Audi Q3 Review
Small SUVs are hot right now, and in great demand. But just because you don’t want a large car doesn’t mean you have to settle for a run-of-the-mill machine. Premium manufacturers recognise that customers still want quality, tech and brand recognition in their smaller cars, and that means there are plenty of higher-end small SUVs to choose from.
Select's rating score* - 3.9 / 5
Audi might have made its name with larger machines, but the recent trend for small SUVs has seen it diversify. The Q3 is its compact SUV that rivals cars like the BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
It comes in several forms. You can choose between the standard Q3, which we’ll be focusing on in this review, or the more rakish Q3 Sportback, which compromises practicality a little in favour of extra style and sportiness.
There’s a choice of engines and trim levels. The power options range from fuel efficient and punchy to seriously powerful, and while all the trims are well kitted out, the higher-end models really ramp up the tech and extra features.
Audi markets the Q3 as striking a balance between style, handling ability and cutting-edge technology. Focusing on the looks, it’s a familiar Audi vibe, which is to say understated but handsome. It might not turn heads as you drive by, but it’s a smart-looking machine. Regular Q3 models aren’t set up for a particularly exhilarating drive, but that changes in the high-end RS Q3 models, which have some serious horsepower under the bonnet and are mechanically tweaked for extra sportiness.
As for tech, all models come with some very modern features including bright LED headlights and some clever safety systems, and these features get more impressive as you go up the trim levels.
Customers can choose from a range of impressive petrol and diesel engines, but there’s no plug-in hybrid (PHEV) option, which is something that several of the Q3’s rivals can boast.
Exactly what the Q3 is like to drive will depend on which model you go for, because aside from the engine differences, there are three different types of suspension setup.
Entry-level Technik and Sport cars come with the standard suspension, which is the most comfort-focused of the lot, and it does a good job of massaging out the worst of the lumps and bumps you’re likely to encounter on UK roads. It also keeps body roll well in check through the bends, and the steering is light enough to make for easy manoeuvering around town, but weighty enough to give confidence through the corners. It does lack a bit of feel though, and so doesn’t feel particularly engaging in comparison to the BMW X1. If you’re a driving enthusiast then that may put you off, but for the majority of customers, it won’t be a big issue.
S line, Black Edition and Edition 1 have a lower, stiffer sports suspension that compromises outright comfort a little in favour of a more nimble and agile feel through the corners. It’s still a pretty reasonable ride quality, but you’ll be more aware of bad road surfaces, especially at lower speeds. The payoff is better composure in the bends.
Top-spec Vorsprung models come with a clever adaptive suspension setup, which can change the stiffness depending on conditions. It’s the best all-rounder of the three, but you’ll pay quite a bit extra for it.
The performance RS Q3 model has specific RS suspension that’s been set up to be extra-sporty. That means it’s very stiff to keep it stable around the corners, but that does mean a harsh ride that some might find too much for everyday use. We’d upgrade to the optional adaptive suspension, but that will add even more to the already-substantial premium that the RS commands over the other models.
Petrol engine choices start with the 148bhp 1.5-litre unit, badged as the 35 TFSI. It’s available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic, and in front-wheel drive only. For many people, this will be more than enough power to pootle around town, although it does sometimes need working hard if you want to get up to faster speeds, for example on the motorway.
Next up is the 40 TFSI, a 2.0-litre engine with 187bhp, all-wheel drive (which Audi calls Quattro) and an automatic gearbox. The 45 TFSI ups that to 242bhp. Both of these feel noticeably more effortless than the 35 TFSI, and the extra grunt is nice to have, but if you’re not fussed about acceleration then they’re not an essential upgrade, especially as the addition of all-wheel drive has an impact on fuel economy. The automatic gearbox can also be a bit hesitant, sometimes erring on the side of fuel economy rather than performance in its choice of gear.
