For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to calling the Audi Q3 Mk1 a compact SUV, although not all versions have all-wheel drive, and when behind the wheel, it looks a bit like a high-rise hatchback. It was launched in the UK at the end of 2011 and was initially available with a pair of 2.0 liter petrol engines and a pair of 2.0 liter turbos. The Q3 Mk1’s trim grades are trimmed like its range of engines, with only the SE and S line to choose from. Depending on the engine, the original buyers also had to decide whether they wanted front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (quattro, as Audi calls it), and between manual and automatic gearboxes.
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These original engines and those that followed during the Q3 Mk1’s seven-year life were all smooth, polished and economical. If you drive a reasonable number of miles each year, the superior economy of diesel engines will save you money, but if you’re a more urban driver and don’t go far, the smaller 1.4-Litre TFSI petrol engine, is a better bet – it’s cheaper to buy, a little stingy What, it performs well and does not suffer from reliability issues that can affect diesel engines trapped in the city for a long time.
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The fact that the Audi Q3 Mk1 is roughly the same length and width as the family hatchback is a parking boon and helps ease transition if you’re moving uphill from a hatchback, but that does mean the space inside the cabin isn’t generous — generous. If you are close to six feet tall, you will probably feel comfortable enough, but you will realize that the back of the front seat is close to your knees and the headliner is not far from your head. If you absolutely must, you can put a third person in the back seat for short trips, but that means you have three unhappy passengers.
The shoe is also dimensionally challenging. They’re good for everyday use – think a stroller and a family supermarket – but a week’s vacation on the coast will require smart packaging and soft cases.
It’s not the cars’ role like this to be driving exciting, but from behind the wheel the Q3 Mk1 veered pretty far in the opposite direction, even for owners who don’t care much about that sort of thing. Its steering is lifeless and its suspension is neither comfortably soft nor sporty strong. On the plus side, your passengers will appreciate that the Q3 Mk1’s body doesn’t tilt much through corners, while the four-wheel drive quattro versions make driving feel safer during the winter.
If you want a more lively driving experience, there are two versions of the Q3 Mk1 that will set your pulse – the 335hp RS Q3 and the more powerful RS Q3 Performance. Sharing with mainstream Q3 Mk1s, they’re an imperfect pair, but you can’t complain about the brutality of their outright performance.
What is the history of the Audi Q3 Mk1?
The first deliveries of the Audi Q3 Mk1 began in the UK in November 2011, and the range was remarkably simple. A strut of 2.0-liter gasoline engines producing 168 hp and 208 hp and a TFSI badge, and a pair of turbocharged 2.0-liter engines with power outputs of 138 hp and 175 hp, bears the TDI badge. Quattro all-wheel drive was standard with two more powerful engines, and optional on the lower-powered petrol: the 138-hp diesel was initially front-wheel drive only, but offered a quattro option as of July 2012. There were only two trim grades, the SE and the S-Line, and both Well equipped.
Audi launched a high-performance derivative in September 2013, the 335bhp RS Q3, and followed in February 2016 with a more powerful version, the RS Q3 Performance – it had 362 horsepower and was claimed to run 167 mph with a special optional upgrade removing the standard 155 mph limiter.
Most significant was the introduction of the 1.4-liter TFSI turbocharged petrol engine in January 2014, which coincided with the demise of the slow-selling 208-horsepower 2.0 TFSI. It features cylinder-on-demand technology – in driving conditions where you don’t need full power, it can shut down (automatically and smoothly) two of its four cylinders to save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions.
In January 2015, refurbished versions of the Q3 Mk1 began arriving in UK showrooms. There was a new – albeit evolutionary – look to the front and rear of the car, new alloy wheel designs, and a host of technological improvements. The engine range has also been upgraded with higher power output, better fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
A change in trim grades took place in October 2016, although the lineup has remained refreshingly simple – Sport, S line Edition, and topping the line, Black Edition. There were also some small tweaks to the design. In November 2018, the Audi Q3 Mk2 debuted.
What is the best Audi Q3 Mk1?
Which Q3 Mk1 is best for you depends on the type of driving you do. If you travel 15,000 miles or more each year, with a good mix of urban streets, A-roads and motorways, the TDI’s turbocharged 2.0-liter TDI engine with 148 hp is perfect. It’s powerful, quiet, gets 61.4 mpg and CO2 emissions of 119g/km put it in the low range for the annual road tax. The 181bhp version of the same engine gives you extra performance, but buying it is more expensive and you lose economy and emissions. Likewise, earlier versions of these 138 hp and 175 hp engines are well suited and usually less expensive to buy.
If most of your driving is around town and you don’t get many miles a year, the 1.4 liter TFSI turbo is a better choice than diesel. It is cheaper to buy and although its performance is not great, it is suitable for urban traffic. Plus, the 1.4 TFSI does 47.9 mpg — which isn’t quite as big as the TDI, but remember that unleaded is less expensive than a diesel.
Another reason to recommend a gasoline engine for city driving is to handle the concern of many diesel engines – the diesel particulate filter, or DPF. DPF removes harmful particles from the exhaust, but from time to time the system needs to burn off those particles, which requires more heat than the engine can collect during city driving. DPF blockages can cause serious and costly engine problems.
Thrill-seekers won’t need to be told to turn their attention to the high-performance RS models. The “normal” RS Q3 has more than enough performance for a car of this type – 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, 155mph – but if you’re going to indulge in something horrible, why not go all out and save up for the 362bhp performance RS Q3 …
In terms of choosing a trim grade, the SE offers everything you need, is a good value, and is quite prolific. Even early models came with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, aluminum roof rails, Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, and a retractable color screen infotainment system.
The S line model arguably looks better with the body kit, 18-inch aluminum alloy and sporty interior, but keep in mind that it’s also equipped with a lower, firm suspension that gives it a tough ride quality. If you’re prepared to do a lot of research, you might find one of the very few examples of the S-Line optionally fitted with the SE’s softer suspension, so you get the look but with a better driving experience.
Four-wheel drive or front wheel drive? There’s some disclaimer in saying your Q3 Mk1 is a quattro, and if you’re driving in the countryside during the winter months, you’ll appreciate the extra traction and sense of safety you get from all-wheel drive, but it can hurt your fuel consumption by about 5 mpg.
Manual or automatic gearbox? This is an easier question to answer: automatic, if you can stretch to it. You can hardly feel the difficulty of the automatic transmission of the Audi DSG, which is always in the right gear at the right time, no matter how and where you drive. It even offers you the possibility to change gears yourself, using the paddles at the back of the steering wheel. Combined with the sheer comfort of an automatic transmission, the DSG gearbox offers better performance and fuel economy than changing it yourself.
What are the alternatives?
The Audi Q3 Mk1 is a prestigious model and it has some lavish competition – Range Rover Evoque, BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA are its most direct competitors. However, if you look beyond the badge and consider good value, your shortlist should also include Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sportage, Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar.
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