Entry level SUVs have something magical about them for luxury car companies in India. BMW celebrated its leadership position in 2010 with the X1 that at least partially helped it retain the position the following year. Audi brought the Q3 in mid 2012 that promptly catapulted it to pole position by the end of the year. Mercedes launched the GLA last year hoping to give Audi a taste of its own medicine. What does the brand with the four rings do then? Tweak the Q3 to re-energise its lustre. Is it enough to ward off GLA?
Design and stylingNot an awful lot has changed when you look at the car from the outside. Most of the changes are subtle that seek to replace what was once brash and in your face to something that is mature and sober. It gets what Audi calls a 3D single-frame grille that essentially replaces the overplay of chrome with brushed aluminium and blends seamlessly with the full LED headlights. More of this will be seen as the entire Q series is refreshed. Audi had added a base S variant of the Q3 that had manual transmission and lacked Audi's famous DRLs. In this redesign, it gets DRLs too. Another addition that adds to the style is the turn indicators that move inside out in the direction of the turn with a delay of 200th of a second. Borrowed from the A8 sedan and R8 sportscar, it creates quite a dramatic effect.
Precious little has changed on the inside as well. There are two colour themes--all black or black and beige--available for the dashboard and the faux wood finish has been replaced with textured aluminium. The top of the line trim gets inbuilt navigation and a 20GB memory to store maps. The system works very well and instructions are also shown in the instrument console right in front of the driver. No need to look elsewhere to see where you are heading. We would have however liked the maps to be offered across the trims. There is also a mobile cradle under the arm rest. Audi says once the mobile is docked here, it uses the car's antenna to boost signal and conserve battery. On our phone , it barely had an impact. Space at the rear is sufficient only for 2 adults. The pronounced transmission tunnel hump jeopardies a third passenger. It does not get an arm rest at the back which is strange for a car of this class. There is one big advantage of an Audi over BMW or Mercedes though. The tyres. Q3 gets an 18" space saver tyre tucked in neatly under the boot. BMW does not get one but we are told dealers would be grateful to supply you an additional tyre as an accessory but it destroys the boot space of the X1. Ditto for Merc. Q3's 460 litres of boot space then, is the best in class.
Ride and handlingQ3 retains its 2 litre turbo diesel engine with a 177 PS output and 380 NM torque mated to a 7 speed dual clutch DSG gearbox. The addition here are steering mounted paddle shift that is handy when you are bored of driving around like a robot. For the entry level S edition, the engine is de-tuned somewhat to offer an output of 140 PS and 320 NM torque. Compared to the 17" alloys of the regular version, it gets smaller 16" wheels, no all wheel drive system and a 6 speed manual transmission. But it costs about R 5 lakh less and offers more fuel economy. Over its competitors, the quattro all wheel drive system of the top end variants really gives Audi the edge. The GLA does not come with all wheel drive capability yet and the X1's sDrive is not at par with Audi's quattro. It isnt an out an out off roader and you have to look at the pricier Range Rovers for that but it is good for bad roads or the occasional slush.
VerdictAll Audis look the same these days and with so many of them around, Q3 also suffers from the same handicap. The nose job it has got here does not alter the perspective too much and the Mercedes GLA is clearly the looker of the pack. Yet, Q3 is a bestseller and a better all rounded package. Very practical and better sorted than others, its all wheel drive system offers more flexibility. Audi has jacked up prices of the base two trims by over a lakh but slashed that of the top end by the same quantum. At R 37.5 lakh for that version, it is a good R 3 lakh more expensive than the top end GLA but Quattro makes it well worth the money.