Had it not been for an impromptu decision to enter a mountain-bike race, I might never have known just how good a gravel-muncher the new Audi Q3 is.
En route to the race venue, there was a gravel road for the last few kilometres and the Audi was called on to tackle bumpy dirt.
One gets so used to not using SUVs and crossovers for their theoretically intended multi-terrain purpose — as opposed to their actual use as commuter cars with a “command” driving position — that their off-tar ability can sometimes take you by surprise.
And so it was with the Q3. Many SUVs arriving at my doorstep for testing are fitted with low-profile tyres more suited to racetracks than real roads — all in the name of aesthetics — and attempting any gravel excursion is asking for a puncture or three. But this particular Audi had real-world tyres with a decently high profile, and what a revelation this car proved to be on the dirt.
It rode the scarred road with yielding suspension that cushioned the worst of the bumps and dips, maintaining a cool-headed cruise even as I pushed the pace. Confidence-inspiring stuff, and I had the impression that all was calm and serene on top while there was much activity happening underneath — like a furiously paddling duck.
And this was with the slightly firmer sports suspension of the Q3 S Line model I drove. I imagine it will feel even comfier on the variable damper control suspension that can be ordered as an option.
Audi Q3 35 TFSI S tronic R565,000
Audi Q3 35 TFSI S tronic Advanced R585,000
Audi Q3 35 TFSI S tronic S line R599,000
Includes five-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan
Being front-wheel driven, the Q3 has no real offroading ambitions but its impressive gravel-road competence makes it worth a look for anyone seeking the occasional off-tar adventure. And it’s very well sealed at that, as very little dust made its way into the cabin during my drive.
What did make it into the cabin with relative ease was my 29” mountain bike — once I removed its front wheel and folded down the Audi’s rear seats.
The second-generation Q3 has grown in size to become a roomier family vehicle, with a generous 96mm increase in length to provide much better knee room than its forerunner. It’s big enough to make you think twice about seeking a larger SUV like the Q5 to meet family-car needs.
Presenting some modular practicality with the improved space in the Q3 are three-way split rear seats with fore-aft sliding adjustments and individually tilting backrests, so that the boot can be expanded from 530l to 675l. That will swallow a lot of holiday luggage, and the optional electric tailgate can be opened and closed with a button press or a foot swipe.
ON THE GRILLE
Wrapping all this improved practicality is a bold and edgy new design, the most striking point being the large eight-sided single frame grille. It makes the second-generation Q3 look more domineering and self-assured in the parking-lot parade.
Like the exterior, the cabin has an edgier look with more geometric forms, including the shapes of the frames around the instrument panel and infotainment, which are inspired by the octagonal grille.
Analogue clocks have become extinct in the new Q3’s cockpit, replaced by an all-digital setup for the instruments and infotainment. The finishes are all typically premium Audi fare, enhanced by plush leather and shiny metal and, if you wish, optional Alcantara inserts for a shot of playful colour.
The vehicle comes out of the box with a high-end 10-speaker audio system including a subwoofer, but a smarter Bang & Olufsen system with 3D sound is available. Six airbags, stability control, and ABS brakes make up the safety complement.
Our test vehicle was kitted with R150K worth of optional extras, including Drive Select which offers different driving modes, electrically adjustable front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, lane departure warning, wireless smartphone charging, and navigation.
The new Q3 range is sold at three different specification levels, all sharing the same 35 TFSI drivetrain. Following the modern trend of small turbo engines, the Q3 employs a 1.4l petrol with outputs of 110kW and 250Nm, through a six-speed S tronic auto transmission. It’s a punchy and easy-revving peformer through suburbia, stretching its legs comfortably on the open road with a top speed of 204km/h, while a restrained right foot will see it sipping just 5.9l per 100km, says Audi.
It’s a classy midsized premium SUV all round, with comfort, cool tech, and better-than-expected dirt road comfort — if you stick to the high-profile tyes.
• From the December edition of Wanted 2019.