First report: The grind of Mumbai traffic is where a compact luxury car really makes a case for itself.
Bigger is better is a concept embedded in the minds of traditional Indian car buyers who have universally equated size with price. So the bigger the car, the more they are happy to pay for it and, conversely, if it’s smaller, the prospect of sticker shock is always higher, especially with a luxury car. But it’s a mindset that is slowly changing thanks to a fast-maturing consumer who, after dealing with chaotic traffic and parking hassles, sees the value in slipping into something that is nice and compact, but isn’t short on luxury. And it’s cars like the Audi Q3 that can catalyse that change in mindset.
Small size is welcome in our ever-crowded Autocar parking lot.
After driving the Q3 for a month, it’s proved to be the perfect urban SUV for multiple reasons. Let’s start with the Q3’s compact size and solid build, which gives you the confidence to tangle with cabs, bikers and aggressive bus drivers. The Q3 is narrow enough for you to squeeze past gaps you would think twice about in a bigger car, and sitting nice and high, you can spot those gaps easily. And one such gap I try to wiggle through almost daily on the drive home is at the Mahalaxmi station signal in Mumbai, where the free left turn is perpetually obstructed by a slew of vehicles attempting to wedge their way into an extra lane in order to turn right and beat the fleeting green light. But every now and then, you get a gap so slender that only a compact car can nimbly manoeuvre through. Sitting high up in the Q3’s elevated seat, I can better judge the edges of the car whilst the frenzied beeps of proximity sensors tell me how harrowingly close I am to other cars and bikes.
Outstanding ride quality smoothens out Mumbai roads.
Then there’s the cushy ride, now an Audi signature that the Ingolstadt brand has seized from Mercedes. On Mumbai roads, it’s fair to say Audis have the best ride and the Q3 is no exception. It’s a combination of well-judged damping, which is slightly on the softer side and the relatively high profile 235/55 R18 tyres, which are your best defence against atrociously paved roads. And being an SUV, there’s sufficient ground clearance to not worry about the new rash of speed breakers certain areas of Mumbai are infested with.
The 2.0-litre TFSI engine in the Q3’s ‘40’ spec produces 190hp and 320Nm of torque, which is modest for a 2-litre and performance feels just that. There’s no strong rush of acceleration but for day-to-day driving, this engine is perfectly calibrated to give a smooth step-off and even the 7-speed DSG transmission is one of the smoothest twin-clutch units around. The more you drive the Q3, the more you realise its fitness for purpose, which is to offer a very relaxed driving experience.
Lower down plastics feel hard and lack a plush feel.
Our new office’s parking area is quite tight, and when there are more cars than available spaces, we have to do a bit of jostling to fit all of them in. That’s when you appreciate the compact footprint of the Q3. It doesn’t stick out nor is it wide, which allows you to squeeze another car in the same spot.
I haven’t sat in the Q3’s back seat yet and for now am enjoying the well-contoured and generous driver’s seat, which doesn’t give you the impression that this is a compact SUV. However, what betrays the Q3’s position in Audi’s Q-range pecking order are bits of hard plastic around the seat base and on the lower dash. It doesn’t look cheap, but if you put it in the context of the Skoda Kodiaq, which feels more plush in the cabin, you have higher expectations from an Audi, however small it is.
Front seats very comfortable with generous cushioning.
The other issue with the Q3 is the rather dated digital screens, which lack the crisp and colourful graphics you find in the competition. The once much-vaunted ‘digital cockpit’ falls short on content and wow factor, and clearly, the Audi infotainment system is a generation behind, but that’s not always a bad thing. Unlike modern dashboards where there is not a button in sight, the Q3 has plenty of them for critical functions like the aircon, which you are always fiddling with. The steering-mounted buttons, too, are physical and that feels satisfying to use unlike the capacitive touch controls in modern Mercs.
Yes, the Q3 feels a bit old-school from the inside, but it also has a reassuring familiarity and ease of use, which makes you feel at home every time you drive it.