Test drive: Audi Q2

Audi has a long history with technological innovation. In 1918, it starting building cars with aluminium, rather than steel frames. In 1932, Audi introduced mid-engine cars to Formula 1 racing. It put the first in-line 5 cylinder petrol engine into a production car in the late 70s, and in 1989, the first diesel TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) engine went on sale.

It’s no surprise then that you’ll find plenty of innovation in Audi’s latest model, the Q2. The Q2 can best be described as a ‘urban adventure vehicle’ and fits into the compact SUV category. It’s a bit smaller than the Q3, which itself is due for a refresh, and has a distinctive coupe-like roofline, narrow windows and a wide, sturdy stance. It’s 4.19 meters long, 1.5 meters tall and has 147mm ground clearance.

While mainly a city-focused vehicle, the Q2 is perfectly comfortable on winding country roads, with a dirt track or two thrown in for good measure – and we tested just that on our recent day with the Q2 in Victoria.

Distinctive design

The first thing you’ll notice about the Q2 is its looks. Featuring a polygonal-referenced design, with sculpted flanks and large wheel arches, the Q2 somehow looks larger than it actually is. While opinions will vary, the Q2’s exterior design really needs to be seen in the metal, and it comes together nicely, especially with the optional 18-inch wheels.

Inside, the polygonal theme continues, which is both clutter-free and stylish. You’ll find high-quality surfaces and materials, machined metal switchgear, and some clever lighting touches like the illuminated thigh-rest and glove box strips, with 10 different lighting colour choices. There are two different trim lines to choose from, complete with colour matched upholstery and inlays.

There’s a practical side too, with room for 5, and reasonable legroom at the back, 405 litres of luggage space that increases to 1050 litres with the rear seats folded down. All up, it’s still a compact, but comfortable for 4 people and a few bags at least.

Big on tech

One of the biggest benefits of the Q2 is that it gets the technologies featured in more expensive Audi models. This means that with the combination of standard kit and option packs, you’ll be spoiled for choice for information, entertainment, connectivity, safety and driver assistance systems.

Starting with information is Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, the pinnacle of digital dashboards. This is a 12.3 inch screen that takes the place of all your traditional gauges and sits front and centre beneath the steering wheel. It is customisable, so you can have a variety of different layouts ranging from the  ‘classic’ view with large speed and RPM dials and all sorts of information in between, to glorious full-screen maps.

Our favourite is to set the full screen map to Google Earth satellite view. This creates a sort of bird’s eye view, complete with superimposed roads and points of interest. It’s almost like you’re there before you arrive.

The Virtual Cockpit screen is protected from shadows and glair so it’s always easy to see, and there are separate LED guages for petrol and oil temperature on the lower left and right edges. On-screen graphics and details are pin-sharp with a 1440 x 540 pixel resolution. Map scrolling and rotational movement is smooth and fluid thanks to the powerful NVIDIA Tegra 30 processor that Audi has chosen for the task.

The Virtual Cockpit is included in the Technik option package and is a fantastic choice for those who want all sorts of information front and centre, and most of the settings are easily selectable from the steering wheel controls. As standard, you still get an attractive set of analogue dials, along with a colour multi-function display in between, which is absolutely fine, just without the wow factor of the upgraded display.

Keep in mind that there’s also a centre-mounted 8.3 inch 1024 x 480 pixel screen that houses the main menu, music selections, phone contacts and the MMI Plus navigation system. This also benefits from the NVIDIA Tegra 30 graphics unit, so the on-screen menus and graphics are top notch, and finding your way around is intuitive with the major functions grouped together and flow on to their respective sub-settings.

And a first for the compact SUV segment is the Q2’s optional heads-up display (HUD), which projects your speed, music selections, driver assistance info and navigational directions onto a 10 x 5cm glass screen that extends electronically from the dashboard above the instrument cluster.

Most HUDs project info onto the windscreen itself, so this is a bit different but the result the same – placing essential details in your line of vision so you spend less time looking downwards and more time at the road. We didn’t get to try this out first hand but it’s good to see that a HUD is available for those who want it.

Interfacing

In terms of interfacing with the Q2, Audi’s ‘MMI Navigation with MMI Touch’ gives you a variety of ways to input navigation directions, choose music, make calls and tinker with your car’s settings. You can use the large rotary wheel for selecting alphabetic text and navigating menu items, or otherwise, you can trace letters with your finger onto the touch-sensitive surface atop the rotary knob.

While it takes a few minutes to get accustomed to – tracing the letters you want to enter is a bit faster than selecting it with the dial control – it is surprisingly accurate. The touch surfaces is also fantastic for pinching, swiping and zooming the maps on the centre-mounted display in a similar way to how you’d use your smartphone.

