Petrol Q3s start with a turbocharged 1.4-litre unit driving the front wheels. It’s powerful and rarely forces you to change down on steep hills. In fact, we'd choose it over the more powerful 2.0-litre engine since that one is available only with quattro four-wheel drive, and is less efficient as a result.
At the top of the range sits the RS Q3. It’s all-wheel drive and automatic only, and gets a 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine. It's extremely quick in a straight line; there’s even a Performance version that’s quicker still, thanks to a power boost.
Of the two diesels, the lower-powered unit is the best. It’s easily strong enough to cope with a full load, pulling from low down over a wide band. The higher-powered diesel feels more strained under load and is hard to justify.
For the most comfortable ride it’s worth sticking with SE trim, or deselecting the lowered suspension offered on more expensive S line cars (a no-cost option). In this guise the Q3 does a brilliant job of keeping large bumps and ruts under control at low speeds, and keeping the car’s body stable.
That said, even if you do decide to keep the S line model’s lowered suspension and larger wheels, the Q3 does a far better job of keeping its ride controlled than other S line models in the Audi range. Even the lowered RS Q3 remains composed, even over patchy surfaces.
Unfortunately, the faster you go in any trim level, the more uncomfortable the ride becomes. The car thumps into large potholes and expansion joints, jostling its occupants.
Raising the ride height of any car doesn’t do much for its handling but, among rival SUVs, the Q3 deals with it better than most. There’s plenty of grip in tight turns and body lean in corners is fairly well controlled.
S line models have larger alloy wheels than entry-level SE cars, as well as lowered suspension. These contribute to even higher levels of grip and body control.
However, although the steering winds on and off smoothly, and the Q3 is relatively quick to turn in, it doesn’t have a great deal of feel, meaning you can’t quite sense the front wheels biting and so plot an accurate course through bends. Even the high performance RS Q3 fails to communicate with the driver, although it does resist roll better than lowlier versions.
The 1.4-litre petrol sounds less strained under hard acceleration than the 2.0-litre engine. Even so, both engines remain smooth when revved hard. While you might expect the RS Q3’s bigger, sportier engine to be a noisy thing, it can be refined, too.
The diesels are slightly more audible, and they send a little more vibration through the steering wheel and pedals. However, when compared with the likes of the BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA, the Q3’s diesels are more refined.
At a cruise you can hear the tyres growling a little, particularly on the larger wheels of S line models, but wind noise rarely exceeds a murmur on any model.
The six-speed manual gearbox’s shift has a well-weighted, precise quality, making the Q3 an easy car to drive around town. Similarly, shifts from the automatic S tronic gearbox are quick and smooth.
All Q3s come with a wide range of manual adjustment for the driver’s seat as standard. There’s also the chance to fine-tune the Q3’s headrest and seatbelt heights.
Even entry-level SE trim has sports front seats with electronic lumbar support. Full electric seat adjustment is an optional extra. Every car gets an adjustable central armrest between the front seats, and you won’t have to stretch to reach any of the controls on the Q3’s dashboard.
Unfortunately, no matter how comfortable the driver is able to make themselves in their seat, manual Q3s have slightly offset pedals, meaning long journeys can be uncomfortable.
The Q3’s narrow front windscreen pillars are a boon when approaching roundabouts and T-junctions because they don’t obscure oncoming traffic. Similarly, the side view is good because the car’s window line is low.
The view over the driver’s shoulder isn’t as clear because while the rear screen is big enough, the thick rear pillars get in the way. That said, it’s still better than the over-the-shoulder view in a Mercedes GLA.
In any case, over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t such an issue when parking the Q3 because every version has rear parking sensors as standard.
Every version of the Q3 has a manually retractable 6.5in colour screen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, eight speakers and a multi-function steering wheel.
Controlling it all is easy. Rather than a touchscreen, there’s a rotary dial and buttons located half way up the dashboard and within easy reach. Everything is labelled clearly and is large enough to hit accurately on the move, too. Moving through the menus on screen is just as easy, so picking your favourite radio station is a simple task, and connecting a mobile is easily done. S line Plus and RS Q3s come with sat-nav as standard, and punching in a postcode is stress-free.
Options include an expensive BOSE surround-sound system, and sat-nav on SE and S line. There’s digital TV reception, too, but it’s expensive and only available with the even more expensive Technology Package that brings a large hard-disc memory and a smarter sat-nav.
The BMW X1, Mercedes GLA and Audi Q3 are all classed as premium SUVs, but the Audi beats the Merc and matches the BMW for cabin quality. Every surface is made from high-quality plastics, and the areas you come into regular contact with feature soft-touch materials.
The dash is equally impressive because it looks classy and all the switchgear feels nicely damped and substantial, even though the design is pretty conservative. In particular, the Q3’s MMI infotainment controls feel very slick.
The front of the Q3’s cabin isn’t the roomiest in the class – a BMW X1 has slightly more head room, for example – but it offers more than enough space for tall passengers. There’s room to stretch your legs out, shoulder room is generous and the front doors have a wide and tall opening for easy access.
Both front doors have pockets that are long enough to fit a one-litre bottle. There’s also a handy, non-slip cubbyhole directly beneath the climate controls, tucked behind the gear lever, which is useful for throwing keys or a wallet into.
