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Audi is serious about India

autos Updated: May 31, 2012 23:27 IST
Sumant Banerji
Sumant Banerji
Hindustan Times
Delhi Auto Expo

For Audi, it is seen as a game-changer in India. For BMW, it is the first direct competition for its X1, the first compact SUV from a lux carmaker worldwide. A serious one. For Toyota, it is just another addition to the list of competitors. For Mercedes, it is a sign that it will slip further. What are we talking about? The Q3, Audi’s cheapest, smallest SUV in the world, which it expects would catapult it ahead of BMW.

After wowing the crowds at the Delhi Auto Expo last January (or was that because Katrina Kaif was posing next to the car?), the Q3 will finally hit Indian roads in a fortnight. Will it live up to promise?

How ugly?
Not at all, though it may not be as charismatic as Kaif. All ‘Q’ cars are good looking and despite being the smallest of the lot, the Q3 may end up as a mass-favourite, the youngest of the family that is everybody’s darling. The familiar broad hexagonal grille and wraparound chiselled headlamps are unmistakably Audi. So are the trademark LEDs. From every angle it looks like a smaller sibling of the Q5, down to the tail lamps embedded in the boot lid.

Talking about dimensions, it is even smaller than the X1, which looks like an oversized hatch. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/6/01_06_biz1.jpg

Good enough to seat five?
Yes, but not without a degree of discomfort. Like the X1, this is best seen as a car for four, though the centre armrest has been given short shrift. Its smaller size and shorter wheelbase mean that rear legroom is not its strength, but thanks to some deft engineering — like a transverse-mounted engine — there is more cabin space than the BMW.

The central console and instrument cluster are neatly laid out with a two-tone dark and light beige combination. The equipment list is long and exhaustive, including ABS, EBD, panoramic sun roof, power adjustable front seat, radio/CD/MP3 player with foldout 6.5” colour screen, bluetooth compatible phone and audio streaming as well as voice dialogue system. Little that you would miss. But where is the USB port?

Does it drive like an Audi?
It does. Thankfully, the Q3 gets the quattro treatment — for the lay man, power to all four wheels as and when required. Something that the X1 lacks. It will come with a 2-litre petrol and diesel engines but the latter comes to town first. This engine has various iterations and finds itself on a host of VW group cars like Yeti, Superb, Laura, Jetta, Passat, A4 etc. In the Q3, it is a long stroke, performance-oriented avataar that develops 174 horsepower and 380 Nm torque, figures comparable to the others in class. On the road, it feels planted and eager to rev. The cabin is suitably insulated from wind and engine noise — though the steering does feel a little iffy. The suspension set up is on the harder side which means it corners well but you will shudder negotiating a large pothole. It cannot manage hardcore offroading, but is game for a little bit of adventure. That, and what follows, are where it clearly scores over the rest.

Gas guzzler?
All the jazz about technology and refinement would have come to a nought if it failed here. But it does not. On paper, Audi claims a phenomenal 17km to a litre of diesel — translating into a running cost of barely Rs. 2.4 per km. Reality may be more sobering, but we will accept the claim, just as we believe in X1’s 15 kmpl and the Fortuner’s 13 kmpl.

Verdict
For a car that has so much at stake, a 40-km drive is not enough to make a judgement. So the jury will remain out till there is a spoke-to-spoke, wiper-to-wiper, barrel-to-barrel combat with the X1. But we can list out where the car impresses. Looks, driveability, engine, space, refinement — all are areas where the Q3 scores. If one has to nit pick, you may say it is still not a serious SUV, is a squeeze to seat five, and is not a very engaging car over a long drive. In its defence, it does not pretend to be one. It is a practical urban car: compact, solid, economical. It will be priced more than the X1 as Audi believes it is more premium. Should you buy it? If you have Rs. 30 lakh, yes. Else, no.