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Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 140PS SE review (2012 onwards)
Model: Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 140hp SE, £25,065 (£33,095 as tested)
Bodystyle: Five-door compact SUV
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, 140hp @ 4,200rpm, 236lb ft @ 1,750 - 2,500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Efficiency: 54.3mpg combined, 137g/km CO2
Date of test: May 2012
What is it?
The Q3 has been crawling the streets of suburbia for over a year now, but faces stiff competition in the premium compact off-roader segment. The Audi has its work cut out to usurp the car of the moment, the Range Rover Evoque, from its spot as the most popular vehicle in class.
The Q3 does have price on its side though. Starting from £25,065 it's good value - a trait Audi seems to be realising can help it sell more cars these days. Our test car was an entry-level front-wheel-drive Q3 in SE trim, although it did feature a lengthy options list taking its price to £33,095.
Your fellow golf club members might shoot you a derisory glance in the car park, but you'll be safe in the knowledge your savings have paid your subs for the year. And it's still an Audi, which means a decent interior, excellent refinement levels and solid handling and performance.
Where does it fit?
This is Audi's bread-and-butter Q3, the bottom rung of the small premium 4x4 ladder. But just because it rides on smaller alloy wheels as standard (which actually improves things) and only sends drive to the front, it doesn't mean you should dismiss the smallest Q-car Audi makes.
Interestingly, the Quattro versions only drive the rear wheels when the front's start to slip. If you're driving on snow then maybe it'd be a welcome addition, but day-to-day - and with a vigilant and responsive ESP system that quickly curtails any nonsense from the front axle - do you need the four-wheel-drive car and it's £2,400 premium?
In fact, if you're looking for an off-roader that will probably never do any off-roading, then the two-wheel-drive Q3 could be right up your firmly tarmaced, not muddied or rutted, suburban street.
Two-wheel drive is more than enough
Is it for you?
For the type of driving most Q3 owners will do, the front-wheel drive vehicle makes sense. The most rugged terrain it is likely to encounter is either mounting the curb or a grassy car park at a point-to-point.
Two-wheel drive is more than enough for this and 54.3mpg combined with 137g/km CO2 emissions - meaning £120 road tax - will certainly save you money at the pumps compared to the four-wheel drive's 38.7mpg average and 174g/km CO2 (the all-wheel drive Q3 is only available with the more powerful 170hp engine, you see).
If it's a small SUV you're after, then you've basically got three choices. The Audi Q3, the Range Rover Evoque or the BMW X1. In base spec, the X1 is £405 cheaper than the Audi, while the Evoque is a massive £4,895 more expensive.
Our car was £33,095 as tested, including a self-parking system, 18-inch alloy wheels, a DAB radio and Audi's Technology, Xenon headlight and Panoramic sunroof packages at £1,495, £1,150 and £1,100 respectively among its lengthy options list - but you don't need all that equipment.
the least powerful Q3 in the line-up is certainly not slow
What does it do well?
It's not a hot-hatch killer by any means, but the least powerful Q3 in the lineup is certainly not slow. There's a decent slug of torque available low down - 236lb ft at 1,750 to 2,500rpm - which combined with the Q3's 1,445kg curb weight makes it spritely.
The engine doesn't emit a clattery diesel tone either - instead, the motor produces a muted gravely sound that means you don't actually mind revving it out - which, incidentally, it will do well. It's smooth all the way to the near 4,800rpm redline.
The car's steering is nicely weighted if not the most communicative setup. Instead, you're left to judge what the car is doing through the bends via the amount of roll from the chassis. Impressively though, it's kept to a minimum and the Q3 displays impressive and solid handling.
What doesn't it do well?
The ride is on the firm side with the optional 18-inch alloys fitted to our test car.
As a result, the motorway cruise can be a bit of a pitchy affair - especially over harsh expansion joints - and the flat base of the Q3's seats means the onset of numb-bum syndrome after about an hour and a half behind the wheel (for this scribe, at least).
It has a feeling of a jacked up A3
Our Q3 was specced with the £690 optional BOSE surround-sound stereo. It's a great unit and gives a full sound, but due to the location of the bass speaker, eats into boot space, impinging on practicality.
It has the feeling of a jacked up A3, which unsurprisingly, is basically what it is. It's no bad thing though. The A3 is a fairly sound package dynamically and the Q3 carries this through well, for the most part - a bit more roll is evident, but you expect that. It's the price you pay for the elevated driving experience.
What is it like to live with?
Like any Audi, the Q3 is perfectly agreeable. It's interior isn't as flash or showy as a Range Rover Evoque's cabin might be, but it doesn't mean quality is lacking.
It's refined, solid and ergonomically sound and the Q3 is easy to get along with. There's plenty of room in the interior and boot space is still adequate even with the optional stereo fitted.
Standard equipment is pretty generous too - SE trim gets a 6.5-inch colour display, voice-controlled Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, dual-zone climate control, multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers and stop-start fitted as standard.
The optional self-parking system works well and means if you're not the most confident at manoeuvring - provided you get the preparation stage right - you'll be able to parallel and bay park with ease.
Ultimately it's slower than a whizz behind the wheel would be, but it is accurate and does make living with the car nice and easy. You've still got to look over your shoulder though...
How green is it?
Combined fuel economy of 54.3mpg with 137g/km CO2 emissions is pretty much on a par with the 2.2-litre diesel Evoque's 56.5mpg average and 133g/km CO2 - although the Evoque's engine does yield 10hp more over the Audi's unit.
performance and efficiency are competitive
The updated 2012 entry-level BMW X1 sDrive18d returns 57.6mpg combined with 128g/km CO2 emissions, dropping it into the £100 road tax bracket compared to the Audi's £120 effort. It's only a small saving, though.
So, performance and efficiency are competitive, if not class-leading, but ultimately the size of your fuel bills will come down to how you drive the car rather than quoted tenths of a mile per gallon.
Would we buy it?
If you're in the market for a compact upmarket 4x4 but don't want to get silly with the budget, the entry-level Q3 should definitely be on your test drive list.
The BMW X1 has been updated for the second half of 2012, but although cheaper, it's arguably showier and not quite as modest. The Q3 is more demure, but can still be a fun partner when the mood takes.
It's bound to hold its value well - offsetting the breath-catching prices of the options list - and this, combined with solid build quality and feel on the road, makes the Q3 a worthwhile buy.
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