Audi takes on the competition in the luxury segment with its Q3 Sportback, a soft-roader with a refined diesel engine and an easy-to-use manual gearbox. Ouseph Chacko has the details

With luxury players such as Mercedes and BMW introducing high-end, expensive hatchbacks, Audi, has had to strategise accordingly. However, the company isn’t taking the fight to the competition with its A3 Sportback. Instead, Audi is taking its baby SUV, the Q3, a few notches down in price to compete directly. Also, Audi will start assembling the Q3 in India, thereby attracting less duty.

This Q3 2.0 TDI will come with a six-speed manual gearbox and won’t have Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. It is the first time an SUV in this segment is offering a manual transmission, so it’s imperative that the gearbox be easy to use, as owners of compact cars tend to drive themselves.

Also, the key challenge for Audi lies in cutting down on equipment without making the Q3 feel too pared down — buyers will still expect it to feel like an Audi.

The front-wheel-drive Q3 comes with a lower powered 140bhp 2.0-litre engine, identical to the one in the A4. Audi knows that for buyers of entry-level luxury cars, the badge is more important than the engine. They don’t want best-in-class performance as long as they are not left wanting. That’s exactly the case with this Q3. Press down on the light clutch, engage first gear and you’ll discover a smooth clutch action. The Q3’s engine makes a healthy 32.6kgm from as low as 1750rpm and torque stays healthy till 2500rpm. This translates to brisk acceleration and speeds that are fast enough for most occasions.

The Q3 Sport, true to its name, is quite enjoyable to drive — the gearbox is slick, light and positive and you will often find yourself shifting gears just to revel in the shift action. This Q3, despite its lower power (the Quattro comes with 177bhp), never feels slow. This is partly due to the fact that this car, at 1445kg, weighs a considerable 140kg less than its all-wheel-drive sibling.

That means this two-wheel-drive Q3 gets to 100kph in 9.9sec as against the Quattro’s 8.3sec — not too bad a disadvantage, and in the real world, has more than enough performance. Sure, the DSG-equipped Q3 is much quicker in gear, and of course, makes you work less in traffic, but because this manual is so good and the engine is so responsive, we really didn’t find huge cause for complaint. In fact, in traffic, the engine’s strong pulling power from low revs means it doesn’t really ask for a downshift.

Like we’ve come to expect of recent Audi diesels, this four-cylinder, 2.0-litre TDI is smooth and very refined, and Audi’s ARAI-certified fuel efficiency figure is a decent 17.3kpl.

As for the insides fit and finish are as good as you would find on any Audi, and there’s really no difference in the way the dashboard looks. The dials are the same, the steering wheel and gear lever are leather wrapped, and there’s even an MMI system. This is a compact SUV, so the cabin is a bit cramped, especially at the rear. Legroom and headroom are just about adequate. The seats are nicely cushioned and have a nice upright stance that’s good for long drives. If there’s a weakness, we feel it’s with the Q3’s styling — it’s too generic and fails to excite.

Audi plans to price it at Rs. 24.99 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), a good Rs. 2.5 to Rs. 3 lakh less than the current Q3’s starting price. As is, the Q3 is a reasonably spacious, practical and well equipped soft-roader that will appeal to a broader spectrum of people. It comes with a strong, refined diesel engine, an easy-to-use manual gearbox and has most of what owners will expect from an Audi.

Keywords: AudiQ3 Sportback