Cars: Audi plays cute card with Q2 baby crossover
But watch out for price spiral
I suppose it is only fitting I should start the new year with an 'SUV', albeit a baby one that looks more like a pumped-up coupé than an off-roader.
But this is the year everyone expects SUVs/crossovers (call them what you wish) to be far and away the single biggest-selling genre here and in Europe. We're officially crossover crazy.
Audi's Q2 is a baby SUV in a cute, clever, energetic little puppy sort of way. Even the cynic in me acknowledges how well they have clinically ticked several boxes with its design, muscle, curves and profile.
The cynic in me also alerts you to watch out for the price. While it starts where you'd expect a premium hatch, sorry SUV, to kick off, it races up the register as you add a few bits and pieces. There is no way a car of this size and ability should be costing €45,000 - but my test car, stuffed to the gills, will set you back that much.
Price is a sensitive subject with this. The car is not so much a gamble to get into a lucrative market, it's more a challenge to make sure it doesn't rob Audi of loyal A3 owners in the process. That's because the two cars are built on the same platform and there is not a major gap in pricing between the two (€27,810 starts the A3; from €30,800 for Q2). I think, in the current craze, the Q2 has the allure to tempt significant numbers into its tidy, well laid out and reasonably spacious interior.
Would I opt for it over the A3 hatch/saloon? That's the real question for many. Yes, I would, because it is smarter looking and more flexible than the A3. No, because the saloon would probably suit my needs better.
I know people who love their A3s. I also know plenty who, with the Q2 as an alternative, wouldn't give the A3 a second look. Horses for courses: this is aimed straight at young urban couples and singles.
They'll love parts of it but might be disappointed that once you get over the smart front and side innovations, the rear is far too close to what the A3 looks like. I was disappointed. A bit more flair was called for.
It is taller (1.51m) and wider (1.79m) but shorter (4.19m) than the A3 hatch because it has such tidy overhangs.
Audi say the 2.6m wheelbase means it will "fit in any parking space". It did get me into a few tight ones alright and was a joy to jig around town in, too.
There is a good boot (405 litres, or 1,050 litres if you fold the rear bench) and it was a flexible little motor.
I was surprised by how low it sits, yet there was such head room inside.
Unfortunately, I had the 1.4-litre petrol on test. There won't be much of a market for that even if it had what they call 'Cylinder on Demand'.
Basically, when you are cruising or easing off the pedal, two of the four cylinders shut down (in this case the second and third) so it cuts back on fuel.
The diesel engines in the line-up will be the ones in real demand, though from a previous test they didn't set the pulses racing either. I think the 1-litre TFSI (116bhp) petrol is well worth a look. It's excellent, and ideal for urban driving.
You probably know the Q2 is a direct rival for the Mercedes GLA and BMW X2.
I like all three, but I think the Beemer is the pick of the bunch. It's a better drive and felt roomier; space is at a premium at the back of the Q2.
But there was something quite appealing about it. It's 'warmer' than the other two on the eye outside and, to the touch, within. It has those chunky looks that tend to stand the test of time. I wouldn't be as sure of the GLA on that front but that's another day's work. The cabin is smart, purposefully laid out and designed; I liked it a lot.
It was a sprightly little drive, too, nimble and quite engaging, thanks to the progressive steering which gives such a direct feel.
But I was surprised several times to find how easily the front wheels spun - it's called torque steer - under only moderate acceleration.
Quattro all-wheel drive versions (15cm ground clearance) would sort that and are standard with the range-topping 7spd diesel and petrols. Costly though.
By the way, my car had the brand's Virtual Cockpit complete with 12.3in screen. A brilliant interface but it is an extra. Pity. It deserves to be on all cars but that would drive up the price so it's part of an optional package. Speaking of extras: I've lost count of what you could order with this car - a huge range of stuff. Yet all models get a decent lick of connectivity and infotainment.
I wouldn't be ecstatic about some areas of the Q2 and I loved others. But cynic and all as I am, I have to concede the formula works well for what people want in the Year of the SUV.
FACTS & FIGURES
Audi Q2 1.4TFSI COD (cylinder-on-demand) 150bhp, 7spd S-Tronic, front-wheel drive; 4.8l/100km, 132g/km, €280 road tax. Standard spec includes: front sport seats, sports suspension, connectivity package, 7ins MMI screen, Audi Drive Select, 18ins alloys, LED headlights, light/rain sensor, cruise control, smartphone interface, rear parking sensors. Options include Tech package (€2,450 - virtual cockpit, 'Phone Box', Audi Connect, MMI Navigation Plus), Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, parking system Plus, Deluxe climate control.
Price: €45,448. Diesels from €32,490.