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Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 177PS review (2012 onwards)
Model: Audi Q3 2.0 TDI (177PS) Quattro SE S tronic
Bodystyle: five-door compact SUV
Engine: 2.0 four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: seven-speed twin-clutch automatic
Date of test: November 2011
What is it?
Audi's newest entrant into the 4x4 market, joining Audi's larger Q5 and - gigantic - Q7 models. Since this new car - deliveries start in November 2011 - is but a foot shorter than the Q5, one might wonder why it bothered. But this is a growing market, and one where Audi feels it needs to cover all the bases: advances in factory technology now mean that building different cars on the same production line - and thus economically - are now possible.
The Q3 range starts at £24,560 for a front-wheel-drive only 140hp diesel, but this particular four-wheel-drive model starts at £28,460.
Where does it fit?
Audi is not the only company to have noticed the growth in this market, which is getting more and more competitive as a result. At one end you have much cheaper - and less prestigious - cars like the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti.
Slightly closer still, price-wise, there is the Volkswagen Tiguan (to which this car is related), while the obvious direct prestige rival is the newish BMW X1. Mercedes-Benz doesn't play, however; its GLK model is not available in the UK or indeed any right-hand-drive markets right now.
But the elephant in the room is the newly arrived Range Rover Evoque, with diesel models from £28,000. Its dramatic looks - plus the allure of a previously unaffordable brand name - have already won the cars legions of fans and thousands of advanced orders.
And don't forget the striking new Kia Sportage, the creation of Audi's former design chief and available from just £17,295.
Is it for you?
In contrast to many cars, Audi is aiming this new model at a very wide range of people: young couples, young families and empty nesters. At 4.385m, it is the same length as a Ford Focus but offers the off-road possibilities of four-wheel-drive and better ground clearances - as well as a look some will prefer.
What does it do well?
This small car still manages to exude 'Audi-ness' - from the signature LED running lights to the plush interior - and these alone will win it many sales. This model features a powerful, smooth 177hp diesel engine which barrels the car along, eagerly aided by a quick shifting seven-speed transmission, enhanced by manual paddle-shifts if you want them - a £240 option.
Yet its long legs mean that the engine runs at just 1,400rpm at 60mph in top - which promises fine economy, even on this weighty 4WD model. Body control is very impressive for such a tall car, with eager handling and turn-in. Yes, this school-run SUV actually seems to enjoy changing direction.
What doesn't it do well?
Considering its fine roadholding, it's a shame that the car's steering seems so lifeless and lacking in feedback - even when the Audi drive select (a £220 option that electrically adjusts throttle response, automatic transmission and steering) is set to its 'dynamic' mode. For many buyers this won't matter, but it does undermine the good work done by the car's handling and drivetrain - and Audi's self-confessed sporty aims for the car.
Its 460-litre boot is respectable - but when the occasion demands, the seats-down number of 1,365-litres may not impress, especially against the gargantuan possibilities of the Yeti, which effectively converts into a van with windows and offers 29% more space. The price paid for the car's impressive handling is a firm ride, which on rough surfaces verges on the uncomfortable, and I am reliably informed is inferior to that of the Evoque; I haven't driven that car yet.
Finally a minor niggle: the rear-view mirror is tiny and looks like it has been pinched from a TT. While it may be fine on a sporty coupé, any mum or indeed dad will tell you that a large mirror is useful beyond its abilities to let you see what car's behind you - they want to view the children on the back seat too.
What's it like to live with?
Audi introduces a subtle new dashboard design in this car, with a slight tilting of controls towards the driver. And it feels solid as a rock, with the same calibre of plastics used on much posher Audis. The infotainment system is broadcast on a large, centrally located high-resolution screen and its intuitive operation is frankly a delight to use. The leather and Alcantara sports seats (a £1,195 option) are supportive and feel and indeed smell great.
The dials are amazingly clear and impressive-looking, as is the info-screen located behind them, which informs you in high-res about the car's major functions via wheel-mounted controls. The interior to my eyes beats the Evoques.
The car's transverse-mounted engine allows a relatively short bonnet, which maximises interior space. Indeed, our test car, equipped with a panoramic glass roof (a £1,100 option), felt almost roomy, and rear legroom is surprisingly decent.
How green is it?
Audi claims that, at a combined 47.9mpg and 156 g/km of CO2, this 177hp 4WD model is the most economical in its class, bettering the X1 and the Evoque by 5% and 10% respectively. Additionally, this figure excludes the benefits of a new technology called 'coasting' and available on all s-tronic automatic transmission cars like the one tested here if they have the aforementioned Audi drive select option.
Essentially, at speeds above 12mph and a gradient less than 12% downhill, on throttle lift-off the car disengages the engine and offers a small economy advantage - it's effectively start-stop, but on the move. We used it on a mixed condition test route and achieved around 41mpg combined: decent for a four-wheel-drive automatic.
Would we buy it?
At the car's UK press launch on glorious and empty north Yorkshire roads the car seemed to make a lot of sense. What made less sense was the bumper load of options fitted to our test car, which took its price up to a scary £40,040. This is even worse in the context of the Skoda Yeti that can be had as a diesel from £16,170 - though of course on premium rivals the options are hardly given away.
But the decision to buy this car may come down to emotion: do you like the look of it, and its four rings on the front? The Audi brand alone will doubtless help shift many, but the car's ordinary looks won't win many fans. Instead, I suspect that many people buying in this segment who demand fine looks as well as a smart image will go for the glamorous baby Range Rover: who could have known that a car from Merseyside could beat the Germans at their own game?
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