The new Q3 grabs the more aggressive front-end styling cues from the recently-launched Q8, including a darker grille and thinner standard LED headlights. Picture: SUPPLIED
The new Q3 grabs the more aggressive front-end styling cues from the recently-launched Q8, including a darker grille and thinner standard LED headlights. Picture: SUPPLIED

That the upgraded Q3 will sell is a no-brainer. That it will make pots of money for Audi should be taken for granted, too, because it’s a clear step forward from its predecessor in every important way, except two.

It handles better, its ride quality is calmer and its interior comfort is terrific. Only the sparkle of the BMW X3 and the popularity of the Benz GLC stand in its way.

At 4,485mm long, the new Q3 is 97mm longer than the old one, with a 77mm stretch in the wheelbase delivering a far more spacious rear-seat experience than it did before.

Standout features are the ride quality, noise levels and the body control. Picture: SUPPLIED
Standout features are the ride quality, noise levels and the body control. Picture: SUPPLIED

That experience is made all the more accomplished by fitting the Q3 with a rear seat that can slide fore-and-aft and a 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat that can recline in seven steps. It’s almost limo stuff at work in what was once Audi’s smallest SUV.

It continues behind the rear seats, with a minimum of 530l of luggage space that rises to 1,525l with the rear seats folded.

The biggest possible headache we can see inside the Q3 is the dumping of all rotary dials in favour of using the touchscreen infotainment system for everything. Sure, it’s got swiping and favourite tiles, like a smartphone, but it’s a step that may have moved the technology in the otherwise easy and comfortable Q3 out of the comfort zone for older buyers. Especially as simple tasks like dimming the instrument cluster at night now take four to five touchscreen inputs to adjust.

More important than any of that, though, is that the Q3 is just plain good and it just plain works, and works intuitively (mostly) and easily.

The standout piece of the Q3 puzzle is the ride quality, the noise levels and the body control, all of which lend the SUV an air of calmness and luxury that belies its size and place on the Audi ladder.

The handling is accomplished, rather than fun and lively, but the poise of the chassis in every situation just oozes calmness and dignity. It could easily lull you into thinking that because it’s so calm, its responses must be terribly slow, but they’re not. They can feel it, sure, because the default Comfort mode steering setup is light and totally lacking in connected feedback from the front end, but improves in the Sport modes.

The car’s character changes significantly when it’s upgraded from the stock suspension setup to the S Line’s stiffer springs and a tighter damper tune. There’s also a suspension setup with the damper-control system that reacts quickly to each road input and even adjusts for hard braking and acceleration. It’s this one that shows off the Q3 to its best effect, oozing over the worst road conditions with the dignity befitting a baby Q7.

The biggest possible headache inside the Q3 is the dumping of all rotary dials in favour of using the touchscreen infotainment system for everything. Picture: SUPPLIED
The biggest possible headache inside the Q3 is the dumping of all rotary dials in favour of using the touchscreen infotainment system for everything. Picture: SUPPLIED

The only piece of the puzzle that threatens the dignity of the Q3’s poise comes from under the bonnet. We tested the S Line (stiffer springs) 45 TFSI quattro, with petrol power, and the 35 TDI diesel with manual gearbox.

Oddly, the highly rated 2.0l TFSI petrol motor feels surprisingly harsh and thrashy in this guise, though it’s strong everywhere. It has 169kW of power, and that’s backed up by 350Nm of torque. All that really means is that the 45 TFSI has an incredibly broad spread of performance and you can ask it to jump forward at any speed, in any gear, and it will simply haul. It will reach 100km/h in 6.3 seconds and stretch to 233km/h.

Audi couples it to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.

The 35 TDI quattro is a pretty nice motor to drive, with 110kW of power and 340Nm. It’s smoother than the petrol four, even if it’s not as sophisticated.

The interior of the new Q3 is vastly improved, with more connectivity than ever before. The driver-assistance systems have leapt forward to include a highway semi-autonomous system that allows the driver to release the steering wheel for short bursts while the car remains deftly centred in the lane. It brakes, steers and accelerates by itself and while the technology isn’t as sophisticated as it is with the A6/A7/A8, it’s pretty darn good.

Other than being irked by the split-level screens (and that might just be me), the rest of the interior package is convincing and comfortable. It’s as though Audi’s goal was to make life as calming and undemanding as possible here, too.

The new Q3 is due in SA towards the middle of next year.