New Q3 is a clear step for­ward

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAUNCH/ Se­cond-gen ju­nior Audi SUV just keeps get­ting bet­ter, but not more in­ter­est­ing, writes Michael Tay­lor

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

That the up­graded Q3 will sell is a no-brainer. That it will make pots of money for Audi should be taken for granted, too, be­cause it’s a clear step for­ward from its pre­de­ces­sor in every im­por­tant way, ex­cept two.

It han­dles bet­ter, its ride qual­ity is calmer and its in­te­rior com­fort is ter­rific. Only the sparkle of the BMW X3 and the pop­u­lar­ity of the Benz GLC stand in its way.

At 4,485mm long, the new Q3 is 97mm longer than the old one, with a 77mm stretch in the wheel­base de­liv­er­ing a far more spa­cious rear-seat ex­pe­ri­ence than it did be­fore.

That ex­pe­ri­ence is made all the more ac­com­plished by fit­ting the Q3 with a rear seat that can slide fore-and-aft and a 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat that can re­cline in seven steps. It’s al­most limo stuff at work in what was once Audi’s small­est SUV.

It con­tin­ues be­hind the rear seats, with a min­i­mum of 530l of lug­gage space that rises to 1,525l with the rear seats folded.

The big­gest pos­si­ble headache we can see inside the Q3 is the dump­ing of all ro­tary di­als in favour of us­ing the touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem for ev­ery­thing. Sure, it’s got swip­ing and favourite tiles, like a smart­phone, but it’s a step that may have moved the tech­nol­ogy in the oth­er­wise easy and com­fort­able Q3 out of the com­fort zone for older buy­ers. Es­pe­cially as sim­ple tasks like dim­ming the in­stru­ment clus­ter at night now take four to five touch­screen in­puts to ad­just.

More im­por­tant than any of that, though, is that the Q3 is just plain good and it just plain works, and works in­tu­itively (mostly) and eas­ily.

The stand­out piece of the Q3 puz­zle is the ride qual­ity, the noise lev­els and the body con­trol, all of which lend the SUV an air of calm­ness and lux­ury that be­lies its size and place on the Audi lad­der.

The han­dling is ac­com­plished, rather than fun and lively, but the poise of the chas­sis in every sit­u­a­tion just oozes calm­ness and dig­nity. It could eas­ily lull you into think­ing that be­cause it’s so calm, its re­sponses must be ter­ri­bly slow, but they’re not. They can feel it, sure, be­cause the default Com­fort mode steer­ing setup is light and to­tally lack­ing in con­nected feed­back from the front end, but im­proves in the Sport modes.

The car’s char­ac­ter changes sig­nif­i­cantly when it’s up­graded from the stock sus­pen­sion setup to the S Line’s stiffer springs and a tighter damper tune. There’s also a sus­pen­sion setup with the damper-con­trol sys­tem that re­acts quickly to each road input and even ad­justs for hard brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s this one that shows off the Q3 to its best ef­fect, ooz­ing over the worst road con­di­tions with the dig­nity be­fit­ting a baby Q7.

The only piece of the puz­zle that threat­ens the dig­nity of the Q3’s poise comes from un­der the bon­net. We tested the S Line (stiffer springs) 45 TFSI quat­tro, with petrol power, and the 35 TDI diesel with man­ual gear­box.

Oddly, the highly rated 2.0l TFSI petrol mo­tor feels sur­pris­ingly harsh and thrashy in this guise, though it’s strong ev­ery­where. It has 169kW of power, and that’s backed up by 350Nm of torque. All that re­ally means is that the 45 TFSI has an in­cred­i­bly broad spread of per­for­mance and you can ask it to jump for­ward at any speed, in any gear, and it will sim­ply haul. It will reach 100km/h in 6.3 sec­onds and stretch to 233km/h.

Audi cou­ples it to a sev­en­speed dual clutch trans­mis­sion.

The 35 TDI quat­tro is a pretty nice mo­tor to drive, with 110kW of power and 340Nm. It’s smoother than the petrol four, even if it’s not as so­phis­ti­cated.

The in­te­rior of the new Q3 is vastly im­proved, with more con­nec­tiv­ity than ever be­fore. The driver-as­sis­tance sys­tems have leapt for­ward to in­clude a high­way semi-au­ton­o­mous sys­tem that al­lows the driver to re­lease the steer­ing wheel for short bursts while the car re­mains deftly cen­tred in the lane. It brakes, steers and ac­cel­er­ates by it­self and while the tech­nol­ogy isn’t as so­phis­ti­cated as it is with the A6/A7/A8, it’s pretty darn good.

Other than be­ing irked by the split-level screens (and that might just be me), the rest of the in­te­rior pack­age is con­vinc­ing and com­fort­able. It’s as though Audi’s goal was to make life as calm­ing and un­de­mand­ing as pos­si­ble here, too.

The new Q3 is due in SA to­wards the mid­dle of next year.

The big­gest pos­si­ble headache inside the Q3 is the dump­ing of all ro­tary di­als in favour of us­ing the touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem for ev­ery­thing.

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