Familiar yet deliciously different

The Q3 is a delightful compact, with a steering response that is crisp and confident.
The Q3 is a delightful compact, with a steering response that is crisp and confident.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Audi's Q3 is breezier and more refined after mid-life revision

Audi has close to 50 models and variants available here. It is the biggest product line-up of any car maker - and that's not even its entire range.

All the cars are powered by three engines. Okay, I exaggerate a little, but you get my drift.

The widespread sharing of drivetrains and platforms has made Audi, along with its parent Volkswagen and its gamut of sister brands, among the most efficient manufacturers in the world.

So, the Ingolstadt car maker has to have extraordinary imagination to make each car feel fresh and new. The facelifted Q3 2.0TFSI is the latest example of that imagination at work.

The car is powered by a 2-litre turbocharged engine, tuned to make 180bhp and an eye-popping 320Nm of torque from 1,400rpm. The unit is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that transmits power to all four wheels.

  • SPECS/ AUDI Q32.0 QUATTRO

  • Price: $213,900 with COE
  • Engine: 1,984cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with manual override
  • Power: 180bhp at 4,000rpm
  • Torque: 320Nmat 1,400-3,900rpm
  • 0-100kmh: 7.6 seconds
  • Top speed: 217kmh
  • Fuel consumption: 7 litres/100km
  • Agent: Premium Automobiles

It is a familiar arrangement, except for its quattro system, which employs a new hydraulically actuated, electronically controlled multi-plate clutch located just fore of the rear differential.

In undemanding situations, power goes exclusively to the front wheels. But when the car senses traction loss or urgency, the system redistributes some power to the rear axle. The result is a crossover that feels light and brisk for most parts, with a puppy-like spontaneity that is refreshing and addictive.

It is more seamless and lag-free than other turbo twin-clutches, delivering effortless progress with a gentle throttle, and palpable punchiness when you are in the mood for spirited driving.

At the same time, it comes across as less stretched than a 1.4TFSI, with reserves you can call upon at a moment's notice. The generally relaxed disposition makes the Q3 an efficient cruiser.

The test-car averaged 9 litres/ 100km, thanks in part to its ability to freewheel when it is in Efficiency mode and your foot is off the pedal. Incidentally, the car feels adequate even in Efficiency mode.

All in all, the Q3 is different enough to be interesting. Cosmetic tweaks make the car appear bigger than before. The angular grille flanked by new headlamps and pronounced faux intakes conform to Audi's new identity.

Its new bonnet, with a slight overhang, draws mixed reactions. It gives the grille and headlamps a subtle indent, which is sporty and interesting. But it also looks like it is not completely closed from certain angles. Other new elements include tweaked tail lamps and plastic side blades running along its flanks to give the car its rugged crossover look.

Inside, the Q3 is familiar, with changes too minor to mention. But because of its untaxed engine, the cabin is quieter. And quietness is a premium.

Ride and handling have improved somewhat. It is still not the cushiest ride in town, but it is appreciably more comfortable than the Mazda CX-5 reviewed also this week. Steering response is crisp and confident no matter how fast you are going and the car displays an exceptional degree of roadholding for a crossover.

It is a delightful compact, with its uncommon driveability matched with a good dose of versatility onboard.

Although smaller than the CX-5 on the whole, it does not feel cramped. And its boot is actually larger (460 litres versus 403).

Its only downside is its price, which is indefensibly high. You would think that a company which enjoys as much economies of scale as Audi would be able to price its cars more competitively.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Familiar yet deliciously different'. Print Edition | Subscribe