Audi have a problem and deep down they know it. When it's late, after one too many drinks and when no one's looking they might even grudgingly nod in agreement: all their cars look too similar. Yet, while Audi's SUVs have the very same problem it actually is not a problem. Audi have marketed, positioned and made the Q7 so deliciously desirable that everybody wants one. Yet not everybody can afford one so they buy Q5s. And now those who can't afford a Q5 have something very compelling to look forward to. Say hello to the grandson of the Q7, son of the Q5 and the X1's biggest nightmare - the Q3.
Looks good doesn't it?
The Q7/Q5 lineage clearly shows through in the overall form and sweep of the lines but the Q3 has been thoroughly updated with Audi's latest style book. Like on the new A6 the trademark inverted-trapezoid grille now becomes a hexagon courtesy the chamfered top edges and it's a line that is reflected in the slash cut edge of the headlamps that flank the grille. It gives an edginess to the nose that its elder Q siblings don't have. This is further accentuated by the new arrangement of de rigueur LED daytime running lamps that use 'light scatter' technology to present a full and contiguous beam instead of individual LEDs.
The profile and particularly the wraparound tailgate presents a strong Q-family line but the tailgate gets a steeply raked profile to give the Q3 a younger and more dynamic, even fastback-ish rear end. Allied to the black-plastic cladding that runs along its length, the Q3 presents a properly SUV-like stance and style which will be its biggest trump card.
As will the interiors. Sure this isn't a Rs 50 lakh Q7 or a Rs 40 lakh Q5 so you can't really expect the same material quality inside. But that said this is the best sub Rs 30 lakh cabin around and if you are looking for things that have been stripped out or skimped on you will not find it here. The general layout follows familiar Audi themes but there has been a bit of mix-and-match (like air-con controls from the A3/TT) and unique bits like the newly designed steering wheel which will now find its way to the rest of the Q range and the infotainment setup with a screen that pops up from the top of the dash. The good thing about this is that the lower variants, which won't get the screen and MMI+, will not have a blank gaping hole in the dash. Survey the cabin closely and you will find some hard plastics, the first time I've come across them in an Audi, but considering the expected sticker price I have no complaints.
Equipment levels are comprehensive with the European top-spec cars getting in-built satellite navigation which is linked to Google Maps (via 3G) for even more comprehensive and detailed maps. Audi, as yet, doesn't offer navigation on their cars in India but with BMW beginning to roll it out across the range this is only a matter of time. But that will only be on the top-spec variants; the lower versions which will make up the bulk of sales in India won't get MMI+ or the pop-up screen but will still have a dual-tone cabin, climate control, leather seats, fully-specced sound system and, hopefully, no panoramic sunroof which, as we've seen on the Q5 and Q7 just doesn't work under our harsh Indian sun.
Move to the rear and you won't be disappointed. Space isn't generous to the point that you'd buy the Q3 to be driven to work in but neither is it cramped to the point of making four-up journeys a no-no. There's enough head and knee room for a comfortably intimate cabin but don't go putting in five people because that'll be a squeeze. Boot space is tight at 460litres (marginally better than the X1) and you will struggle to fit in anything more than weekend bags but all things considered the Q3 is more commodious than the X1 despite running on a smaller wheelbase (2603 mm to the X1's 2760 mm).
It also rides much better than the X1 and that will significantly sway buying decisions in this segment. We drove the Q3 near Zurich and Swiss roads are nothing if not excellent but over the rare sections where road works were going on the Q3 displayed impressive suspension compliance and bump absorption on its 16 inch wheels.
Allied to that good ride is the light steering that makes easy work of parking and maneuvering in the city while not being too light for high-speed motorway use. In fact the Q3 is genuinely good fun to chuck around, living up to its sporty billing and on this front at least it easily bests both the Q5 and the gargantuan Q7. It's rare that you come across an SUV that is actually sporty - the Q3 is one of them. It handles with authority, there's a lovely fluidity to its motions, the steering is responsive and there is excellent grip on offer from the Quattro four-wheel-drive. And that will be another key differentiator when the Q3 come to India. While the X1 is only rear-wheel-drive the Q3 will be offered with four-wheel-drive to highlight its SUV credentials.
Three engine options are penciled in for the Indian Q3. The base variant will be the 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel making 140PS and driving the front wheels. Audi is also mulling over a manual transmission for this engine to further cut costs and play up the fuel efficiency numbers but a final decision is yet to be taken. In fact fuel efficiency is a big talking point on the Q3 with the Drive Select featuring an Efficiency mode that cuts engine responses and slows everything down to get the best possible mileage and this includes interfacing with the air-conditioning and cruise control. Drive Select also has the usual Comfort and Dynamic modes which alters the responses and weighting of the engine, gearbox, suspension and steering to suit your mood but unlike the A6 there is no Individual mode where individual parameters can be independently set.
The Q3 we drove had the same 2.0-litre diesel but making 176PS of power and 380Nm of torque mated to the S-Tronic 7-speed twin-clutch automatic and driving all four wheels. With the Q3 tipping the scales at 1585kg this engine propels it to 100kmph in a claimed 8.2seconds and on to a top speed of 212kmph. It might be very rapid then but the Q3 is also impressively refined and only when worked hard does engine noise filter into the cabin. Rest of the time she is hushed and feels properly premium with refined and very impressive road manners.
I also drove the top-spec petrol that gets a 2.0-litre TFSI direct-injection turbo-charged petrol making 211PS of power, 300Nm of torque and is good for a 6.9second 0-100kmph run. With the diesel obsession this engine is unlikely to find too many buyers but Audi will nevertheless make it available to the few Indian customers who want even more refinement and performance.
Ultimately though what will make or break the Q3 is pricing. Audi is looking at a premium of one lakh rupees over the X1 which means a starting price of Rs 23lakh for the entry front-wheel-drive diesel (the X1 range, remember, starts with a petrol) going up to Rs 31 lakh for the fully-loaded top-spec diesel which gets quattro. To me these are prices which, guarantee a killer response to the Q3. After all when you can get a shrunken Q7 for half the money of a full-size Q7 few Indians are going to say no.