GEORGE, Western Cape – It's no longer an ugly duckling, is it? Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder but the previous-generation Audi Q3 (although popular) was hardly the most visually appealing vehicle in the Ingolstadt-based firm's range. The tortoise-shell shape looked awkward from certain angles and the interior was somewhat pinched. In the current Audi line-up, which features excitingly styled vehicles such as the recently launched Q8, it was the odd one out ... but not anymore. Enter the all-new, second-generation Q3.

MQB platform

The old PQ35 platform makes way for the ubiquitous MQB underpinnings, forming the backbone of many a transverse-mounted model in the wider Volkswagen Group. The result is a slight increase in dimensions; 96 mm added to the length (for a total of 4 484 mm), 18 mm more in terms of width (1 849 mm) and an extra 77 mm for the wheelbase (2 680 mm). To put this into perspective, the Q3 is just two millimetres shorter than the Volkswagen Tiguan.
 
Styling

The increase in size has given the designers the freedom to apply the latest iteration of Audi's design language to full effect. The proverbial ugly duckling is now a chiselled swan portraying upmarket elegance from all angles. A highlight is the new octagon-shaped grille design featuring eight vertical elements, sited between slim headlamps featuring LED technology.

The appeal continues at the rear with a strong shoulder line culminating in taillights mimicking the shape of the headlights. The new Q3 is definitely part of the modern family.

Your turn to give a verdict on the new styling...

Interior

The good news is that all models are fitted with the latest MMI infotainment touchscreen and digital instrument cluster (although buyers can upgrade to the 12,3-inch Audi virtual cockpit, too). Even the entry-level model feels upmarket inside and there is still the option of the Advanced and S line trim levels plus several optional packages that add items such as sports seats featuring Alcantara inserts. Interestingly, the Alcantara material is also fitted to the door panels and a strip on the dashboard, making an interesting statement when a vibrant colour such as orange is selected. Not a great idea if your kids enjoy running their dirty fingers over such surfaces, though...

Watch Nico Smit, product and sales trainer for Audi, show a party trick of the Q3 MMI navigation system...

The driving position is spot on for this class of vehicle and the cabin feels remarkably spacious (and wide) up front. Rear legroom, although better than before, is still a little tight, though. That said, the bench can slide fore and aft to either maximise seating space or increase the boot size from a claimed 520 to 675 litres for extra carrying ability.

Mr Smit demonstrates the optional electric tailgate activation function...

The drive

The only engine option available at launch is the tried-and-tested 1,4-litre turbopetrol, delivering 110 kW and 250 N.m to the front axle. The new 1,5-litre could be introduced locally at a later stage, while there are strong hints of an RS model in the not-too-distant future.

We had the opportunity to sample the new Q3 over more than 300 km (i.e., a proper distance ... hint to other manufacturers) of both tar and dirt in the beautiful George region. Although there is not a lot of power to play with, the Q3 still manages to feel sporty from behind the wheel. The default damper setting (which is not adjustable) is slightly on the firm side, which is great for tackling Outeniqua Pass but results in jitters reaching the cabin over dirt-road corrugations. Saying that, we probably covered more dirt roads than most owners would ever attempt, with barely a hassle.

Where the Q3 would make most sense is running errands in town as it's nimble and the perfect size for nipping through gaps and grabbing a parking spot.

Less is more

The new WLTP emission testing procedure in Europe has forced manufacturers to re-evaluate all the options available on its cars and Audi has decided to drop the previous option count from about 80 to just 30 on the new Q3. This is a good thing as more spec is standard and the rest is grouped in easy-to-understand packages, dubbed Comfort (R21 500), Technology (R33 500) and Sport (R34 900). These are in addition to the Advanced and S Line trim levels. For the record, pricing for the Q3 starts at R565 000.

Summary

The new Q3 is a more appealing vehicle than the first generation for reasons other than mere looks. The increase in size results in a more practical vehicle and the specification level is generally higher than before, too. It now offers a premium alternative under R600 000 to compete with the likes of the BMW X1 and Volvo XC40. By the way, Audi says it is gaining market share in a tough local environment ... and I certainly can see quite a few new Q3 hitting our roads soon.



FAST FACTS

Model: Audi Q3 35 TFSI S tronic S line
Price: R599 000
Engine: 1,4-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Power: 110 kW @ 5 000-6 000 r/min
Torque: 250 N.m @ 1 500-3 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 9,2 seconds
Top Speed: 207 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5,9 L/100 km
CO2: 134 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch
Maintenance Plan: M5/100 000 km

See Full Audi Q3 price and specs here