Zurich, Switzerland, was a rather unexpected setting for a drive, but once I got there I was actually quite happy with it because the city and its surrounding areas gave me the ideal urban-country mix to test-drive the new Audi Q3. The compact mini SUV is the exciting new model from the Bavarian car maker that promises to also light up its portfolio and sales in the Indian market when it arrives here by April.
The Q3 appears a bit deceptive—it looks almost like a fully grown hatchback on the one hand and very much like its bigger sibling, the Q5, on the other.
The advantage is that it delivers the Audi SUV styling character while still appealing to the urban buying sensibilities of practicality and compactness. But the real clincher will be the price—and that is indeed the card Audi is playing in its home market of Europe. But since the idea is also to aim at emerging markets, the Q3 blends in a lot of what markets like India need.
The Q3 is just under 4.4m long and is 1.6m high. That makes it truly compact. The interiors are not cramped, especially the rear seat. The boot space is also a surprise—460 litres, expandable to almost 1,400 litres if you collapse the rear seats. The usual frills like the infotainment system which Audi calls MMI or multi media interface, the optional panoramic sunroof and adaptive cruise control, as well as safety features like the side assist (which helps you change lanes safely) are on offer.
The ‘Q’ experience: The Audi Q3 will come to India by April.
I drove the 2-litre diesel model with 140bhp on tap. This was not a top-of-the-line variant, so it lacked some of the bells and whistles like the sunroof and leather seats. But it did have the six-speed manual transmission, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The car has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which is offered with higher specification variants. The Q3 also has the same 2-litre diesel engine offered with 177bhp output, as well as a 2-litre petrol with 170bhp and 211bhp options. I expect the diesel to drive sales in India, though.
I was a little taken aback at finding that it lacked the car-like handling I expected. That is because this vehicle is based on the same platform as Volkswagen’s Tiguan—which is a very compact SUV that does drive more like a car. So the Q3 has more SUV-like handling characteristics than I expected—but perhaps that is intentional since some buyers would want just that from their Audi SUV! Thankfully, the overall driving dynamics are still satisfying and the Q3’s engine and gear response as well as its impeccable build quality see it through.
The car I drove lacked the famed Audi all-wheel drive or quattro system, but for the most part I didn’t find the performance missing it. Yes, the car with quattro definitely drives better, and is more SUV in its characteristics.
The Q3 will be aggressively positioned in India too—just like Europe—but I fear that Audi may not get as aggressive as BMW did with its X1. The two vehicles are fairly different in attributes, but will compete head-on since their positioning and pricing will be in the same territory. BMW opted to go two-wheel drive with the X1 only in India, and offered the petrol in only a base variant at a jaw-dropping starting price of Rs 22 lakh. Audi may not strip down its Q3 to match that, but I believe there is a case for the lower output engine, front-wheel drive, as well as the manual gearbox option—to keep prices in check. All buyers may not necessarily want leather and chrome, and may be fine with eight speakers on their music system instead of 14!
Buyers will find this product exciting though, and the bigger brutes like the Toyota Fortuner, Hyundai Santa Fe and the upcoming upgrade on the Chevy Captiva will feel the heat from the new Audi when it arrives.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com