Audi seems to be on a mission to fill every remaining niche in the new car market, and the Q3 is already a talented contender in the compact SUV class. On its road test debut last year, the four-wheel-drive quattro model saw off the challenge of the BMW X1
and Ford Kuga
, but this will be a tougher test.
The front-wheel-drive Q3 is a close match for the Evoque eD4 on paper, although it gives its rival a head start for looks. Parked beside the attention-grabbing Range Rover, the Audi appears mundane. Its designers have simply reduced the dimensions of the Q5 and the result is tame and predictable. Even sporty S line trim (the car in our pictures is an SE) fails to add the necessary visual flair.
So, before we even step into any of the cars in this test, the Audi has it all to do. Even the older Volvo looks more interesting than the rounded Q3, which is a shame, because the Audi’s cabin is characteristically hard to fault.
Designing and executing brilliant interiors is what Audi does best and this car’s cabin is another triumph. Its simple instrumentation, logical dashboard layout and intuitive MMI control system combine with a neat pop-up touchscreen display and high-quality trim to impressive effect. The Evoque is more striking to look at inside, but the Audi is its equal in all other respects. And both leave the dated Volvo trailing when it comes to outright quality.
The Q3 is well equipped in S line spec, with dual-zone climate control, part-leather trim, Audi’s Music Interface for iPods, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors all fitted as standard.
What’s more, finding a decent driving position is easy thanks to the wide range of adjustment available from the seat and smart leather-wrapped multifunction wheel. Plus, after a ride in the back of the high-waisted Evoque, rear-seat passengers will feel less claustrophobic in the Audi. Yet the measuring tape reveals only a slender 10mm knee-room advantage for the Q3; both it and the Range Rover trail the Volvo for cabin and boot space.
Despite this, you’re unlikely to struggle for luggage room in the Audi, as its 460-litre boot is bigger than it looks. The fixed rear parcel tray, which can be removed to accommodate tall items, also doubles as a storage shelf.
The Q3’s 2.0-litre TDI diesel is a familiar engine fitted to many VW Group cars. It’s appeared in everything from the VW Golf to the Audi A4
, and produces 138bhp in the two-wheel-drive Q3. That’s enough to deliver decent performance: the Audi sprinted from 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds, which is one-tenth faster than the Evoque.
The pair are evenly matched across the board, so you have to consider how they drive to really tell them apart. The Q3 is unflappable in corners and enjoys plenty of grip. All of the controls are light and the responsive handling and comfortable ride make it a highly capable all-rounder. The precise steering lacks feel and the sharp brakes require concentration if you want to drive smoothly, but the Audi inspires real confidence from behind the wheel. It’s more like a tall hatchback to drive than an out-and-out SUV.
The more firmly sprung Evoque feels livelier from the driver’s seat, but the Q3 is just as fast across country, equally refined on motorways and more comfortable everywhere – especially at lower speeds.
If you’re looking for the most relaxing car here, then the Audi takes the top step of the podium. Impressive on-test fuel economy of 48.1mpg and solid resale values of 54.1 per cent threaten to overshadow the Evoque’s style appeal and keep the Q3 on top.
Chart position: 2WHY: The Audi Q3 is incredibly efficient in quattro 4WD form, so the 2WD car should be an even better bet for cost-conscious company car drivers.