Audi's baby Q3 grown bigger, smarter

Peter Atkinson
The new Audi Q3 is a compact SUV with plenty of style

As parents, we love watching our little ones grow up.

How they develop - becoming more resilient, stronger, more stable and more able to take care of themselves.

And by those measures, German car maker Audi must be particularly proud of the one-time baby of its SUV fleet, the snappy little Q3.

A perennially strong seller for Audi since its release back in 2012 - not to mention an important gateway into the ambitious brand - the original Q3 has made way for an all-new, second-generation model that recently arrived in Australia.

Not only has this compact SUV gotten bigger and smarter, but it's grown into the strong, silent type without losing any of its fresh appeal, and is well equipped to join the battle for the hearts and minds (and wallets) of up-and-coming young urban families.

The trouble with these "entry level" models from the premium makers has often been that while you pay for the fancy badge out the front, you don't necessarily get the same expected levels of quality when you get inside.

That was true, to a degree, of the original Q3. But no more. This new version feels every bit worth the $52,750 (plus on-road costs) that you'll pay for the car tested here - the Q3 35 TFSI Launch Edition.

This category is a real battleground in the Australian market - where virtually every brand has a legitimate contender, each with a different value proposition.

So good are the affordable Japanese (Nissan Qashquai, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4), Korean (Hyundai Kona and Kia Sportage) and mid-range European options (Renault Kadjar, VW Tiguan) that the German prestige marques have been forced to lift their games, very considerably, just to remain ahead of the chasing pack.

The Q3 certainly manages that.

It's been an important, and unquestionably successful, ingredient in Audi's quest to rattle the cages of Germany's "big two", Mercedes and BMW, where traditional Q3 targets are the well-established BMW X3 and, more recently, the classy Mercedes GLC.

We've driven both recently and there's no question they deserve their place at the table. But the A3 makes an equally compelling case.

With a starting price of $42,900 (for the basic front-wheel-drive model) the Q3 has always represented a good way to get that coveted four-ring logo onto your bonnet. This new iteration adds plenty more reasons why that is the case.

Outside styling is beautifully resolved - crisp, clean lines, a powerful stance and enough "bling" to underline its premium status.

But it's inside where Audi has made the real advances with the Q3. The original model was nicely put together, well appointed and fun to drive, but the new model cranks up the luxury factor with classy, bespoke finishes (including glossy touch-screens, classy alloy trim and lashings of leather).

Cockpit design is fundamentally the same across the Audi range now - from the flagship Q8 down to the recently relaunched baby hatchback A1. All utilise multiple video screens with iPad-like clarity and resolution.

In the Q3, that technology is impressive for a car that's so relatively affordable. The twin-screen digital display and operating system (Audi has done away with all analogue instruments) is aesthetically stunning and also very tactile, with a haptic "click" for all touch-screen interactions.

It goes without saying that the new-gen Q3 is bigger than the previous model, having added 77mm to its wheelbase. It's gained a roomier and more flexible interior (including rear seats that can be moved forward or back by 150mm), not to mention more cargo space (530L).

What hasn't grown is the engine - which in the case of our test vehicle was a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol (110kW, 250Nm) - driving all four wheels via the familiar Quattro system.

Audi will also offer the Q3 with a choice of two-litre, turbocharged engines (one petrol, one diesel) - but to be honest we were more than satisfied with the performance of our lesser-powered test machine.

The seemingly puny 1.4-litre, turbocharged engine is surprisingly spirited and never feels overmatched by the car's expanded dimensions. The numbers might seem a little modest (110kW, 250NM) but it is smooth and quiet and delivers more than adequate performance, be it around town or on the open road. It also blends well with the six-speed S-tronic automatic transmission. The payoff is a frugal 5.8L/100km thirst, thanks to a cylinder-on-demand system that shuts down up to two of the four cylinders when cruising on minimum load.

The "Launch Edition" does get a few little trinkets that you might not get if you buy the equivalent car in months to come, but that's a nice way for Audi to welcome new owners. And, to be honest, it's preferable to getting the same handful of "extras" when the car is nearing its use-by date and they're trying to squeeze out a last few sales.

Standard equipment is generous and stretches to integrated WiFi hotspot, a navigation system that recognises driver preferences and offers route suggestions based on previous journeys; Google Earth display on navigation and Bang and Olufsen premium audio.

Adaptive cruise control with traffic jam and active lane assist hint at semi-autonomous capability.

A car that's big enough, and grown-up enough, to drive itself, you could say.

My, look how this baby has grown.

AUDI Q3 35 TFSI

HOW BIG? A compact premium SUV but more than ample for two adults and three kids, plus a big cargo space in the back.

HOW FAST? The 1.4-litre engine tested here takes a relaxed 8.9 seconds. But that's quick enough to satisfy most family motorists.

HOW THIRSTY? The clever cylinder deactivation system keeps the thirst down to a modest 5.8L/100km.

HOW MUCH? Entry-level models start from $42,900. The well-equipped Launch Edition model tested here costs $52,750 plus on-road costs. Without this option, the model costs $46,400.