The Audi Q3 is a small diesel SUV and it was the perfect size for my daughter and I. It was aromfortable and had enough room for our luggage and piles of Christmas presents
The pièce de résistance was that my test car came with a bonus: the Audi genuine accessory camping tent, which is one of the most quirky car accessories I’ve ever seen.
It has an inflatable, tubular, exoskeletal structure that looks extraterrestrial or even arachnid (although if you squint the car almost looks like a turtle or a snail dragging its home along behind it too).
It’s a masterpiece of design and engineering, spawned from a partnership between Audi and Heimplanet.
My mum is a huge Elvis fan and has always wanted to go to the Parkes Elvis Festival, so we hatched a plan.
After trekking around the south-east corner of Queensland visiting family, my Mum would join me for a mini-break and we’d head to Parkes.
My test car was the flagship Audi Q3 TDI quattro Sport with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine producing 135kW and 380Nm, teamed with Audi’s seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission. The car itself was finished in Florett Silver with a black interior.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres. I was hoping to get really close to that figure given that much of my time on the road would be spent cruising over the long stretches of bitumen between regional towns. Still, I had three whole weeks of driving the Q3, so time would tell.
This particular Q3 costs $56,900 (before on-road costs) and also had a number of options fitted: metallic paint ($1150), S line interior and exterior sport package ($5600) that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, Technik package with MMI navigation plus, park assist and Audi sound system ($2990). Also included was the Assistance package with side assist, active lane assist, high beam assist, hill hold assist, hill descent control and exterior mirrors with electric folding, auto dimming on driver’s side and kerb view function on passenger side ($2490) for a total as-tested price of $69,130. Plus the tent of course!
Time to review the list of requirements for music in a car: CD player not hidden away in the glove box (an Audi favourite) – tick. Bluetooth connectivity – tick. USB to charge the iPod or iPhone – fail. Yes, in 2016 the Q3 still misses out on a USB point. There is however an outlet in the centre console bin to connect your phone to the Audi music interface system via a cable. This is clunky and too hard when there’s Bluetooth, the CD player, or even iPhone speakers. It is a feature that I’d like to see gone when the car is next updated. Just a simple USB port will suffice, thanks.
Even with the tent and its accompaniments, the Q3 still managed to fit luggage for three people, along with Christmas presents overflowing the 460-litre boot to occupy part of the back row. Despite this load, there still felt like there was plenty of space in the cabin. Note that the boot space increases to 1365-litres with the rear seats down.
With the potential threat of double demerits hiding around every corner or behind every tree, cruise control was on at every opportunity. On flat stretches of road the Q3 held the requested speed really well, deviating by only a kilometre or two per hour.
However, on downhill runs the cruise control seemed to check out, letting the car run away. In a 100km/hr zone with a steep, straight hill, I tested this by selecting 80km as the limit for the cruise control. Sure enough, I had to hit the brakes as the Q3 coasted to 100km/hr – 20km over!
This trip to Parkes would see us head south-west from Queensland’s Southern Downs region, starting on the Cunningham Highway, which is a good 820km from our destination. Parkes is located in the Central West region of New South Wales and tens-of-thousands of Elvis fans flock there every January.
The first Parkes Elvis Festival was held back in 1993 and the five-day event has steadily grown in popularity. In fact, the town’s population of 12,000 swells by more than 20,000 over the five days.
As well as being relatively quiet at speed, the Q3 was in its element out on the open road. The S tronic’s gear changes were smooth as we accelerated out of the small towns that commanded a speed of 50 kilometres an hour. The transmission certainly made overtaking a breeze, although there was a slight delay for the car to pick up when you put your foot down. But once it grabbed the gear it wanted, nothing could hold it back. Trucks and caravans were effortlessly left in our wake.
The ride may be a little on the firm side but doesn’t jar over undulations, though you’ll feel sharp edges like potholes or uneven road joins.
We’d left that morning at around 6am and hoped to get to our campground by 4pm so that we had enough time to set up camp.
The Audi camping tent weighs just over 13kg and folds away into a custom bag that’s barely bigger than a carry-on case.
The tent slips over the open tailgate and there are various hooks, zips and loops to secure that create a waterproof seal around the car. The boot light fades out quickly so there’s no risk of draining the battery (unless you leave the stereo on all day).
When joined to the car, the boot space acts as a storage area or even a place to sit, and there’s a large annexe-like area with huge zippered openings on each side. Given the heat and the intense sun, we could open one side to let the air in and close the other for shade.
The tent has a separate sleeping area with room for three. We took advantage of the space by using a blow-up queen-size mattress in the room and popping two sleeping bags on top.
The Elvis festival had never been on my radar, but it was on my Mum’s bucket list, which is how we ended up there. I’m glad I did, because it is a lot of fun.
I would describe it best as “schoolies for adults”. People travelled to Parkes from across Australia and hundreds, possibly thousands were dressed as Elvis or Priscilla. There were swing dancers, retro and rockabilly influence, fabulous old cars, performers and karaoke in every pub, concerts at the Leagues Club and Services Club as well as a huge outdoor stage and seating area in a park in the centre of town.
After three big days and nights, it was time for the dreaded pack-up. But the tent proved again to be a small task to pack away, being a quick and easy affair to deflate the tent, roll it up, and secure it back in its little bag ready for the final leg of my Christmas holiday adventure.
We took our time on the drive home, jumping on the Great Western Highway at Bathurst after passing through Orange, and stopping at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains to take in the spectacular views.
After almost 2200km, it was good to be home! After all this distance, I was pleased to find that my fuel economy seemed in line with Audi’s claims. The Sydney to Queensland leg resulted in an impressive 5.7-litres per 100km, which is just 0.3 more than claimed. The Queensland to Sydney via Parkes results were even better at 5.6-litres.
I spent three weeks with the Audi Q3 and have very few complaints, although I’d like to see the interior layout and centre-stack updated. Competition in the luxury small SUV segment includes the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, BMW X1, Lexus NX and Mini Cooper Countryman so with a slightly outdated interior, there’s nowhere to hide.
The Q3 was fun to drive, responded well to inputs on the brake and throttle, and felt secure on the road. It’s spacious and practical, and the diesel fuel economy was excellent.
As for the tent ($2232), it’s also well-worth considering if you’re an avid camper and are thinking of picking yourself up a Q3, or even a Q5 or Q7.