This small Audi SUV lacks style but oozes class
Thursday 02 February 2012
Price: From £24,560 (TFSI Quatto, £25,690 as tested)
Engine capacity: 2.0 litres (170 PS)
Top speed (mph): 132
0-62 mph (seconds): 8.2
Fuel economy (mpg): 38.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 174
The launch of the Q3 takes the number of models in Audi's range to 38, which might be thought to contain a lot of choice and diversity – but many of those cars are very alike. Audi is new to the market for small SUVs yet anyone who is familiar with the company's cars could have told you how the Q3 would turn out, because it follows the standard Audi recipe to the letter.
Many of the parts you can't see are shared with other products made by the Volkswagen group (that's generally a good thing) but most of the bits you can see – and touch – are not and they look and feel better than anything you'll find just about anywhere else. It's all in the details.
But the thing that really makes an Audi an Audi is its appearance. The smooth, unfussy look first seen on the 100 in 1982 has, with endless adaptations and refinements, been applied to almost every model since and big changes, such as the adoption of deep radiator grilles a few years ago, designed to give Audis the distinctive "face" they previously lacked, have been few and far between. That's good for long-term brand building, because each of Audi's cars is immediately and unmistakably recognisable as a representative of the marque.
It's even better for residual values, one of the foundations of Audi's emergence as a true rival for BMW and Mercedes – previous generations of cars don't look too different from the current models and are more attractive to second-hand buyers.
So are there any snags with this approach? Well there do seem to have been some difficulties in adapting the Audi look, first perfected on saloons, to the rather different proportions of SUVs. The first attempt, the enormous Q7, didn't really come off, but the Q5 was better and the Q3 is handsome in a sober sort of way. I think the company has also avoided, for now, getting stuck in the sort of rut that eventually led Jaguar to discard its traditional design language for something different a few years ago.
However, the rigid adherence to the Audi style manual has also left the Q3 looking a bit plain and that's a problem when the competition includes the outrageously attractive, attention-seeking, head-turning Range Rover Evoque. My guess is that most people would cross a car park to gawk at an Evoque, but they could quite easily pass a dozen Q3s on the way without even noticing them. And as a Land Rover, the Evoque has an unmatched off-roading pedigree as well. That's not important from a practical point of view – hardly anyone is going to get a Q3 or an Evoque muddy – but just about everyone who buys an SUV still likes to think their car could cope with the rough stuff.
But how will it all look in the long run? Land Rover's new to the fashion business. Following up on the Evoque could be difficult. It scores plenty of points with all that attention to detail – and very competitive performance, CO2 and consumption data. Buy a Q3 and you can't go too far wrong, even if you do end up finding yourself casting the occasional wistful glance at an Evoque.
The competition: Mercedes doesn't sell the GLK in the UK, so the Evoque and BMW's X1 are the Q3's main rivals here.
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