Wednesday May 24, 2017
For: Cute looks, big car driving feel, good transmission.
Against: Cramped rear seat, some cheap interior plastics.
By Richard Bosselman
PERKY premium hatchbacks used to be big earners but not they’re coming off the boil – today’s buyer is far more interested in like-sized stuff that's sporty but with greater standing.
What they want are sports utilities. But not specifically those SUVs that put any particular emphasis on the utility side of things. Just something that looks as though it could adventure, but actually would be best keep on the street and café beat, is more to this customer set’s taste.
Audi has just the thing. The Q2 has an SUV ambience, but being – at the moment at least – front drive and presenting with a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine, it’s really more of an elevated hatchback.
It’s cheeky, it’s fashionably chic, it’s not a downsized cookie cutter version of the Q3 and Q5 and… er, no … there’s nothing particularly alliterative about the price. Cheap? At $54,500 At $54,500 as tested, this launch model isn’t that. You can safely expect forthcoming additions into a family that will eventually include versions with the brand’s Quattro drivetrain and larger engine will be more again.
For sure, it’s a premium brand so you cannot avoid paying a premium price, but being placed in this band it might inevitably be sized up against its slight larger bigger brother, the well-established Q3, which has its own circle of admirers.
Audi doesn’t think there will be too much trouble finding homes for the Q2, though, because it says this car is aimed at a younger buyer group.
Audi styling ethos demands that the Q2 must pick up all the decorative cues that come with larger models; notably the bold new somewhat octagonal grille and angled headlamps that spans the entire family. Also, because it is in the SUV sub-clan, it also has to affect a similar silhouette to the other Q models, even the big daddy Q7.
Even so, it also intends to present as a younger, fresher and more stylish alternative because it is expected to undertake a job that isn’t expected of those larger cars: To attract genuinely new customers to this brand.
Make that genuinely new young customers. Despite the big dollar sticker, Ingolstadt has the idea that this model can pull bring 20-somethings and trendy 30-plusers who might have decided against having a family but instead want flashy playthings.
It’s an intriguing proposition, not just because it doesn’t exactly conform with NZ new car buying trends – here stats suggest the people with the coin to spend on a new car for private use are all 50-plus – but also because, at first sight, the immediate x-factor youngsters are looking for didn’t exactly shout out with the test car.
Was it simply the colour? Audi is impressing that the key to this car is personalisation so it’s interesting that a white car was even on the press fleet; it’s the one colour that does tend to tone down the razzmatazz and a car’s shape. I’ve since seen a Q2 in bright yellow, and bedecked heavily with exterior accessories, and it was a lot louder.
You have plenty of opportunity to dress it up: 11 exterior colours, five alloy wheel designs and a number of interior options, with red, orange and yellow trim available. You can use an online configurator to test out those blends.
Audi is offering four option packages: S line Style ($4500), Leather for $3500, Technology with the Virtual Cockpit for $3500 and Driver Assistance with adaptive cruise, lane-assist and automatic high-beam for $3000.
Those will enhance the car’s presence, though in terms of street awareness, even in base format it is a bolder design than the Q3 and Q5, which admittedly are getting on now, and has nicely sporty proportions, with a distinctively wide track and, despite the beyond-seal pretension, a low-slung if slightly chubby appearance.
The angles capture light in different ways there’s design freshness in the contrasting C-pillar panel, which lends the roofline a 'floating' appearance. The provision of full-LED lamps and sequential type indicators that are otherwise the preserve of very high-end Audi models is nice.
As expected from a premium car maker such as Audi the quality of the interior is of a very high standard. Yet you will find some cheaper plastics in the lower sections that are usually out of sight and while the seats are in leather, the elbow pads are trimmed in a leatherette. Quirkily, the storage bins also seem lack the felt lining that you get in a number of 'less premium' Volkswagen models.
