Coming in 2012, the Q3 will be the most affordable Audi in India. But how good is it?

The crosshair is right on target. Audi is pretty clear of what it has to offer with the Q3. Seen as a direct competitor to the BMW X1 — with similar size, engine output and weight — the Q3 will be the German company's cheapest offering in India. Audi is insistent, though, that the Q3 will have the feel of a premium product like its bigger sibling Q5 and Q7.

When you slide into the Q3's accommodating seats, this is exactly what strikes you. You will notice that you're sitting closer to your passenger but otherwise, it's an Audi SUV cabin through and through.

The architecture follows the theme set out in other Audis — aesthetics, quality and technology are its priorities. Our test car was appointed with all-black interiors with aluminium highlights, but this did nothing to take away from the fact that this interior is comparable to any Audi saloon. It's rather well equipped as well, with a pop-up screen and the MMI system, as well as climate control and Audi's adaptive suspension. There are a few issues though — our car had manual adjust seats and steering but we're told Indian cars will have these features.

Based on the VW Tiguan, the Q3 offers good space and there's reasonably comfortable accommodation for four adults. The seats are very supportive and there's plenty of headroom at the rear, in addition to a usefully big 460-litre boot.

Before we start our drive in Zurich, we're told a few speeding ticket stories.

Quiet and smooth engine

Apparently, the Swiss police shoot on sight for speeding. So, with one eye on the road, one on speed-limit signs and a third on the speedometer, we set off. Initial impressions show the transversely mounted, 176bhp, 2.0-litre diesel responds instantly to throttle inputs and one that.

You will hit the local 50kph speed limit well before you get into the strong mid-range in second gear. Driving along at this extremely sedate pace, the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox shifts unobtrusively and the engine is very smooth and quiet. Driving along at this pace is frustrating, so at the next green light, I floor it. Two things are immediately apparent — the engine is quite gruff when it is extended and that it's pretty quick. Not staggeringly quick mind you, but enjoyably so. With its 38.7kgm of torque all the way from 1750rpm, it cruises easily and silently.

Combine this performance with Audi's adaptive dampers and you'll find a very competent car. It is supple and compliant over most surfaces, provided you select the right ‘Drive Select' mode. While the ‘Dynamic' setting adds weight to the car's steering and dials in welcome body control and stability at higher speeds, the ‘Comfort' preset is the one you'll prefer. It allows for a smooth enough ride without disturbing the calm of the Q3's cabin, and doesn't sacrifice too much handling at higher speeds either.

At 50kph, the Q3 handles very well. In ‘Comfort' setting, the steering is light and its compact dimensions allowed for easy navigation through the narrow roads outside Zurich. The Q3 displays good body control and has an engaging enough steering to be entertaining. And when you're in the mood for some planet saving, there's one more mode in the Drive Select system — efficiency. What it does is disengage the clutch when you are coasting, thereby saving fuel. There's also a stop-start system and an energy recovery system.

The baby Audi has one other big advantage — it looks like an SUV rather than a hopped-up estate and that, in a market such as ours, literally gives it a heads-up. In fact, the steeply raked rear windscreen, slit headlamps and the tighter skinning make it look even sharper than its bigger brothers, the Q5 and the Q7.

But it's the price that will dictate exactly how big the Q3 will make it here. At the time of our drive, Audi announced the base 2.0-litre front-wheel-drive 140bhp diesel will cost Euro 29,900 (Rs. 19 lakh excluding local duties). Of course, when the car comes to India, prices will vary vastly thanks to equipment and options.

The Q3 is an impressive carthat and comes with two very entertaining engines. For someone keen to drive a compact premium SUV, the Q3 will make a lot of sense.

Keywords: Audi Q3car reviews