The Audi Q3 is not a bad car, but it’s lacking in key areas compared to strong rivals, while short of the quality you’d expect.

It seems the compact premium SUV has become the new holy grail for modern manufacturers. Almost everyone is playing the game, and while Audi may have arrived in this space early with the original Q3, brand loyalty in this segment is meaningless against image and trend.

You’d expect that the new Q3 would need to do more than merely build on its predecessor’s foundations to compete, then. Traditional rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC40 are stronger than ever – and with updraught mainstream rivals in the form of the Peugeot 3008 and Mazda CX-5 nipping at those proverbial heels, there is no space for the new Q3 to be average, let alone underwhelming.

It might come as a disappointment to see that the Q3’s not been transformed or revolutionised, rather it’s simply been aligned to its specific sliver of market space so as to avoid getting too close to its multiple in-house SUV siblings. There is hope for the Q3, as we’re likely to see a new RSQ3 later in the car’s life cycle, something that Audi has not played coy about replacing with constant sightings of baritone and big-booted mules pounding laps around the Ring. But, for the moment, the question of how more cooking Q3 models perform remains the more pressing issue.

Engine, transmission and technical details

For the moment, all Q3s are powered by a selection of four-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, connected to six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions. Quattro all-wheel drive is optional on higher-spec models.

Entry-level 35 TFSI models feature VW Group’s new, and extremely refined, 1.5-litre ‘EVO’ four-cylinder with 110kW. From here, all other models feature 2-litre four-cylinder units, with diesels available in 110kW (35 TDI) and 139kW (40 TDI) forms, while petrols are available in 139kW (40 TFSI) and 168kW (45 TFSI) forms, the latter unit borrowed from the previous Golf GTI. Unfortunately, this powertrain is only available with quattro all-wheel drive and a dual-clutch transmission, so any notion of it being a tall hot hatchback might be misplaced.

That quattro all-wheel-drive system is a relatively simple Haldex-style unit, with a majority of the power sent to the front wheels, only being shoved back when slip is detected or assumed. The Q3’s MQB-derived chassis drives the overall package, with MacPherson struts on the front axle, and a multi-link rear.

A future replacement for the wild RSQ3 is expected, with that model likely to share the 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine from the current RS3 and TTRS, featuring around 298kW.

Performance and 0-100 time

Until the RSQ3 arrives, only the top 45 TFSI Q3 is brisk, reaching 100kmh in 6.3sec. Other models are, slow, with 35 models in the nine-second region in both petrol and diesel forms, and 40 models in the sevens and eights. Of course, few buy a compact SUV for reasons of outright acceleration, and the Q3’s merely average times are about right for the class. The flip side here are the wide, flat torque bands for pretty much all powertrains, making all models feel fast enough on the road.

The six-speed manual has a slick, considered shift quality – again it’s nothing exceptional, but good enough in relation to the general class. The seven-speed dual clutch is happiest when up and running, often feeling lethargic at slow speeds and sometimes shuddering as the clutch engages and disengages. This is not an unusual trait for a dual-clutch, mind, and compared to a smoother traditional torque-converter automatic found in rivals from BMW and Volvo, the crisp shifts when you’re up and running are a worthy pay-off.

Ride and handling

Right from the off, it’s clear that the Q3 has been developed to be easy and effort-free to drive. The steering is light and predictably numb at low speeds, but with speed it does weight up. The next thing that hits you is the Q3’s somewhat tough ride. Even in the non-S line model on the smallest 18-inch wheels, it struggles to remain settled over small bumps and intrusions, juddering into the road surface despite the tall-profile tyres. Like the steering though, the ride does improve at higher speeds, even if it lacks the polish one would find in something such as the Volvo XC40.

Start to push harder though and the inherent quality inherited by the MQB platform starts to reveal itself, as with more load comes more dexterity to the way it flows down the road. It’s no Golf GTI, but pitch the Q3 into a corner and it grips, settles and exits with far more clarity and poise than you might feel is particularly necessary for this type of car. This is where the MQB-sourced bones come good, as the underlying chassis is relatively lightweight and stiff.

It’s almost spritely, yet when connected to a raucous diesel engine and sloppy dual-clutch transmission, as many will be, the chassis easily outshines the rest of the Q3’s technical package. Play with the Q3’s driver modes and the throttle mapping and steering response do improve, although the optional adaptive dampers do little to make a marked difference to the Q3’s body control.

Interior and tech

As an Audi, one might assume the Q3 benefits from a well appointed, solidly built and ergonomically sound interior. That is not the case. Like pretty much all MQB-based SUV models, the issues start with the Q3’s odd driving position, perching you in a seat that is too high, and angled in such a way that makes you almost look down at the dash. Lower the seat and things improve, but you’re then left with most of the main interfaces pointed upwards. It’s all very bizarre.

The main interfaces are digital, but rather than the twin-screen system one might find in larger Audis, there is instead a single, non-haptic touchscreen controlling most of the infotainment duties, with air conditioning and ventilation controls handled by a selection of buttons and knobs shared with the smaller A1 and Q2.

A basic 10.2-inch virtual cockpit is standard across the range, but you’ll need to pay extra to get the 12.3-inch high-resolution set-up, although you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference. Space inside is reasonable, but more practically shaped SUVs, such as the XC40 or Volkswagen Tiguan, are better equipped for big loads.

But overall, the interior ambiance is stifled by a cabin full of shapes and graphics that jar and look unresolved. Add this to a poor selection of materials and the Q3 doesn’t feel as premium as its badge or price point would imply. Most rivals have a more cohesive design at a minimum, while rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC40 feel considerably more sumptuous and finely detailed – an unusual lapse for a company whose rise in popularity was in part driven by its class-leading interiors. JORDAN KATSIANIS