We get to drive #CarQuiz 137! We took out the new Audi Q3 and this is what we thought.

It’s a freezing cold February day and my bum is being positively toasted to a crisp by this car. In fact, on the highest setting these heated seats are a touch too hot for my liking. Anyone blessed with a good acreage of backside surface area in need of serious grilling take note though: this may be the car you are looking for. Figuring out who this car is for, is foremost on my mind actually while I am going through the motions of getting to know this Audi Q3. It is not an easy question to answer.

I have driven a fair number of modern Audi’s recently and, given the manufacturer’s ruthless execution on giving all new cars the same basic design components (and indeed many actual components), it is resulting in this Q3 having a very familiar feel to it. I know this two litre 211 horsepower turbo engine well. I know this twin clutch semi-automatic gearbox (S-Tronic in Audi speak) well. I like them both very much and even with this compact car weighing in at over 1500 kg, they still manage to provide more than adequate performance. In my opinion this engine and gearbox combination is an example of some of the amazing technology a car buyer can get for his money in this budget segment nowadays. It also feels like I know the interior very well; it is a truly nice and quality place to be. Strangely though, the familiarity of it all is taking some of the excitement away from getting to know this new Audi.

In the Dutch market this Q3 is competing in the “Premium Compact-class SUV” segment with two main competitors. The battle with the BMW X1 in my opinion should be over very quickly because of the “Honey, I’ve shrunk AND melted the X3” appearance of the Bavarian contender. The Q3 is simply a much smarter car to behold. The Range Rover Evoque is a more interesting proposition to compare it with. However in a similar four wheel drive, four door, two litre auto transmission configuration like the Q3 I am driving today, the Rangie is nearly ten thousand Euros more expensive on the Dutch market. So from an “in class” competitive point of view the Q3 seems well positioned.

From an “in brand” competitive position though, things are less clear to me. I have driven Audi’s A4 as well as the A5 Sportback in the same engine and gearbox configuration in the very recent past and finding significant differences between these cars and this Q3 as an ownership proposition is proving quite difficult. An A4 Avant with the same engine, gearbox and quattro drivetrain is less than two thousand Euros more expensive than the Q3 over here. A similarly configured A3 is over 4000 Euro cheaper. So, what differences should a potential Audi customer expect of this Q3 compared to the more traditional choice of the A4 Avant? In my observation this is what it comes down to:

– A higher seating position. This seems important to some people for either visibility and/or “easy in- and egress” reasons. So, for people dealing with insecurity issues in traffic and elderly citizens then.

A Ferrari 308 GTB. Well, not really..

A Ferrari 308 GTB. Well, not really..

– A steering wheel that sits strangely flat in the interior. I suppose this could be helpful to people who like to fantasize that they are driving either a vintage Ferrari 308 or a builders van (the numbers must be huge).
– A notable introduction of some chassis roll when you push on a bit in corners in the Q3 compared to the A4/A5 platform (at least on this passive suspension car, active damping is available as an option). How much of this “pushing business” potential buyers for this car will get up to is another question though and the Q3’s handling is perfectly adequate otherwise.

– Finally there is the image issue. It is hard to exactly put a finger on it, but to me it is something along the lines of “I would ideally like to run a big SUV, but my perceived environmental and anti-social concerns, as well as economic factors are at play here and this Q3 just happens to be scaled down in size AND in price to the exact level that I will let myself get away with” for the Q3. A bit more complex than the neutral “it’s a nice small station wagon” image of the A4 then.

Other than these items this Q3 is really another great quality Audi product that is very hard to find fault with.

And then it hits me what is bothering me about this car. It is the fact that I am wondering who this car is for, rather then what this car is for. To me this car simply does not offer anything significantly better or different than product that is already available from this very manufacturer. In the process of launching product after product to address further subsections of the automotive market, it seems Audi has finally found a niche that fails to deliver a product that convinces me it makes sense. From a business point of view I will no doubt be wrong though. Audi shipped record numbers of cars in 2011 and you can bet that this model will contribute to Audi’s 2012 objectives.

So there you have it. The Q3 is a well-built, well driving, small SUV which makes good on its premium image. It is almost certain to make anyone actually looking for such a vehicle a happy and proud owner and with Audi’s great residuals and quality it should be a predictable and painless customer experience. Me? I’d have an A4 Avant thank you very much.

I’d like to thank Audi Wittebrug (@audiwittebrug) for it’s positive and pro-active attitude towards CarQuiz and for making the Audi Q3 available to us. Don’t just take my word for it, contact them to arrange your own test drive!


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