We drive the new Q3 and A1
Audi is a premium car manufacturer; they’re not cheap though the value is relative, getting luxury for your Rand. 2019 saw the introduction of the new and upgraded Q3, and small hatch A1. The previous-generation Q3 was a popular model for families, particularly the diesel variants; they were spacious inside, small outside, easy to drive and the engines had plenty of poke. The A1 of yore was small, though could be made mightily expensive if the whole spec list was optioned, and the engines were a bit lacklustre in standard guise, unless you got the diesel, of course, then you were winning. With these thoughts in mind, we spent a week in the new Q3 and A1.
If first impressions last, consider us impressed. The test mule arrives in Turbo Blue, and it looks good. Really good, so good that pedestrians are stopping to look at it, this is not a multimillion Rand supercar, just a humble Q3 35 TFSI. Interesting.
Behind the wheel, a particular scene from the cult-classic movie, Clueless, keeps coming to mind. It’s the scene where Chastity asks, “I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” This is where it’s at with the Q3, and it’s bothersome because Audi make exceptional cars. Their current models are from a weapons arsenal purpose built for carving up the asphalt, and they’re taking market share from the Bavarian competitor with their sedans. So, why does it feel like we’re failing the Q3 35 by not being bowled over by it?
Sitting down to figure out why the Q3 leaves a feeling of whelmed, it’s starting to slot into place, it’s the Turbo Blue colour. Previous Q3 colour options where bland, the fun colours were reserved for the performance models. This new Q3 has a whole palette of fun colours (Pulse Orange, Tango Metallic Red, and Grun Uni) and these colours are associated with performance products with badges bearing S and RS. And it makes business sense to make these colours available on their regular product range, except for us the Turbo Blue colour intimates that the Q3 35 is really going to give you a kick in the kidneys when you put foot, but it doesn’t. The lovely athletic stance and new eight-vertical-bars grilled Q3 suggests handling that’ll turn you into a new version of Michele Mouton, but it doesn’t, it just does the job at hand. So, here we need to play a little bit of removing the book’s cover. Let’s change the visual parameters of the Q3 and then judge it again. Change it from Turbo Blue to zero-charge Ibis White. Now, what does it say?
Now, it’s a good-looking small SUV. It looks competent, and capable, and perfect for the family. There’s the optional chrome detailing on the edge of the grille, chrome-finished roof rails (that can carry 75 kg) and the optional panoramic sunroof. This is a lovely luxurious SUV that’s doing the traffic run to perfection. The 1.4 TFSi engine, now denoted as a “35” in the model line-up, produces 110 kW, enough for the daily grind and weekend adventures. The 250 Nm of torque is not crying out for carrying a load, though it’s doing fine with familial needs. For loads, the luggage compartment is generous at 530-litres which can be expanded to 1 525 litres. The 6-speed S Tronic automatic gearbox sends all the power on offer to the front-wheels and does it without complaint.
In conclusion, if you associate bright, bold colours on an Audi with speed, don’t select a ‘popping’ colour or you’ll risk feeling disappointed behind the wheel. However, if colour is just an accessory – go wild, the Turbo Blue and Pulse Orange look fantastic in the metal, highlighting the athletic design lines of the Q3. Starting at R578 000 It is the perfect premium family SUV, it’s just right in every way.
The previous-generation A1 was cute and small but hella expensive for what you were getting. The price tag was for premium luxury and not so much for engineering prowess. That was then, this is now.
So much has changed on the new A1; it’s still Audi’s smallest offering though it’s far more grown-up than before. Like a good coming-of-age story the A1 has figured out what it’s meant to do and where it fits into the Audi world. The top of the range A1 40 TFSI S line arrives looking hot in Misano Red pearlescent paint with contrasting Mythos black roof. The high-gloss paint and Audi Sport wheels it has on makes it look grown-up with an edge of youthful charm.
To start, the new A1 is plenty bigger than before, and this extra space is welcome. Somehow this allocation of an extra 56 mm of metal hasn’t thrown off the driving dynamics, if anything it feels like this A1 has realised it’s true potential. It feels like it’s adding stability to the dynamics, it corners via telepathy, although that’s more to do with a wider wheelbase and shorter overhangs, which is a proven formula to provide better driving dynamics. The steering feedback from the road and its reactions to inputs is so precise that driving is a pleasure. Audi’s have been criticized for being clinical in steering feel; this A1 is clinical with feeling, the ultimate surgeon that has a personality too.
It is cracking-ly good from behind the wheel (yes, crackling-ly is a word). The combination of engine, gearbox and steering come together in some weird magic on the road. It’s much better than it’s numbers on paper lead you to believe, and the driving dynamics are astounding. The A1 40 TFSI S-line might not seem like anything special; it’s a hatch built with the shared Volkswagen Audi Group MQB platform, shares a group engine (new Polo GTi, old Golf 6 GTi) and a 7-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to the front wheels. Some might dare suggest that this is a rebadged Polo GTi. How utterly wrong that is to suggest, they’ve clearly not driven it. It’s so good. When it comes together on the road, this is everything a hatch should be and more, VW could take a few notes here on how to infuse soul into a car. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine returns 147 kW which is monstrous for the A1’s size, and give 320 Nm in return of grunt for hills. The sport contour leather-wrapped 3-spoke flat-bottomed steering wheel with the flappy paddles makes you feel like a driving god, shifting up and down the gears with the flick of a hand. Unlike the Q3 35 TFSI the A1 40 TFSI does give a subtle kick to the kidneys when you ask it too.
Many test cars arrive with all the bells and whistles optioned. Often the extra kit can smooth over what a car lacks. This A1 is one of the few cars that you don’t need to option a whole whack of kit, just enough to spice-up the package. Upgrading to 18-inch Audi Sport rims is a must; they may seem too big for a car this small and will compromise the ride quality. They don’t, this A1 on the optional 18s balances comfort and a taught suspension feel. A good satellite navigation system is key if you’re doing plenty of driving, the MMI Navigation Plus with MMI touch may seem over the top at R24 500 though it’s worth every cent. Nice to haves, though not essential, is the Bang & Olufsen sound system and the styling pack with dark detailing, the latter accentuating the natural good looks of the A1.
In conclusion, the A1 40 TFSI S Line is a phenomenal offering from Audi, starting at R488 000 it’s by no means cheap, add on the optional extras and you’re going into the R550 000 mark. It doesn’t feel like you’ve overpaid from behind the wheel, it feels like the premium product it is with all the niceties and the performance to match. It’s already in the memory vault as one of the most enjoyable week’s spent with a car.
The Audi Q3 and A1 range are sold with Audi’s Freeway plan (5 year / 100 000 km) and inclusive of all taxes.