on mostly smooth European roads. Our car was probably as comfortable as it’s going to get, with Audis traditionally only getting firmer as you go up the range. Adaptive dampers are an option, which should help counter this. Volvo's rival XC40 probably just wins on the ride front, being a smidgen more supple, but it’s a close call.

While the XC40 might be softer, the Q3 wins hands-down on the handling front. The steering is precise and has a lovely rate of progression – thanks to Audi’s ‘progressive steering’ which it says “becomes gradually more direct as the steering angle increases”. It’s on the light side, which will suit most Q3 drivers dotting around the suburbs, but if you want to add some extra heft, changing to Dynamic mode of the Q3’s six driving configurations will do the trick.

It’s brilliant around corners. In our front-wheel-drive car, the Q3 kept excellent grip and composure coupled with accomplished body control. This might not be a car made for mountain roads in Italy, but it’s certainly capable of tackling them. A drive in the more powerful 2.0 45 TFSI with four-wheel drive showed it to be even more accomplished.

The jury’s out on its off-road capabilities until we try it, but the Q3 gets the latest Haldex system and a new off-road mode for the few owners who will want to take their small SUV off the beaten track.

Audi has nailed space in this car, something that was a must following the criticism of the first-generation Q3. Rear passenger space is dramatically improved, even for tall occupants, and boot space is more flexible thanks to rear seats that slide rearward by up to 150mm and a boot floor that has three levels. Boot space ranges from 530 to 675 litres, beating German rivals, the X1 and GLA.

Audi interiors are among the best in the business and the Q3 is no different, benefitting from the latest systems and infotainment. It was a bold move to remove the rotary dial – meaning that everything except a volume dial is now controlled via a 10.3in touchscreen. It’s a growing trend, but for now, there’s still a microsecond’s delay when operating the screen, which is enough to distract a driver on the move. The XC40 is guilty of the same, and it’s a close call as to which is the more intuitive to use. The Q3 might just cut it, but it’s largely down to personal preference.

One claimed improvement is the Q3’s answer to Siri. Called a ‘natural-language voice control’, we asked it a series of straightforward questions, for example, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, ‘how far to our destination?’ and not a single one was recognised. Voice recognition has a long way to go.

How does the Q3 fare compared to its rivals?

If you have a penchant for premium German marques, the Q3 might have the edge over its rivals thanks to the old age of the X1 and GLA, but if you’re willing to look further – towards the quirkier XC40 or less premium, but impressive, equivalents such as the Seat Ateca – it becomes a trickier decision.

Still, plenty of people will buy the Q3 – the last generation was Audi UK’s fourth biggest seller – and be perfectly happy with the product.

But what Audi has failed to do here is to produce a surefire class leader. It’s a good car but lacks finesse in the engine and gearbox department while the infotainment system has a little work to do.

The 35 TFSI is the pick of the range, based on its ability and affordability.

Save you money 59
Save you money 59