There are also direct buttons too for going back, the home screen and main menus like music, navigation, media and contacts. We found ourselves using the voice control for entering text most of the time, and with Audi’s ‘natural language’ update, the voice control system was quite adept at understanding our street addresses. You can also ask it “where can I get fuel?” or tell it to “connect me with Jim” so you can keep you hands free for driving.

Connecting and entertaining

Given its youthful (or young at heart) aspirations, the Q2 is equipped with the latest connectivity and entertainment options. This modular, starting with the standard MMI Navigation system that includes a tuner, CD player, a pair of SD card readers, USB charging port, 3D maps and a LTE (4G) SIM module.

On this point, it’s good to see that high-speed LTE mobile networks are supported, as these can ‘theoretically’ provide 100 megabits per second download speeds, depending on your location. The LTE module feeds data to the Q2’s built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, which can connect to up to 8 devices.

This is a great way to share an internet connection with a car full of friends so they can surf the web, download Snapchats and post food photos on Instagram at 4G speeds. If you don’t want to use the built-in LTE module, you select your mobile phone as the data source instead.

Choosing the MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch option adds the 8.3 inch high-resolution centre display along with an Aux-in and USB connection with charging function and a 10 gigabyte flash drive for storing music. You also get three years of Audi Connect services, which includes five MMI map updates. Audi Connect also provides Google Earth visuals and data to the navigation system as well as Google Street View and internet Point of Interest searching.

iOS and Android

Another very youthful option in the Q2 is the inclusion of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Simply plug in your Apple iPhone or Android based handset to the USB and you’ll be able to access either Google or Apple’s interfaces for maps, apps, music, audio books, texts and more.

Like most Audis we’ve tested, you can control CarPlay and Android Auto via the rotary control and context buttons, but not with the multifunction steering wheel. This may change with future updates but would be nice to be able to access these functions from the wheel as well.

While access to music streaming apps is arguably the best reason to use CarPlay and Android Auto, we can’t help but feel that since Audi’s MMI Navigation and Audi Connect are so well integrated and of high quality, you really don’t need to resort to another system.

Lastly, a very cool option is the Audi Phone box with wireless charging. This uses the Qi wireless charging standard, which is found in many Android smartphones. You simply place your phone into the ‘box’ and the current flows inductively to the receiver coil in the handset. Rumours have it that the iPhone 8 will include wireless changing this year so hopefully you’ll be able to charge future iPhones as well without needing a special charging case.

Driver reviver

Audi has spent millions developing systems to help its drivers, and these options have filtered down from other classes to the Q2. As standard, you’ll find Audi ‘Pre Sense Front with Pedestrian Protection System’. Using radar, the system continuously scans ahead, and can recognise critical driving situations involving cars or crossing pedestrians. The system can see in fog as well, and will warn the driver via a visual indicator and tone, and if there’s no response, the Q2 will escalate by autonomously braking to either reduce the speed of a collision, or hopefully, avoid the collision all together.

For those who do a lot of motorway driving, there’s an optional adaptive cruise system that keeps the Q2 at a set distance away from the vehicle in front, and matches its speed without the need to accelerate or brake. Added to this is a ‘Stop and Go’ function, which can slow the Q2 down to a complete stop and then accelerate back up to the speed of the vehicle in front without your help, provided that the stop is 3 seconds or less. This is a great way to excuse you from the tedium of creeping forward a few meters only to stop and start again in heavy traffic. Both systems operate from zero to 200km/hr, not that you’d ever drive that fast in Australia, and there are 5 different radar distance pre-sets to determine how far you want to be from the car in front.

When it comes to changing lanes, Side Assist is there to help, using two rear facing radars to scan up to 70 meters behind for vehicles hanging in your blind spots or rapidly approaching. Initiated at 15km/hr, the system will warn you which side a vehicle is approaching by flashing a light on the respective side mirror, and if you continue your lane change, the light will flash brighter and more urgently to stop you from changing lanes. As it’s easy to forget to check your blind spots, this is an excellent feature that may just save you from a bingle.

You can take lane changing assistance one step further with Active Lane Assist. This works from 65km/hr so it’s meant mainly for motorways, and uses a video camera to scan for lane edge markings. If the Q2 starts to drift out of its lane, the system will gently nudge the steering wheel back towards the centre of the lane. You can set it to intervene early or just when you begin to leave the lane. Also, it works with Audi Side Assist as well and will nudge the steering wheel back to the middle if you are going to change lanes into the path of a vehicle in your blind spot.

When tested, it’s useful to have an extra set of ‘eyes’ helping you out but Active Lane Assist was occasionally fooled by the lack of road markings, so in our experience, it’s not quite perfect but does add that extra layer of confidence and safety.

City living

Parking is a reality of busy city life, and the Q2’s compact dimensions will certainly help you fit into a tight spot. Also, Audi’s Parking System Plus is a standard inclusion and adds rear sensors, along with a reversing camera. The reversing camera, it should be noted, has a useful wide angle and is very clear and sharp, even in low light.

