On the go with Audi Q3

Audi, which debuted its first SUV in the form of the extra, extra large-sized Q7 in 2007, seems to be going for a dimension reduction programme for every new SUV nameplate coming on stream.

Two years later came the slightly downsized Q5 and just last month, the most compact Audi SUV called the Q3 hit our shores.

Even so, there is talk of a smaller Q2 in the works.

The Q3, which we had the opportunity to test drive recently, still looks big despite Audi’s description of the model being compact. To many Malaysian car buyers, compact seems to bring up images of Perodua Vivas and Myvis. 
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While the Q3 looks much like a scaled-down version of the Q7 and Q5, the compact SUV has a more elegant appearance with a sloping rear windscreen that seems to have drawn inspiration from the trendy A1 hatchback.

Audi has discarded its pioneering daytime running lights using rows of individual LEDs by incorporating more futuristic-looking LED lighting strips (some say its like something out of Tron) in the Q3.

Inside, the premium feel is present with leather upholstery, soft touch materials on the dashboard and window sills, and aluminium inserts and trimming.

The centre 6.5-inch TFT screen is manually-operated like in the A1 and provides high resolution details and images.

A typical SUV commanding view comes with the lanky Q3 while head and legroom for front and rear passengers are more than adequate.

At a time when digital music is mostly stored in portable devices and easily linked to a car’s audio system via an auxilliary cable input or Bluetooth streaming, the Q3 still retains an old school six-CD changer.

Unlike previous Audi models where the CD changer is kept in the glovebox, the Q3’s has been shifted to the rear luggage area.

The 460-litre luggage area can be expanded to 1,365 litres by folding down the split rear seats for abundant luggage carrying capacity.

Powering the Q3 is a 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged direct injection engine similar to that used by the Q5.
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Despite power and torque from the Q3’s engine being dialled down to 170bhp and 280Nm from 211bhp and 350Nm respectively compared to the Q5’s, the Q3’s lightweight construction with aluminium bonnet and tailgate, and quick shifting seven-speed S Tronic dual clutch transmission endows it with a credible 0-100kph charge in 7.8 seconds.

Drive the Q3 with the gear lever in Sport and the transmission will hold on to lower gears for maximum low to mid-range pulling power.

When selected, the drive select modes – Efficiency, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic – alters the Q3’s air conditioning efficiency, throttle response and electric power steering assistance to cover driving conditions that range from easy to highly spirited driving.

In typical German fashion, the suspension is somewhat firmly tuned although the ride is comfortable enough over poorly paved roads.

The firm suspension also does a good job in keeping the tall Q3 from exhibiting excessive body roll when driven fast around sharp corners.

The rally-proven quattro all-wheel drive system which gives plenty of traction, has been set for a front/rear torque bias of 40:60 so the Q3 steers much like a rear wheel drive vehicle.

While the electric power steering has made steering the Q3 effortless, I found the steering assistance in Efficiency and Comfort modes to be “over assisted” and gives a rather numb feel.

Switching to Auto and Dynamic did improve things somewhat although I have driven many other cars which are more engaging in this respect.

With fuel savings a new priority in many new generation cars, the Q3’s bag of tricks include an automatic idle start/stop capability and a “free-wheeling” feature that disengages the clutch from the engine whenever the car is coasting.

I like the idle start/stop feature as it does not activate at every instance whenever the Q3 stops. 
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Its intelligent system takes into account how the Q3 has been driven for the last few kilometres, foot pressure level on the brake pedal and the steering angle.

The engine restart, however, is not as silky as say, a Toyota Prius hybrid but is still smoother than many conventional cars retrofitted with the idle start/stop device.

So there you have it. The Q3 does most things well and few if any at all, badly. If we had to nitpick we would probably say that it’s a little clinically efficient in how it gets things done and one could wish for a more communicative steering wheel.

Equipment-wise, there is much to please owners with six airbags, an anti-lock braking system, electronic stability control, voice control for audio control, leather steering wheel with multi-function control and paddle shifters, and 17-inch wheels.

Priced at RM258,000 on-the-road without insurance, the Q3 can also be enhanced with the S Line package worth RM21,000.
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