Cool hand Audi: Q3 signals sexy

A new tourist attraction popped up in Hartbeespoort a few months ago: an upside-down house. Yes, in the middle of a field someone decided to build a two-storey, brightly coloured structure flipped on its head. The theme continues inside the quaint living rooms and bedrooms as the washing machine and beds hang above you, presumably nailed to the roof — or is that the floor? Outside there’s even a kennel with a stuffed-dog toy peering down. Christopher Nolan meets architecture.

For all its uniqueness, the house doesn’t actually do anything. You buy a ticket, walk around a little, get slightly nauseous from its slanted nature and take some photos. That’s it, no one is sitting on the couches or taking milk out the fridge. The word “gimmick” has never been so apt.

Driving away from the tourist trap in the new Audi Q3, it was easy to wonder to what extent it too was a gimmick. It’s a question that must be asked of all cars in the increasingly popular compact-SUV segment — a family filled with cousins who play fast and loose with the “utility” aspect of the acronym.

The answer is quite surprising: this is not gimmicky at all. Obviously, it lacks the clearance for serious 4×4 work but you already knew that going in. Everything else you can imagine a big car doing, the Q3 does — and does well. There’s plenty of boot space to hold your luggage for long trips, and the boot is still expandable by pushing or folding the back seats. Should passengers be sitting there instead, they will find a surprising amount of head and leg room. A generally comfortable drive will only add to their pleasant experience.

Easy on the eye

As suitable as it may be for the open road, this car’s greatest boast is its city-slicker qualities. The kitted-out test model we received looked plenty sexy with grungy Johannesburg as its backdrop. It came in Florett Silver (or silver in non-Audi speak), had black trimmings on the rear-view mirrors and vents, 19-inch cast alloy wheels in contrast grey, and a mean front grill that wouldn’t be out of place on a TIE fighter. The design almost escapes criticism but for its sad insistence of following Audi’s trend of installing fake exhausts — a potential dealbreaker for those of us labouring under the illusion that there’s still authenticity in this world.

The pilot’s chair continues the seductive aesthetic set-up from the outside. Ours had seats with a neat combination of leather and Alcantara, giving the interior a classy feel as soon as you step inside. A long infotainment screen and solid finishings ensure that’s not a sensation you’ll be losing any time soon. And then there’s the virtual cockpit — oh wow. Audi essentially pioneered the digital dash cluster and now its final form seems to be close. The graphics are just gleeful to look at. The map that pops up in front of you in bright, full colour looks like a window to an ocean that is just asking to be plunged into. (Pity then that this model broke the mirage with an almost pornographic line of orange Alcantara across the dash.)

Throw in the rowdy Bang & Olufsen sound system and you have yourself a car that’s hard to beat when hitting the big-city highways. On a weekend that included the Hartbeespoort trip and a 45-minute drive from the North to Jabavu, Soweto and back again, driving at no stage felt like anything approaching a chore. 

There is, however, one very large but. As you may expect from those four rings on the angry grill in front, the price is not very friendly either. It begins at R585 000 while our furnished, beguiling machine was valued at R773 450. That is not loose change and for many people will be far more than they intend to spend in the compact SUV class.

Ultimately, it’s up to you what being a cool, smooth-riding city dweller is worth. Rest assured, you won’t be a gimmick driving the Audi Q3, but nor will you be hailed as a paragon of practicality.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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