Monday 22 January 2018

A bog-standard marvel

RATING 85/100

I am often caught up in retrospective wonder when I travel to, or through, places with links to my childhood. Especially at this time of the year. Take the other day, for example.

The brother and cousin were along with me as I, suddenly, decided to take this bronzed (Samoa Orange to be precise) Audi Q3 compact crossover/SUV, conceived in the heart of pristine German technology, for a quick gallop into wet, muddy, spongy Woodfield Bog in Offaly.

Who would ever have imagined such a thing as a small Audi all those years ago when the most advanced technology to dare wade through the morass was a grey Massey Ferguson? Even more, who would imagine me driving a 'posh' upmarket Q3?

No wonder I was mindful of the old Jim Reeves' number: "That's what happens when two worlds collide". The old and the new have certainly collided and haven't the changes been extraordinary?

No more, I suppose, than the stark contrast between today and the world in which this Q3 was conceived.

Four or five years ago, we were still thinking 'big'. Huge SUVs such as the Audi Q7, a monster memorial to the excess of 'success' and the ability of engineering to meet its demands, were all the rage.

We were then to have a slimmed down version, the Q5, to reflect, perhaps, the moderation of horizons.

And now we have the Q3 and I'm sure there are those who will say it is not small enough to mirror our shrunken hopes.

But I don't care what they say -- this is of its time when people with money (and they are out there) are looking for something different.

It is a typically packaged, thoroughly modern Audi, in many ways visually derived from the Q7, but in many more a pumped-up large hatchback to appeal to the mums and dads of this world.

The one I tested had quattro four-wheel drive but there are two-wheel only drives as well for those who will never impulsively plough into the entrails of a midlands bog.

It was surprisingly roomy, much the same as an A4 saloon for example, And, as I say, for all its 'Q' lineage it is more inflated hatchback than shrunk down SUV.

There are a lot of these compact motors around. Obviously there is a perceived demand for them. Why? Well they are different, smart, have a great driving position, give you grip and traction (four-wheel-drive anyway) in all weathers, have the room of an executive saloon and are versatile.

This was so solid on the road and reasonably sharp on the handling that I can see families liking it a lot. I reckon it felt roomier, especially in the back, than a key rival such as the BMW X1, but it trails the Beemer on that bit of handling verve. Another rival, the Range Rover Evoque, is more sharply designed, while the likes of the Subaru Outback and Honda CR-V are well established and have loyal followings.

But there is something about Audis these days. For a start, the cabins are now exceptional, with a common theme and quality of trim running through them all -- from large to small. And this is as good as anything on the market, with big solid seats (and decent adjustment on them).

My version had the more powerful (177bhp) of the 2-litre diesel engines. To be honest you don't need this -- the price and road tax will improve with the 143bhp version. But there was great kick in the one I had and I enjoyed it.

The Q3 is solid, compact, versatile. What it lacks in real driver appeal it makes up for in providing a sense of comfort and well-being. And, sweet God, we need that illusion these days.

For many it will represent a safe, surefooted bet that does not look out of place on a suburban driveway or in the depths of a mucky, wintry countryside.

I also think they have been clever in preparing all models for sat nav.

In effect, that means you just buy the SD cards with the maps whenever suits you and off you go. Another world at your fingertips.

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