If you really don’t like parallel parking, opt for Park Assist, which adds two radar sensors that look for parked cars, and servos to do the wheel turning for you. It’s really easy to use and all you have to do once initiated is brake, accelerate and switch between forward and reverse. The system can also get you out of parking spaces as well as steering you in, and it handles perpendicular parking, even if you go nose first.

Lastly, a great feature of Park Assist is rear-cross traffic assistance, which looks for traffic as you reverse out of a driveway or perpendicular parking spot. You’ll get a visual, then audible warning, followed by a jolt of the brakes to stop you from a colliding with oncoming traffic.

Hands on

Hoping behind the wheel, we were impressed with both the petrol and diesel variants. Starting with the petrol 1.4 TFSI, this four cylinder turbocharged unit comes with Audi’s cylinder on demand (COD) technology that will deactivate two cylinders when it senses that you need less than 100Nm of power or when coasting at low engine RPMs. Otherwise, there’s 110kW on tap, and 250Nm of torque between 1500 and 3500rpm. Consumption-wise, the cylinder deactivation contributes to low rated 5.3 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres with CO2 emissions of 122 grams per kilometre. It sprints from zero to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 212km/h.

Paired with a 7 speed-S trontic dual-clutch gearbox, the petrol variant was great fun to drive, with plenty of punch available at low revs, and enough kick for rapid passing in the 80-120km/hr range. The transmission picked the gears it should be in, and we didn’t notice any odd vibrations during from the cylinder deactivation feature, assuming our drive was docile enough to make use of it. Overall, on a combination of Melbourne traffic and winding country roads, we saw just under 7 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel use.

Hopping out of the petrol and into the 4 cylinder, direct-injection 2.0 TDI, it wasn’t imediately easy to notice the difference. Both engines felt smooth, and no truck-like vibrations from the diesel unit. Producing 110kW and 340Nm of torque between 1750 and 3000rpm, the TDI felt swift and responsive, albeit a bit more pull off the mark, however, the petrol had a more kick when passing at about 100km/hr. The TDI will hit 100km/hr in 8.1 seconds from standstill compared to the petrol’s 8.5 seconds, and is rated for to 5.0 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres with CO2 emissions of 131 grams per kilometre. In real world driving, we managed just over 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres for mixed city and country conditions.

One major difference between the two model variants is that the TDI model comes equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive as standard, with the petrol engine driving just the front wheels. While adding a bit more weight, the Quattro system gives you more traction in slippery conditions and it’s mated with a with four-link rear suspension setup, while front-wheel drive Q2s use a compact torsion beam rear axle. The net result is that for those who want a sportier drive, especially in tight bends, the diesel Quattro is the pick.

Both models get Audi’s progressive steering, which adjusts the ratio for easy turns around town and tightens up for winding country roads. Drivers can also option Drive Select, which has five different drive modes to fine tune the Q2’s engine characteristics, power steering and damper settings.

While there’s no specific ‘off-road’ setting, the Q2 can sense the road conditions and adjust accordingly. So if you take the Q2 onto a sandy beach, for example, the car will figure out the best way to handle it but there’s no specific 4×4 suspension mode. While it has about 15cm of ground clearance, paved and gravel are where the Q2 will be most at home.

Both models felt quite solid and planted on the road, and although you can choose sports suspension, the standard set up felt firm, but not jarring, and without noticeable body roll as we progressed through our winding country drive. The brakes were up to the job, washing off speed quickly, and inside the car was quiet and a nice place to be. Our seats, though not power assisted, were supportive and comfortable for our 5-hour drive.

Lastly, an option that shouldn’t be overlooked is the LED headlight system, which, apart from offering fantastic night-time illumination, gives you super cool tail lights with LED indicators that literally point in the direction you’re turning.

Summing up

The Q2 is on sale now and available in two models lines: Design and Sport. Design includes the 1.4 TFSI petrol engine and starts from $41,100. The Sport model comes with the 2.0 TDI diesel and Quattro all-wheel drive, and starts at $47,900. Both models are equipped with the 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission as standard.

As with all Audis, there are a range of option packages including the Technik package, Assistant Package, S-Line Exterior and S-Line Sport Packages, plus the novel Edition #1 Package.

All up, the Q2 is certainly something different. Its compact and distinctive design is great for city living but doesn’t forget that there’s more to life than the urban sprawl. It’s capable and fun to drive on country roads, and the higher riding position will appeal to many. While there are small number of alternatives, such as Mini’s Countryman, the Q2 delivers the technology, design and dynamics found in more expensive models, many of which you would struggle to find in other cars in this class. While not for everyone, for those looking for a city-to-country accomplice, value a premium marquee with all the trimmings and appreciate avant-garde styling, the Q2 is just the right fit.

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