If you want your Q3 to have a bit more fire in its belly, then the RS Q3 could be for you. Under its bonnet is a five-cylinder, 2.5-litre petrol engine with 395bhp. That means scintillating acceleration, and it’s tremendously fast, but again lacks that final level of engagement for the driver, which is especially important in a performance-focused model.
On the diesel front, the 35 TDI is a 2.0-litre engine with 148bhp, available with a manual gearbox in front-wheel drive or the automatic in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. This is a sensible choice if you do lots of longer journeys, as the higher price of diesel at the pump could be offset by improved fuel economy over petrol. It’s not the punchiest performer but, again, it’ll be fine for a lot of people. If you do want extra poke, the 40 TDI has 197bhp and Quattro, and is automatic-only. This gives you extra oomph and doesn’t lose much fuel economy compared to the 35 TFSI Quattro, but will cost you more each month.
Not all models are available with all the engine choices, with more powerful engines generally the preserve of the higher trim levels.
Leasing costs for the Q3 are one of its biggest strengths against the competition, with monthly prices more than competitive against most rivals. At the time of writing, you could get into a Q3 for less than £250 a month, with several models in the range costing less than £300. This is also true for the Volvo XC40, but a Mercedes GLA would set you back well over £300 and upwards, and most Range Rover Evoques tip towards £400. The BMW X1 starts at just over £300.
Fuel economy figures are most impressive in the diesels, with the front-wheel drive 35 TDI promising up to 55mpg according to official figures. That’ll dip with all-wheel drive models to up to 47.9mpg. The Quattro 40 TDI will give you up to 42.2mpg.
On the petrol side, the 35 TFSI manual promises up to 40.9mpg, or up to 40.4mpg in the automatic. The 40 TFSI Quattro dips the economy down to 34.9mpg, and the 45 TFSI Quattro to up to 34.9mpg. The RS Q3 very much favours performance over fuel economy, and officially consumes up to 29.4mpg.
Insurance groups start at 23 and rise to 42 of 50, depending on model, which means premiums get more expensive the more powerful and better-equipped the Q3 you go for.
With no plug-in hybrid or full electric model in the Q3 range, the diesels make for the best options when it comes to benefit-in-kind company car tax. The front-wheel drive 35 TDI with a manual gearbox emits between 140 and 145g/km of CO2, which puts it in the 32% or 33% tax brackets for 2021/2022. In comparison, the automatic 35 TDI Quattro emits between 164 and 168g/km (36% or 37%). The petrol-powered 35 TFSI manual emits between 157 and 163g/km and the automatic 159-165g/km, meaning they both fit in the 35% or 36% brackets. All other models are in the maximum 37% bracket.
Audi has an enviable reputation for producing cars with beautiful interiors, in terms of design, build quality and material use. The Q3 mostly keeps that reputation going, although compared to Audi’s lofty benchmarks it’s not one of its best, with a few cheap-feeling materials to be found if you look closely. When compared to Volvo’s excellent XC40, it’s a bit disappointing, but still far more of a luxurious environment than more mainstream models.
There’s loads of adjustment in steering column and seat height to ensure you can find your favourite driving position, although if you have a bad back it’s worth pointing out that lumbar support adjustment is only available on the very top-spec cars.
Audi’s touchscreen infotainment system is included on all models, with a big 10.1-inch screen that looks great. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone connectivity, and sat-nav that can be setup to use aerial photography on the maps, which looks fantastic and can be useful when trying to find a new destination.
If there’s quibble with it, it’s that touchscreen-only systems are harder to use on the move than those with separate controllers. BMW’s iDrive system, for example, uses a central dial that’s easier to use without having to take your eyes off the road.
All models also get a Virtual Cockpit, which is Audi’s name for the screen behind the steering wheel that replaces traditional analogue dials. This is a stylish and useful feature, allowing you to customise what information you want to see, from speed and fuel economy to sat-nav info and entertainment options.
