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!


#CarQuiz 61 Estate of mind. How to feel cool in a practical automobile.

Until the age of around 16, a ridiculously large proportion of what happened in my head centered around cars. Only when girls started to compete as an object of my attention and it turned out not all of them were as interested as me in discussing, at length, the design intricacies of the McLaren F1, that it seemed developing something approximating a personality became a necessity to me.

In those days my car future was crystal clear to me. I would spend my days roaming the highways, passes and b-roads of Europe in something with two seats, a blaring loud engine behind my back and the pedal to the proverbial metal. I would, off course, ignore all the practical considerations I’d read about in my car mags and laugh in the face of such mundane thoughts.

Oh, how the reality of automotive life has slapped me in the face with its oily rag. The fun car I have tucked away somewhere spends most of its time, well…, tucked away. I now spend my days and miles behind the wheel of a “lifestyle estate” car with my kids in the back like most everyone else. Still, somehow, my perception has miraculously changed and I still  manage to feel smug about my current situation. How does that work then?

Off course, as you may correctly be arguing, much off that is directly attributable to a highly self-centred personality. Anything I am doing must be cool right? Right…? Some credit must be given though to the car manufacturers targeting the relevant demographic: burdened by offspring and other practical considerations but still in that phase of their life where they will part with a nice slice of hard-earned for something that will make them feel good about themselves.

So where lies the genesis of the nice estate car? Nowadays we seem to take for granted that Audi Avants, Alfa Sportwagons and BMW Tourings have a touch of cool about them. But where did that all start?

Please don’t talk to me about woodies or other wood grain adorned Americana. You may seem cool on the way to the beach with that surfboard on the roof right now, that was

VW hässliches Entlein

certainly not the case when these were originally designed for the dollar spending house fathers in suburbia. The VW type 4 Variant may also seem like a most excellent base for that cool project car you have been pondering. However if you want to know how it was perceived when launched I suggest you look up the German for “ugly duckling” (don’t bother, its “hässliches Entlein”).

It’s going to be very hard to pinpoint the exact starting point for cool estate cars (but please use the comment field below to add your suggestions). A full 20 minutes of desk-top

Why don't we just have our, ehrm, pick-nick in here Romy?

research reveals to me however, that 1959 must have been a pivotal point from a European point of view. It marks the start of production of both the Citroën DS break and the answer to #CarQuiz 61, the Saab 95. Either of these cars must have made quite an impression on a 1950’s young father in a car buying mood. I guess it must have been down to whether you were more prone to some aerospace heritage and picturing yourself “piloting” your Saab, or if you saw yourself as a budding Alain Delon picking up Romy Schneider for a spot of “picknicking” in a field. I’m pretty sure I would have been a sucker for either of them.

"That's right! Ice... man. I am dangerous"

CarQuiz 45: Saab Sadness

As I am writing this, Saab is literally falling apart. My compatriot at the helm Victor Muller is seeing the foundations of the company, built on solid chunks of Carlsson, Blomqvist, Viggen, Iconic Turbo and 2-Stroke V4, coming apart at the seams. Memories from Childhood passenger rides in Saab Turbo’s, of that amazing brand image and of the “black-panel” display in the 9-3 that I ran for a while are all making me rather sentimental. I bet it’s the same for many of you. As another iconic brand is biting the dust, I’m left reminiscing about the seemingly great things that were on offer in the past by now defunct brands.

Look mum, just like a McLaren F1!

The three seater sportscar! Where did it go? A lifetime of being dragged across France on holidays has firmly imprinted the Matra Murena in my memory as something completely desirable. Was having three seats in a row really that bad an idea for a mid/rear engined car?

I hold those same parents entirely responsible for my complete adoration of cars in a segment that is very hard to describe. In my mind I call them “Espadrille cars”. Off course the manufacturers of the main protagonists in the market niche: the Citroën Mehari and the Renault Rodeo are still very much alive but I’m not so sure about the Mega Tjaffer/ Ranch producer of more recent days.

Try saying this in your best Captain Bertorelli accent: “Aaaah, V12’s are for pussies! Real

whadda mistaika to maika!

men need a V16!”. This must be a close approximation of Giorgio Moroder’s thought process when he kicked off the Cizeta V16 project. And wasn’t he just a bit right? Don’t we all need a bit of V16 in our lives?

