JOHANNESBURG - When it comes to catering for the crossover and SUV craze, Audi has not let the grass grow under its feet, at least not in the figurative sense. Nowadays you can have a ‘Q’ model in just about any shape, size or flavour, some of them now even sporting coupe-inspired shapes and others taking a more practical approach to life.

The Audi Q3 is the second smallest member of the Q family and with the recently launched second-generation now having hit the scene with a more grown-up overall feel, it certainly has the potential to be the ‘Goldilocks’ model in the line-up - the one that’s big enough to meet most needs, but small enough to be nimble and relatively economical.

Indeed it is a bit bigger than its predecessor, with overall length having grown by 97mm and width by 25mm, and it’s also got a more resolved look about it than its slightly pudgy predecessor, although there is arguably a bit too much grille upfront. Still, the new Q3 does pack in some of the Q8’s design flavour, and those seeking an even sportier shape can wait for the Sportback version with its sloping tail.

From an engineering perspective the new Q3 joins most of the Volkswagen Group army by moving onto the modular MQB platform, but local models don’t get the 1.5 Evo turbopetrol engine offered abroad, instead a 1.4-litre TSI, with outputs of 110kW and 250Nm, is the only engine option -  driving the front wheels through a standard six-speed S Tronic dual-clutch gearbox. A 2-litre turbopetrol variant is likely to join the range in the not-too-distant future.

While the 1.4 TFSI looks decent enough on paper, our test unit had a bit of trouble launching off the mark at Gauteng altitudes. In fact, if you stomp on the pedal with full force on take-off (which you might become inclined to do given the lagginess), the car can take seconds to even start moving. However, in time I found I could mitigate this to a degree with gentler pedal movements on pull-off. Sure, it was still slow off the mark, but there was at least some movement. This seems to be an altitude problem, however, as the cars I drove at the launch in the Southern Cape back in September did not display this trait.

Once the turbo is spooling however, the Q3 delivers satisfactory performance regardless of the elevation. It’s not necessarily fast, but there is enough power to overtake relatively easily.

I was also impressed by the overall chassis balance. By SUV standards it’s surprisingly stable and composed through corners, but it’s not too stiffly sprung either, and the ride remains comfortable, even on dirt roads. Like most contemporary SUVs, this is not a bundu basher, although if the optional Drive Select is fitted, there is an off-road button that adjusts various settings to mitigate rough roads. This is a car that will comfortably tackle everything from city avenues to twisty country roads as well as the dusty dirt path to your favourite holiday destination.

As a family vehicle the Q3 is certainly passable. Hopping into the back, my average sized frame fit comfortably behind my driving position, but you don’t get the same kind of abundant legroom as you do in some of the other SUVs competing at this price point, such as the Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V. The Audi is certainly versatile, however, thanks to a sliding rear seat that allows you to adjust the ratio between rear legroom and boot space - which varies between 530 and 675 litres depending on the seat’s position.

Yet what impressed me most was just how classy it looks inside. Sure, Audis have almost always had cabin ambience taped, but this Q3 is a paradigm shift with its sweeping horizontal lines and uber-classy textures - you’ll even find a layer of suede cloth sandwiched between two sections of the dashboard.

It’s highly digitised too, with even the cheapest version packing a basic digital instrument cluster, but you will have to pay R3900 to upgrade to the nicer Audi Virtual Cockpit. In fact, you might not be able to resist spending an extra R33 000 on the Technology Package, which also includes MMI Navigation Plus, Contour ambient lighting and ‘alloy-look’ interior trim. This is one of six basic packages that Audi is offering in place of traditional individual optional extras as it seeks to streamline its ordering operation.

What’s standard then? 

All Q3 models ship with a 10-speaker MMI Radio Plus entertainment system with voice recognition and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, as well as dual-zone climate control, cruise control, auto lights and wipers and a multi-function steering wheel. The standard seat trim is a combination of real and synthetic leather.

The base Q3 comes in at R565 000, while the more stylish Advanced trim grade commands R585 000 and the S Line is a R599 000 deal.

VERDICT

The Q3 is an expensive entrant, and we were unimpressed by the turbo lag at altitude, but the compact SUV impresses in just about every other respect, with its solid road manners and extremely classy, as well as versatile, cabin.

IOL Motoring