The future, they say, is electric. On its stand at the Geneva Motor Show last week Audi showed only pure electric or electric/petrol self-charging cars. Its message is that by 2025 it will have more than 20 models with electrification in its range. It is part of a €40 billion investment which includes hands-free driving and an all-embracing communications and driving network it calls digitalisation (you may decipher it on www.audi.com).
The show was awash with electric vehicles, contrasting with the super fast show-stoppers such as Ginetta’s Akula. Volvo, already having dumped diesel from new models, plans to limit top speeds to 112mph. Jaguar, economising, was not at the show but picked up the European Car of the Year award for its electric I Pace – which last week won the UK car of the year trophy. Morgan announced it had been bought by an Italian company. Forza, they say.
For the near future Audi’s staple will be the petrol or diesel engine, which are cheaper to buy than a hybrid anyway and for most of us more practical than a purely electric engine. Audi moved in to 2019 with a new Q3 hatchback. This is a main prop in the Audi catalogue, fashionably chic, just about big enough for most things, a similar size to a Ford Focus. The Q3 has been a big seller, with more than a million shifted since 2011. Our European cars come from the SEAT factory near Barcelona. Q3 is also made in China, Brazil and India.
This year’s Q3 is a bigger car, being longer, wider and slightly lower. The load area is larger, too. The body is chunkier and bolder and inherits the aggressive face of the larger Q8. There are edges where there were once curves and it now mimics an SUV. Models with quattro 4x4 drive do have some light trail ability but mostly the Q3 is still a town and country good looker. It has far more peer competition than in the class of 2011 which included the Range Rover Evoque. Here are three newcomers: the BMW X2, the Mercedes-Benz GLA and the Volvo XC40 – which is wowing the critics. There’s also a new Evoque on the way.
We are looking at cars in the £30,000 to £45,000 band. Audi’s entry Q3 is a well equipped Sport model. With front-wheel-drive and a 1.5 petrol engine, badged the 35 TFSI, and manual gears it costs £30,770. This is substantially more than before but the Q3 has moved up half a rung to make way for the smaller Q2.
Standard equipment includes smartphone connection, a lane departure warning, fairground indicators and, possibly a clincher, the switchable instrument display. Known as a virtual cockpit, it allows the main display to include information, such as a navigation route or audio settings, migrating from the central screen. The speedometer and rev counter can shrink to give further space to the imported information. Meanwhile the central screen can be used for a different display.
The mapping is crystal clear, nicely coloured and zooms in and out to revise the map detail.
The next grade is S Line, a big seller for Audi. In the Q3 is makes the suspension stiffer and runs on 19-inch wheels. There is also a full-house Vorsprung model which in its ultimate 45 TFSI 227bhp version costs more than £47,000. The other engine designations are the 35 TDI with a 148bhp diesel, the 40 TFSI with 187bhp and the 40 TDI with a 187bhp diesel – all four-cylinder, 2-litre engines. Manual or automatic gears and quattro transmission are options, depending on the engine and trim.
The 35 TFSI is front-drive only. My test car had this 1.5 litre engine in S Line trim with an S Tronic 7-speed automatic gearbox. Price: from £35,750. The softer sprung Sport trim at £32,350 with the same drivetrain is a cheaper option.
I have scanned what others are saying about the Q3. There is general approval for its roomier and smarter cabin and the brighter exterior. However, the 35 TFSI automatic gets a bit of a kicking because of its lack of acceleration. It is what it is. A 0-60mph time around nine seconds and a top speed of 128mph seems acceptable.
There is lots more to like, such as the sliding rear seats and the fact that you can store the parcel shelf under the boot floor. The cabin cinema lighting (several shades from purple to azure) lifts the mood for an extra £100.
The cabin quality is convincing. There is a wide drop-down armrest in the rear with cupholders inside. There are two USB sockets but I never found them. The driver and front passenger enjoy a stylish and ergonomic fascia, mixing screen input and switches for easy and intuitive operation.
We enjoyed driving the Q3. The pace for overtaking is adequate but it can fade at higher speeds. My concern was the fuel economy. Audi quotes 37 to 38 miles a gallon and 133g of CO2, so expectations were not high. In use it showed only 30 to 35mpg.
Verdict: Smart in the bold contemporary Audi style.