FIRST DRIVE | The new 2019 Audi Q3 is a SUV of few criticisms
Brenwin Naidu saddles up with Ingolstadt's handsome new premium compact SUV offering
At the South African launch of the Audi Q3 last week, dinnertime conversation was dominated by one topic. That was the death of Volkswagen Group doyen Ferdinand Piëch, who breathed his last on August 25, aged 82.
There seemed to be a general consensus at the table. Yes, the words “diesel” and “gate” might have besmirched the twilight years of his lengthy tenure at the automotive monolith. In contrast, the vast catalogue of pioneering technical achievements he was credited for cannot be ignored. Not suggesting that the latter eclipses or justifies the former, of course.
This former chairman, described as fearsomely autocratic in his management style, was the reason for a slew of notable creations. That includes the Bugatti Veyron, Volkswagen Phaeton and the original Audi Quattro.
Writing about the ignominy of the emissions scandal, journalist Christiaan Hetzner of US publication Automotive News accurately encapsulated the impact of Piëch: “A world-class eccentric but a figure of transcendent importance in the history of cars and car companies" who had “possibly (the) most significant automotive industry career this side of Henry Ford.”
No easy task, being at the helm of a conglomerate with such a breadth and diversity of brands under one roof. Ask current Volkswagen Group CEO Dr. Herbert Diess if his thoughts at night ever stray away from ensuring the sustainability of Bentley, Porsche, Ducati, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Seat, Škoda, the Volkswagen namesake and, of course, Audi. Oh yes, Audi. After a decidedly quiet period in 2018, the manufacturer opened the gates for new products this year.
First up was the Q8. Now the second-generation Q3 has landed. As you can see, a chisel was used liberally to tauten and sculpt away the blobby, bulbous physique of old. It has grown, too: longer by 96mm, wider by 18mm and with a 77mm increase in wheelbase length. It does have a flatter top, however, with a negligible 5mm trim versus the previous car. According to Audi, knee room, headroom and elbow room have been improved.
It certainly felt like so in this area of packaging – one abiding memory of the former car was its seemingly narrow door apertures. As well as the impression, when settled into the driver’s seat, that you were sitting atop the vehicle rather than inside of it. No longer the case, we are happy to report. Those ergonomic quirks have been remedied and the feel behind the wheel is far more natural.
Equipped with the S-Line package, our tester even sported a flat-bottomed steering wheel, as if we were piloting something of the RS persuasion. Audi went crazy with the hexagon and octagon shapes in the cabin. It seems to be their thing. Top marks for those interesting door-release handles: angular strips floating in recesses, connecting flush with the trim that spans across the upper panel. Little details make the difference. As for the tactile quality, well, the brand has always had this area down pat.
You already know of the goodness you can expect in this department. Not much to be said about the Multi Media Interface (MMI); which should not be inferred as a criticism, because it works as slickly as expected from a digital infotainment system in 2019. For the most part, however, Android Auto supplanted its duties – the setup offers integration for this and the Apple Car Play rival.
Its WhatsApp dictation and seamless harmonisation of Waze meant one could focus on one’s foremost duty as a motoring journalist – driving, obviously! No faults to be levelled at the chassis, as we gleaned over challenging dirt roads and some of the finest mountain passes offered by George in the Western Cape. The underpinnings are of proven mettle, as the Q3 employs the Volkswagen Group’s widely-used MQB architecture (the technical designation is MQB27A2 in this case).
There is one power source for now: the 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged derivative mated with a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic. Whilst trying to hustle up and through a section of asphalt spaghetti around Knysna, my loins yearned for more than the promised 110kW and 250Nm on offer. Of course, in the real world (trundling around town and maintaining the limit on the freeway); the application of such a motor is adequate. Objectively, there are no glaring criticisms against the new Q3. Is it too expensive, perhaps? Pricing ranges between R565 000 and R599 000, before options.
Par for the course, really, since the BMW X1 kicks off at R517 400 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class starts at R532 321. For reference, its cousin from a different category, the Volkswagen Tiguan plays in a similar ballpark, costing between R442 900 and R592 200.