The new Audi Q3S is Audi's cheapest car yet. And it comes with a pokey diesel engine and a manual gearbox. Does it impress?
There is a famous phrase that goes ‘To Each His Own’. With the recent spate of luxury hatchbacks like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the BMW 1 Series, some might say Audi has lost its plot by not launching the A3 hatchback in India. But, Audi has gone the other way with the ‘offering more for less’ mantra and has decided to cut prices on the Q3 SUV and re-launching it in an all-new avatar, the Q3S. The Q3S is now the cheapest Audi on offer so we decided to take it for a spin to see what Audi has added and what they have removed.
On the face of it, the bright red car Audi dropped off at he ZigWheels office seemed more like a special top-of-the-line model with all the bells and whistles you can expect from an ‘S’ badged Audi. As there is no real ‘S’ badge on the Q3S, the easiest way to differentiate the Q3S from its regular sibling is the missing Daytime Running Light equipped headlamp cluster. The Q3S is equipped with a blacked out, twin barrel, halogen headlamp with a well-crafted indicator and parking light module. Although the lack of the daytime running lights reduces the WOW factor from the Q3, what are really missed are the projector headlamps.
One would expect Audi to provide projector headlamps in a car that costs this much, even more so due to the fact that the standard headlights provided in the Audi Q3S are not good enough. As with the headlamps, the tail lamps too loose the classy LED equipped units for a more conventional bump type unit. That said, the ones that are provided on the Q3S are certainly filled to the brim with interesting details and certainly a lot more character.
Other than the headlamps, the Q3S actually looks like a more expensive version of the standard car. With a well crafted matte-black cladding combined with silver pieces of trim both on the front and rear bumper, the Q3S, especially in a bright color like the red seen here looks absolutely exceptional. That combined with the 17 inch split spoke wheels painted black really makes the Q3S stand out from the crowd. The whole package is nicely rounded by two large exhaust tips, which have also been painted black giving the Q3S good sporting pretentions.
It is only when one moves to the interior that one realizes all the deletions that Audi has made to the Q3 to price it at Rs 24.99 Lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). The first thing that one notices is the lack of the climate control system only to have been replaced by a set of conventional knobs and buttons. Although acceptable to some, this might irk some customers who are looking for a premium touch in general. What is also immediately obvious is the generally spartan look and feel of the interior. That said, the quality of most materials used is still generally top grade. Luckily, Audi have not deleted the flip-up multimedia display screen that we have become so used to in the regular Q3.
The Audi Q3S does not come with a panoramic sunroof. Not even as an optional extra. And as is the case with all Audis, the Q3S continues the tradition of having no USB slots. Another inconveniencing feature is the fact that the central command knob that controls all the functions on the infotainment, navigation and telephonic functions is situated on the dashboard and not on the central transmission tunnel making it slightly awkward to use especially while driving. The reason for this shift in position though is pretty obvious when you realize this is the first car in Audi’s current range that comes with a manual gearbox.
ENGINE, GEARBOX AND PERFORMANCE
The Audi Q3S comes equipped with a 2.0 Litre engine that makes 140PS as compared to the 177PS the standard car makes and produces 320Nm of torque. In essence then, the Q3 ‘S’ is actually slower than a regular Q3. The Q3S though is a lighter car as it comes equipped with a front wheel drive only option as opposed to the regular car’s Quattro all-wheel-drive option. What does excite us a bit though is the fact that the Q3S gets a 6-speed manual gearbox as compared to the seven-speed PDK gearbox that we are so used to in the regular car. This means that the Q3S, although a tad bit underpowered is immense amounts of fun especially while going up a windy road.
We must point out one of the Q3S’ Achilles heel here though. As is the case with most German or European cars that come equipped with a manual gearbox, the Q3S too felt harder to drive than a lot of its contemporaries. For example, the effort required to pres and depress the clutch pedal is much higher than the average Indian customer will or can tolerate. Although the enthusiast in all of us aches for a high performance car with a proper manual gearbox, most manual gearboxes today get outgunned, outclassed and outmatched by their automatic counterparts especially considering the amount of time us Indians spend each day in a long tedious traffic jam.
Not only are automatics better to drive in terms of extracting maximum performance but are also way easier to drive. One wonders if the Q3S’engine and gearbox have actually tuned for the Indian driving cycle.
RIDE AND HANDLING
What the Q3S lacks in overall ease, it makes up in balanced handling. Although the Q3S is offered only in front wheel drive, the reduced weight has played a tremendous effect on the way the Q3S punts itself though corners. Although it is by no means a match for the cars it has been priced to rival, like the BMW 1 Series for instance, the Q3S does a pretty good job of dealing with both rough roads and potholes alike.
Yes, like most Audis, the ride is on the slightly stiffer side, but the compromise between ride and handling is quite worth it. The steering too feels surprisingly direct and well weighed. The Q3S is by no means a bad handler and feels nimble, both on the open road and on the busy streets of Mumbai.
The bottom line is simple: The Q3S is nothing more than a cut price Q3. But instead of being a barebones minimalistic car, it offers much more value than what one expects it to. For starters, the manual gearbox will most certainly return better fuel economy figures as compared to the automatic and that to the Indian customer is as tempting as a sale on Gold jewelry.
Is it worth it? In a nutshell, if you are looking into buying into the Audi trend that seems to have swept the nation, then Yes. But if you are looking into buying a no-nonsense luxury car that is a good daily driver and looks equally good posing in your parking spot, the Audi Q3S is an even better proposition. We would make one crucial change though: a modern Audi without LED lamps is like a cake without any chocolate. It just isn’t right!