New-car segments aren't necessarily all about size. That much is clear from the Audi Q3. This smaller sibling to the Q5 and Q7 (well, almost everything is smaller than a Q7) theoretically takes the four-ringed brand down into compact-crossover territory.
The Q3 is pretty close in concept and physical size to the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Close, yes. But a rival? No. Not at a basic price of $70,900 for the 2.0-litre TDI, rising to $77,900 for the more lavishly dressed and equipped S line version.
Is it worth it? For most customers, that won't be an issue because as anybody who works for a premium car brand will tell you, while buyers from the mainstream are always looking upwards, those who shop at this level don't often glance down. An Audi Q3 buyer probably won't be interested in a Mazda CX-5, for example.
But for the record, yes: the Q3 does feel a cut above its Japanese and Korean counterparts. Even the Volkswagen Tiguan TDI, a car with which it shares many components.
Fifteen thousand dollars above? That's a harder one to answer. You'd have to ask somebody that's actually spending the money. For reasons explored in the previous paragraph, they'd probably say yes.
Underneath the slightly quirky style, the Q3 is core-Audi executed very well indeed. The 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine is familiar stock, but tweaked up to 130kW/380Nm Ð more than it produces in any other Volkswagen Group passenger in the local range. The transmission is a slick S Tronic dual-clutch unit, with Quattro full-time four-wheel drive.
Inside, it's familiar too. Bespoke, but familiar Audi style and quality. Exactly what you'd expect of a $70k compact-crossover from the four-ringed marque.
It all works beautifully. The TDI powerplant is strong and sprightly: with that S Tronic shifting in sport mode, the Q3 will sprint to 100km/h in a very respectable 8.3 seconds, yet returns 5.9 litres per 100km in the Combined cycle.
The S Tronic still has its awkward moments in town, as the automated clutches struggle with low-speed manoeuvres and hill starts: but on the whole it gets very close to the ease-of-use of a conventional automatic, while offering plenty of enthusiast appeal and performance/economy equivalent to a manual.
The steering is electronically light (it's a common problem these days), but the taut chassis and superb traction of quattro endow the Q3 with a certain depth of ability.
Above all, the Q3 offers a premium feel on the inside. It sounds like a clichŽ, but Audi really has the business of high-quality cabin design and fit/finish nails. The Q3 is full of beautiful details and soft materials.
If not exactly dripping with equipment. Here's another area where the Europeans differ from the mainstream: the essentials are provided, but of you want to be surprised and delighted you need to start spending on the options list.
Reversing camera, Bose sound system, 18-inch alloys all extra. Again, buyers at this level love the idea that they are customising their cars a little. A $100k Q3 is not only possible, it's been done more than once, according to the local Audi people.
You can even add an Ôoff-road styling package' for $5400. Looks great, although it really is for appearance only and adds nothing to the Q3's modest mud-plugging abilities. Rather like its Japanese and Korean rivals, it's just not that kind of car.