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Audi q3 vs nissan qashqai

The Audi Q3 is late to the small SUV party. So can it steer the flow of sales away from key rivals?

Audi has dipped its toe in the water of the compact SUV market for a second time – and for good reason. The race to downsize makes small off-roaders like the new Q3 hot property, as motorists switching from bigger models don’t necessarily want to compromise on comfort or style.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi Q3

The Q3 slots into the range below the Q5, and comes with petrol or diesel power, plus two or four-wheel drive. Prices for the entry-level petrol car start at £25,690, but here we put the 2.0 TDI quattro through its paces. Our SE test car is fitted with Audi’s S tronic twin-clutch transmission, and costs £28,460 – which puts it up against some seriously talented rivals.

The most obvious wears BMW’s famous blue propeller badge – the X1 arrived in 2009, and has had a head start in this class. We test the four-wheel-drive xDrive 23d, which has more power than the Q3 and a bigger price tag.

Rounding off our trio is a mainstream model – but don’t be surprised to see the Ford Kuga lining up here. Ford has already proven it’s capable of making cars with premium appeal, in the shape of the S-MAX. The Kuga also drives brilliantly, and in Titanium trim it’s loaded with kit.

We gate-crashed the UK launch of the Q3 in North Yorkshire with these two contenders to put them all to the test.

Audi is marching relentlessly towards its target of a 42-model range – but is the Q3 worthy of a place in the line-up? The answer is a definitive yes, as it secures a comfortable victory in this test. The car wraps a hugely appealing mix of performance and economy in a design that is sure to appeal to Audi fans. The exterior is formulaic and there’s nothing very innovative about the interior layout, but by sticking to what it does best Audi has created a compact SUV with real appeal. A classy cabin, well judged dynamics and low running costs make it the number one here. Second place goes to the Ford Kuga. It’s dated on the inside and not as fast or efficient as the Q3, but is the stand-out choice for enthusiastic drivers, thanks to its sporty looks and engaging handling. Only the dated interior and thirst for diesel hold it back in comparison with the Audi. That leaves the BMW to bring up the rear. Unconventional looks win the X1 few friends, while its dated interior trails the Audi for premium appeal. We think the baby off-roader is the weakest model in the entire BMW line-up, and it finished last in this test.

The most convincing Q car in the Audi range is good to drive, has a classy interior and promises to be affordable to own. Beware darker colours, though, as they make the bland looks even less appealing, plus those LED lights are a costly optional extra on the SE model.

Brilliant fun to drive and great to look at, the Ford is as appealing now as it was when it first arrived. Few modern family hatches have a chassis as talented as the Kuga’s, plus it’s the best value choice in our trio, with the most competitive price and comprehensive kit list.

An xDrive20d model would have provided a sterner test for the Audi and Ford, but the 23d comes up short. Our car’s firm ride, heavy steering and high price are only the tip of the iceberg, as its quirky looks and dated cabin let it down.