The drive, June 2011

The drive, June 2011

What is it? This is the third and smallest car in Audi's Q series of SUVs, competing with BMW's X1 and the new Range Rover Evoque. It sits quite high and, with four-wheel drive for the top three engine options, is capable of limited off-road driving. However, on-road use as a 'premium' SUV is its major role.

Under its shapely skin, with its bold face and striking LED lights front and rear, the Q3 marries the front-end components of an Audi A3 with the rear parts of a Volkswagen Tiguan. Engines all 2.0 litres and turbocharged start with a 138bhp TDI turbodiesel matched to front-wheel drive, continue with a 174bhp TDI and a 167bhp TFSI petrol engine, and peak with a 208bhp TFSI unit. The two most powerful come with a seven-speed, double-clutch S-tronic transmission, the other two with a six-speed manual.

What's it like to drive? Impressive. We tried SE models with the two top engines, and both proved particularly smooth and quiet with punchy performance right through the rev range. The TDI feels gutsier more of the time, the TFSI is ultimately faster (143mph, 0-62mph in a rapid 6.9sec). Their S-tronic gearboxes shift speedily but sometimes there's a clunk from the transmission; manual mode is smoother than auto.

Optional Drive Select alters the suspension dampers' settings, but over a limited range. Both Q3s rode very well (the optional S-line suspension will be less comfortable), but the TFSI has the edge here. The electric power steering feels more natural than most such systems and the Q3 grips well when you're pressing on. This is a wieldy, enjoyable car.

Drive Select includes an 'Efficiency' mode which lets an S-tronic Q3 freewheel when you decelerate, saving fuel. This, plus stop-start reduces CO2 output but the figures are unexceptional: 156g/km for our TDI, 179g/km TFSI. The front-drive TDI scores 138g/km.

What's it like inside? Audi at its best, with impeccable finish including soft-touch surfaces right down to the bottom of the door trims and dashboard. The style is A8 in miniature, and options include online Google Earth and built-in wi-fi.

Parking aids can include a screen showing all-round sensing and a self-parking system. There's virtually as much space as in a Q5, plus a large boot, but the load bay isn't quite flat when the rear seats are folded.

Range Rover Evoque

Should I buy one? You probably should. It's a more complete and appealing car than an X1, thoroughly pleasing to drive and calls into question the need for a larger Q5. There's also a 305bhp Q3 on the way, with a version of the TT RS's five-cylinder engine, but it's not yet confirmed for the UK.

What Car? says