Space in the Q3 is pretty good, with loads of room up front and decent, if not spectacular capacity for passengers in the back. You’ll get more room in the rear seats of a BMW X1, Volvo XC40 but no one in the Audi is likely to complain. Besides, the Audi has a larger boot than either of those rivals or the Mercedes GLA, and in S line trim and above, you can slide the rear seats back to increase the legroom at the cost of a bit of boot space if you have particularly long-limbed passengers.
That boot by the way is up to 675 litres in volume, which is seriously big for this size of car.
The rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split to offer space for larger items, which is much more flexible than the usual 60/40 configuration offered by some rivals.
The door pockets are a good size, and there’s a storage tray in front of the gearstick, two cup holders between the front seats and a good-sized storage box under the centre armrest.
The Audi A3 was tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2018 and scored the maximum five stars, with particularly impressive scores for adult safety. All models come with some of the latest active safety systems, including automatic emergency braking, a lane departure warning system and a connected feature that will help guide you back into your lane if you inadvertently veer out of it.
All models also get six airbags and Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats and front passenger seat.
The Q3 range starts with the Technik, which includes features like bright LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels and the full infotainment system with sat-nav. It rides on standard suspension.
The next step up is Sport, which adds 18-inch alloys and a sportier bodykit, but keeps the standard suspension. The front seats are upgraded to more supportive sports seats.
S line cars have 19-inch alloys with sport suspension and part-leather upholstery inside, as well as tinted rear windows and an ambient lighting pack, for a snazzier interior look at night, while Black Edition cars have special matt titanium-look 19-inch wheels, black elements rather than chrome on the outside, and piano black inlays inside.
The top-spec Vorsprung model rides on 20-inch wheels and adaptive suspension. It also has clever Matrix LED headlights, which let you keep high beam on at night without dazzling oncoming traffic. There’s also a panoramic sunroof and Bang & Olufsen sound system, as well as adaptive cruise control.
The RS Q3 comes in standard form, with 20-inch alloys, Audi Sport Edition with black 21-inch wheels and a sports exhaust, and Vorsprung, with a black styling pack and carbon effect side mirrors.
Options range from the B&O sound system and heated front seats to metallic paints and leather upholstery.
With virtually all manufacturers offering small SUVs these days, there’s no shortage of premium rivals for the Q3 range. First up, if you really want an SUV that’s as small as possible, then Audi has an even tinier model called the Q2.
If you’re considering the regular Q3, you might also want to look at BMW’s X1 and the Mercedes GLA, as well as the Volvo XC40. The BMW is more fun to drive than the Audi, but it has less space inside, as does the Volvo, although the XC40 is less ubiquitous and, some would say, better-looking.
The Mercedes is a very capable all-rounder, but could cost you more than the Audi. However, the availability of a plug-in hybrid model could be a big draw, especially for company car drivers. The Volvo XC40 and X1 are also available as PHEVs, so the lack of one is a big drawback for the Q3.
Should you need to take your small SUV off road, then the obvious choice is the very capable Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, and is also available as a PHEV, although it’s another rival that can be pricey.
The Q3 has much to recommend about it, but this is a hard-fought area of the market, and it’s worth considering some excellent rivals too. Stylish looks, a high quality interior and a range of different trim and engine choices are among the Audi’s highlights, but it lacks a PHEV option and it’s not the most exciting car of its type to drive. However, there are some very attractive monthly leasing prices (at the time of writing, at least), which could and probably should lead plenty to overlook its few shortcomings. We doubt anyone will be upset with their choice, as overall, it’s a very accomplished car.
Where to next?
View latest Audi Q3 Leasing Deals - guide price from £275.99 per month inc VAT**
Looking for a great leasing deal? Check out our incredible range of Special Offers
New small SUV? Read our latest Car Reviews and find the right model for you
Want to know more about leasing? Take a look at our comprehensive Leasing Guides
Interested in everything motoring? Why not catch up on all the latest Car Leasing News.
*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Audi Q3.
**Correct as of 19/05/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2483.89. Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.