In front of the gear lever are two good-sized cupholders that will easily accept a large takeaway coffee cup or smaller water bottle.
Next to the Mercedes GLA’s rear cabin, the Q3’s looks positively huge but again, the BMW X1 has the edge over the Audi. Don’t be fooled by the Q3’s tall stance; there isn’t really any more space in the rear than you’ll find in a regular family hatch.
That means two adults can sit comfortably, but taller adults will find their knees pressing against the front seat backrests, and may complain that head room is tight. The chances of three adults sitting side by side comfortably are pretty slim. Access to the rear for average-size people is decent thanks to a wide door opening but, again, tall adults will find that they need to stoop to get in.
Even so, the Q3 isn’t hopeless as a family car because two teenagers, or three younger children, will fit across the back seats, even if three child seats will be a squeeze. The Q3’s flat floor in the back will keep the middle passenger happy, too.
The rear doors also get pockets that will take a one-litre bottle, the middle seat back folds down to become an armrest and there are usefully deep pockets on the front-seat backrests.
The Q3 comes with 60/40 split-folding rear seats as standard. You fold them down by pressing buttons on the outside of the rear headrests. This is more effort than some of the boot sidewall lever systems found in some SUVs, but at least the rear seat backs are relatively lightweight, making them easy to fold down.
All Q3s come with manual adjustment of the front passenger seat as standard; this includes height, fore and aft, and backrest angle. Electrically powered lumbar adjustment is also standard across the range. Full electric seat adjustment is an optional extra.
Wade through Audi’s long options list and you’ll find there are useful – and inexpensive – add-ons such as a folding front passenger seat and a through-load facility. Both extra make it easier to transport long items.
Official figures show that the Mercedes GLA has a bigger boot than the Q3 (481 litres vs 420 litres) but, in reality, the Q3’s boot makes it the easier to live with. It has a wider opening, which means bulky items can be loaded more easily, and it can accommodate more stuff under its parcel shelf. A large pushchair will fit but a set of golf clubs probably won’t.
The boot floor is not adjustable but there’s some storage beneath it, and it sits almost flush with the opening. There are also a couple of useful cubbyholes in both front corners of the boot, and you don’t have to stretch too much when reaching up for the open tailgate.
It is possible to increase boot space to 460 litres by specifying the no-cost, optional tyre mobility kit, which replaces the space-saver spare wheel. However, even if you do this, the rival BMW X1 is an altogether more practical alternative.
Compared with other small SUVs such as the Nissan Qashqai, the Audi Q3 looks expensive to buy. However, it's priced in line with other premium alternatives such as the BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA. Its strong image will ensure it holds on to a lot of its value over the time you own it, too, and help deliver competitive contract hire and personal contract purchase (PCP) rates.
When it comes to engines, the Q3’s entry-level petrol option is cleaner and more frugal than those offered by the car’s direct competitors, and its diesel engines, while not class-leading for efficiency, are still relatively cheap to run by the standards of the small SUV class.
So far we’ve only put our favourite version of the Q3 – the lower-powered 2.0 TDI 140 (the predecessor of our current favourite, the 2.0 TDI 150) – through our real-world True MPG test, during which it returned an impressive 46.9mpg.
Entry-level SE-spec Q3s make the most sense. They come with plenty of equipment, making it difficult to recommend spending any extra money. The list includes 17in alloys, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors.
The S line’s additional features such as dynamic suspension, 18in alloys and xenon headlights are more ‘wants’ than ‘needs’. Don’t forget, too, that you can take the S line’s stiffer suspension back to more comfortable SE setting for no extra charge.
Spending even more on S line Plus’s even larger alloys, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and sat-nav makes even less sense, given that you can add these items to SE trim for less money.
However, be warned, the Audi options list is long and some of the items on it are very expensive.
Audi performed poorly in our latest reliability survey, where it finished 31st among the 38 manufacturers included. It seems Q3 buyers aren’t any happier than the norm, with the Q3 the second most unreliable small SUV in our most recent customer satisfaction survey. Only the BMW X1 proved less dependable, and the Q3 lags behind other rivals, such as the Mini Countryman, Volkswagen Tiguan and Skoda Yeti.
The main problems highlighted by owners were with items such as the rear doors, the fuel filler cap, the CD player and excessive tyre wear. All Audis come with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, though, which can be extended to either four years and 75,000 miles, or five years and 90,000 miles. Meanwhile, the mileage cover included with BMW’s and Mercedes’s free, three-year warranty is a more generous 100,000 miles.
When compared with its small SUV rivals, the Q3 falls short of the class best but still performs well with regards to safety. In fact, examining its five-star Euro NCAP rating more closely, it’s evident that the model’s child protection rating is near the top, although its pedestrian rating is only average.
The Q3 provides most of the safety kit you’d expect: six airbags, including curtain bags that extend into the rear of the cabin, electronic stability control and ISOFIX fittings for the front passenger and two outer rear seats. However, automatic emergency braking isn't available.
There’s a long, and largely reasonably priced, selection of optional safety and security kit including visual and acoustic front and rear parking aids, rear side airbags, and active lane assist and blind spot assist.
To ward off thieves, deadlocks, locking wheelnuts and an alarm are also included. It’s enough for the Q3 to have earned five-star ‘theft-of’, and four-star ‘theft-from’ ratings from to security experts Thatcham.
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