Projecting a premium image has been an Audi priority in its battle to retain or lure customers away from its two German rivals, but the reality is that over time, “lesser” brands have upped their game and closed the gap in perception terms to Ingolstadt’s stepping stone models, not least the compact Q3.

The arrival of a new Q3 therefore couldn’t come soon enough and having sampled two versions of Audi’s brand new compact SUV, there’s absolutely no doubt the bar has been raised such that the premium genes are readily evident.

Three models are available, all powered by the familiar 110kW/250Nm1.4 TFSI motor driving the front wheels through a brilliantly smooth and responsive 6-speed S tronic automated box. Any fears that the slightly longer and wider but shallower Q3 might overwhelm this engine can be put to rest as the encouraging torque peak holds all the way from a mere 1 500 rpm until the mid-three thousands.

This ensures that open road cruising is a doddle and that mid-range urge is always on hand, characteristics enhanced by the very effective isolation of mechanical disturbances from the cabin. Expect more firepower sometime in 2020 but for now, have no qualms about that relatively small mill.

Apart from mechanical refinement, the new Q3 also repels wind noises to good effect, albeit that the large wing mirrors do generate some rustle in strong crosswinds. Road noise too is contained with aplomb other than on the coarsest tar, so count refinement as a Q3 strong suit.

The Q3 also dealt with gravel roads very competently but both cars driven incorporated the optional and desirable 6-mode chassis dynamics package which in “comfort” mode will have helped ward off the nasties. The steering too is pleasingly weighted and nicely responsive, but again this function is influenced by the workings of the aforementioned dynamics package.

In an attempt to reduce configuration muddles, three model ranges are presented in Standard, Advanced and S line form with each sporting distinctive equipment packages that are more generous than of old. Please consult the Audi SA website for full details but be aware that an extensive options list can still add significantly to the price.

What is new as standard, is a digital 10.25-inch instrument cluster allied to a central infotainment 8.8-inch touch screen display but for tech fans, the virtual “plus” system with crystal-clear, bigger dual screens and greater functionality including nav is almost a must even if functionality seems complex on first acquaintance.

Interior ambience and finish, with the exception of hard plastics in mostly hidden lower areas, is top notch and comfort levels high, even for those in the back who can move the 20:40:20 seat fore and aft by 150mm while still leaving a minimum luggage area of 530 litres.

And as you’d expect, external finish is industry-leading and makes the sharper, more sporty lines and imposing new grille stand out to good effect. Without a doubt, the new Q3 has raised the bar, offering improved dynamics and practicality along with excellent refinement and a somewhat daunting price tag that starts out at R565 000.

This article by Richard Wiley first appeared in Ultimate Drive Ed.57

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