Baby mud-plugger

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By Nick Jones

I’ve tested the Audi Q7 and it’s slightly smaller sister the Q5 and, inevitably as there was a perceived gap in the market, I’ve now spent time behind the wheel of the even smaller new Q3.

It’s the smallest of Audi’s strong SUV line-up and can be had – when all derivatives are finally released – front-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, manual, automatic, petrol or diesel.

That caters for just about everybody, methinks.

The Q3 has a tough act to follow. It’s older, bigger, mud-plugging, soft-roading siblings have both performed ridiculously well for the German marque, selling in excess of 100,000 a year.

This is hardly a surprise. Audi has long been a leader in four-wheel-drive technology, just think back to the days of the all-conquering Quattro rally car of the 1980s.

Little sister hits the UK just as the Range Rover Evoque will start wandering the streets but Audi believes the Q3 can go head-to-head with it successfully.

The Q3 is noticeably shorter than the Q5 in length, but the Audi styling remains plain – line them up side-by-side and only the die-hards with a tape measure will see the differences.

At the press launch Audi had two petrols and two diesels for we media-types to try.

The baby oil-burner promises emissions under 140g/km and economy of around 45mpg from a 2.0-litre unit that serves up 140bhp.

Top speed is close-on 130mph, with 0-60mph taking just under ten seconds. I’d be very surprised if we didn’t get to see the three-litre diesel engine at some point down the production line. The other diesel stirs 177 horses, can top 132mph and rockets past 60mph from standstill in just 8.2 seconds. This beefier diesels produces only 19g/km more on the emissions front.

As for the petrols, there is a 2.0-litre turbo with 170bhp and a more powerful 211bhp unit that will deliver 143mph and, thanks to traction-control, hits 60mph in just under seven seconds.

Such performance is mainly down to the Q3’s light weight, the result of extensive use of aluminium in its construction.

On the road, the Q3 has a few ‘tricks’ up its sleeve, the most interesting of which is tagged on to the seven-speed S-Tronic dual clutch assembly. Select efficiency mode on the head-up display and the Q3 has the ability to freewheel once it disengages the engine and the need for engine braking.

A bit nervy at first (that sense of freewheeling, I mean) but fine and an obvious saving to be made down the line. Unlike the Q5 and Q7, the smaller somewhat cuter Q3 adopts the Haldex four-wheel-drive set-up and has an automated differential lock that activates alongside the ESP to effectively deliver the power to the wheels that need it most.

The test drive I had was a brief encounter, but a good one.

The car rides smoothly, has a good burst of power and is whisper-quiet on the road – Audi’s familiar no rattle, squeak-free interior is as wonderful as ever.

Price-wise, it all starts at £24,560 for the 2.0TDI 140bhp SE version, rising to £31,360 for the 2.0-litre petrol TFSI Quattro S-Line.

Pick of the crop for me would have to be the 2.0-itre TDI Quattro with the 7-speed S-Tronic gearbox at £28,460.

Just for comparison, the cheapest Range Rover Evoque costs £28,700 so it’s all to play for.