More of a personal bugbear is how dated the graphics on the main infotainment screen, in the centre of the console, seem to be. Everything’s a bit chunky and over-coloured. Worse still, the more budget-minded family brands, VW and Skoda, have more upmarket, cleaner appearances. That needs sorting.
Standard equipment includes MMI Navigation with a 7.0-inch display, Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, parking system plus with rear-view camera, an electric tailgate, dual-zone climate control, leather-appointed seats, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian protection (up to 65kmh), Audi Connect with Google Earth functionality and Wi-Fi hotspot, and 17-inch alloy wheels. It all sounds good, but you can buy a $10k-cheaper Holden Astra now that’s just as comprehensively-equipped.
There’s plenty of opportunity to option up with bigger wheels, blind spot monitoring (which should really be standard) and Audi's Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, as well as the usual S-Line considerations.
Despite obviously being quite a small car, the Q2 has plenty of room for taller drivers and also plenty of adjustment in the front seats, yet while rear seat passengers are well catered for in terms of headroom, legroom does become more of an issue with a lanky driver. Also, seating three adults across the rear bench would be a squeeze.
Behind the seating area, the Q2 features a 405-litre boot, which extends to 1050 litres with the second row folded. But that only applies to the front-drive car; the all-wheel-drive model loses 50 litres due to the packing requirements associated with having all-wheel drive running gear at the rear axle. Either way, the Q2 boot is smaller than those offered by a Mercedes Benz GLA or a Mini Countryman.
Urban adventurers are going to particularly enjoy the Q2 but what surprised – and delighted – was how much of that competence spanned beyond the city-centric; it’s pretty adept for decent distance open road driving as well.
Out of town, the ride quality shines through. It’s just firm enough to add some real composure to the demeanour and to suit the sporty image, yet still manages to soak up most surface imperfections with ease. Past history suggests the S line sport package, which sees the car's ride height lower by 10mm on sports suspension, might not be as compliant.
Steer the Q2 through a series of fast bends and you will be surprised by how well it grips the road. There is less body roll than expected too. It would be interesting to go back-to-back with an A3, which has the same platform; I suspect the Q2 would not come out of that contest looking second-rate in respect to dynamic flair.
The orthodox hatch would be perkier, though, and would make each litre of fuel go further. Audi cites the Q2 as having ability to hit 0-100kmh in 8.5 seconds, compared with 8.1 for the hatchback, and cites combined economy of 5.5 litres per 100km against 5.0 for the A3.
A more powerful engine would definitely make the Q2 a lot more engaging to drive, but this 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre has a sporty edge, an engaging flexibility and enough fire to haul this 1306kg car along. No complaints about its interaction with the seven-speed direct shift gearbox; the shifts are clean and efficient. The claimed 0-100kmh time of 8.5 seconds seems about right. This engine is doing its bit for the environment, with a cylinder-on-demand function that drops back to just two cylinders when cruising, even at 100kmh. It only works on the flat but the kick-in is so smooth as to be imperceptible.
Around town the Q2 is quiet and compliant, too, and while the variable ratio steering could do with more feel, you do appreciate how it requires minimal effort at urban speeds, parking being an easy affair as it requires fewer turns of the wheel. The only glitch with city driving is that, while the highish, if still car-like, driving position allows for good front and side visibility, the thick C-pillars impede the over-shoulder view. That’s when you become thankful for the rear vision camera. Without that reversing out of angled parks would be a prayer moment.
The Q2 is a fun bauble but also an expensive one. It ticks the boxes in terms of imparting a special – if not wholly prestige – feel and looks good, albeit with some trade-off in practicality.
If you want any decent roominess and usefulness then there is better product within the VW family: The VW Tiguan and, ultimately, the new Skoda Kodiaq shout out for consideration in that respect.
Both offer similar levels of technology, more practicality, more performance and aren’t too far behind for interior quality. They also lend the all-wheel-drive opportunity that Audi won’t be able to provide until the end of the year.
Then again, all that stuff sounds far too grown up and sensible. And the Q2 isn’t really expected to pull in that crowd.