Final example: Innocenti Mini. Take a normal mini, get it restyled by Bertone and bring it to market with a brand 100 times cooler than British Leyland and jobs a good’un one would think. The fact that BL went bankrupt within a year of launch may prove otherwise but I take solace from the fact that De Tomaso kept the model alive until 1993.

Many of you may by now realise there are reasons why I’m not a huge big shot in the automotive industry. Off-course all of the above examples are seriously flawed in one way or another, no doubt aiding to some extent in the downfall of their manufacturers. But by Jove do I love them! And when I walked up that street yesterday and spotted that 9-3 Viggen, I knew full well this was far from a perfect car. My heart still jumped though and for that moment there was no other car in the world that I wanted more. Goodbye Saab.

Perfect? No. Want? Certainly.

CarQuiz 43: I wonder what a TVR app would have looked like

Do you regularly have the uncontrollable urge to rush out and buy an Audi calendar? As a gamer, is the one thing you are yearning for a game of Mercedes-Benz Quartet? When you are surfing for car videos on the Web, do you only wish to do so through a channel where all content is pre-approved by BMW group? Do you want an immersive 360 degree drive in a fantastic Porsche ruined by some saxophone player with a lisp sitting next to you blithering on about her latest recording?

If your reply to these questions is anything resembling “No” or “What are you talking about you massive tool”, I regret to inform you: you are very much mistaken muchacho. You see, Car manufacturers are freeing up considerable budgets these days for the production of Apps for smartphones and tablets. After the rigorous market research these industrial giants had performed to establish their target audience’s needs, the list above is exactly what you wanted your car app to be. Yep, no point in denying it: you favourite car brand has got you pegged.

From Limo's, can I have the Pullman please?

Now I may be completely wrong here. You may be in your thousands out there whiling away the nightly hours on these apps until your previously unsatisfied automotive quartet needs are fully satisfied. My guess is though, that this is not the case. My hypothesis, completely unsupported by research facts, is that many people may download these apps encouraged by the Car Manufacturers PR-machines and the official branding, but that the actual sustained use of them can broadly be categorised as disappointing.

Now if this was just another case of large companies with huge brands trying to find their way into the world of teh Intarweb, feeling out where their respective customer bases might pick up on their activities, this would be fine. Isn’t everyone trying to do so? What is really bugging me though, is that some of these car companies must have been sitting on what must be the Internet equivalent of a Crock O’ Gold since the dawn of the Web.

Just think of these two: “Car Configurator” and “Used Car Locator”. I mean sure: these

My impeccable taste on display via the medium of Car Configurator

items have been lumbering on the main websites of car companies since the Opel Kadett and they must have lost some of it’s sexiness and web-appeal to the budding car-marketeers of this world, but come on! They must know that people spend hours on their websites using them? Every Joe Public that is up for a new lease-car spends a year trying to decide if he’s going for the sunroof or the 18” wheels when he gets to order doesn’t he? Everyone in the market for a young 2nd hand car must look at the manufacturer’s website to see what is available with an official warranty.

Yet, not a single car manufacturer seems to have taken the effort to produce a kick ass car configurator or used-car app. It must be me then. I better fire up that app again that tells me what G’s I’m pulling on my daily commute to see if I can be bothered this time around.

CarQuiz 41: The doors they are a-sinking

So a pop-up headlight is a pretty cool feature for a car in my book; that much is clear. Those who disagree: it’s fine really. Those who are right: good to have you on my side.

So, did the demise of the upwardly mobile headlight leave the automotive landscape completely devoid of any interesting design features? Well if you purvey the dreariness that surrounds one in any given traffic situation on the public road today you can be forgiven for thinking so. However: trust CarQuiz to refresh your memories of those design gems that may have temporarily slipped your mind while you were staring desperately in the ever-glowing brake lights of that Hyundai in front of you at the traffic lights.

A school example of generating massive interest in a car model by introducing interesting design gimmicks must be the BMW Z1. From a long list of original design items THE stand-out feature of the car is the door construction. The doors open by sinking into the sills thus creating both the option to get in comfortably, as well as being able to drive the roadster “oldschool stylee” with apparently no doors in place. Cool? Undeniably so.

Still not convinced? The BMW Z1 was designed by a team led by Dr. Ulrich Bez, Currently CEO of Aston Martin. Much more importantly though, this is the very same man that led the design of both the Porsche 968 AND 993. Now, that ought to settle it.