(Pocket-lint) - In March this year Audi dropped a bombshell at the Geneva Motor Show by launching an Audi that, well, didn't look like a "same design different length" Audi. That car, the Q2, is company's first small crossover; an SUV for the new generation.
Sure, the Q2 has plenty of Audi design hallmarks, but morphed into an altogether more fun and youthful figure, with sharp lines and folds that give it a distinctive cut for an SUV. It's gunning for the younger crowd, trying to cut-down the likes of the Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke on the way, while avoiding the high-flying price tag of something larger like the Range Rover Evoque. And based on looks alone, we think Audi is very much on the right track.
Of course there's no escaping that the Q2 is a small-scale SUV, lacking some of the practicality of a larger, family-centric car. But, behind the wheel, it's quickly apparent that this is a driver-centric experience and a winning formula. Here's why.
Audi Q2 review: Sharp design
The front of the Q2 is flat and upright, tall like an SUV should be, with a full-depth grille dominating the front. But it's the sides that are oh so much more interesting: all chiselled, with big shoulder chamfers and metal folds that give a modern twist on an otherwise familiar shape. It's not overdone, though, not like the is-that-nice-or-not Nissan Juke.
Well, not for the most part anyway. The C-pillar to the rear, where you would typically find a small corner window, has instead been replaced with a "floating blade", which can be colour and finish defined. Here's where things can go awry: the black panel paired with the bright yellow body work of our top-spec 2.0-litre model looks the part; the plasticky grey finish paired with the red body of the 1.4-litre model looks misplaced. Good job the will be a wide variety of selections available when the car goes on sale - just pick wisely.
Around the back, someone at team Audi has clearly been picking around sister company Volkswagen's parts bin, as the rear lamps look rather Polo in appearance. But they're distinctive and work a treat to give that futuristic look and feel, without going all-out crazy like the X-shape rears found in, say, the Jeep Renegade.
Overall we think that angular bodywork works a treat in among the more natural flowing shape of the car. It might be the most out-there Audi, but with some savvy colour choice selections it'll turn heads because it's sharp, different and modern.
Audi Q2 review: Driver-centric cockpit
On the inside Audi hasn't messed with its formula, per se, delivering a huge variety of technological options to take the driving experience to the next-level. We'll get to those in a moment.
What's really different - and yet implausibly difficult to photograph - is how driver-centric the seat position is. The way the dash controls don't sit flat, but are angled towards the driver, becomes all the more prominent when sat in the passenger seat, looking on. From there the sweeping, curved dash is all the more apparent, making you, as a passenger, feel somewhat distant from the action. And if you're in the back then, well, bad luck because this SUV is of a small scale that, while roomy enough for a five door, doesn't really earn its SUV badge.
It's all about the driver experience, then, and a comfy one it is indeed, especially once sunk into the optional cushy leather seats of our test model. There's just one small hiccup: because the central tunnel design twists to accommodate all those controls, drinks holders and start/stop button, there's a side panel that gets a little but in the way of a resting right leg.
But we soon forget, seat raised and slunk back, digging deep into the controls. Here's where Audi's tech formula shows its dues: from the optional Audi Virtual Cockpit digital driver display - which can be adjusted between sat nav, media, driving info, and comms (if you've synched a phone) - through to the easy-to-use Audi MMI (multi-media interface) with its 8.4-inch dash-mounted screen alongside twist-dial and button controls to the centre tunnel.
Throw in the optional Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade and your ears are graced with one of the best (and loudest) in-car systems you can buy (but they're never cheap, so be warned - although exact price is TBC in this configuration).
The one tech glitch in our view is the implementation of the head-up display (HUD). It's on a pop-up screen beyond the dash area above the steering wheel; a screen that doesn't look attractive at all and doesn't deliver a better image than on-windscreen tech would. We're a bit baffled about the choice to opt for this kind of secondary display here. Perhaps it's just cheaper to implement.
Audi Q2 review: Automated driving assists
The technology isn't just about media and navigation though, as Audi is pushing hard on the automated driving assists front. We've seen the full-on Audi Piloted Driving experience in a custom A7 model on a German autobahn, and while the Q2 doesn't have all that technology on board (it's not available yet, obviously), it does come with some of the stepping-stone ones that will eventually get us there.
Principally that means traffic jam assist and lane assist serve as the ultimate combination in cruise control. The two technologies are activated separately via single button presses to their respective lever controls below the indicator lever.
Traffic jam assist monitors the car in front, keeping a set distance and speed, auto braking to a halt as required in traffic. You can adjust between three levels of distance control and even adjust the maximum speed you'll allow the car to travel - there is auto sign detection to be aware of speed limits, but if you want to not adhere to them you can allow the car go faster or slower.
Now traffic jam assist works well, as it does in many in-car configurations - such as Lexus, for example. With the Audi Q2, however, it's sloppy and a bit over hard on the brakes when coming to a halt, as if it's not been to driving school. It auto deactivates after a couple of seconds once stationary, requiring a tap of the accelerator to kick back into action - a standard feature for such technology, although user control to adjust this timing wouldn't go amiss.
Lane assist keeps you in lane, taking over the car's steering to scoot you comfortably around any bends. This is where Audi is a step ahead of other lane systems - again, Lexus's, for example, only advises, warns and gently tries to keep you in lane - as it has full steering control to guide around lanes and sweeping bends.
Allowing the Q2 to almost drive itself is kind of freaky, given its accuracy, but it's also far from infallible and a long way from the precision of Audi Piloted Driving. When lanes change size, say, or the lines marking them break into different patterns, the technology can get confused, sounding a soft "beep" and handing controls back to you. Ignore these warnings and there's a little brake stomp, which is a bit disconcerting. The system is only designed for use on well marked motorways/highways, but in the end we preferred having it switched off to remain engaged with the drive.
Audi Q2 review: All about the drive
We can talk the tech to death, but what the Q2 is really all about is the drive. It doesn't have the giant turning circle of a beastly Q7. It doesn't have the floaty spaceship feeling of a Lexus RX. It takes the SUV package and condenses it into a smaller, tighter, sparkier roadster.
There are a variety of engine options available, which will differ depending on region, ranging from the 1.0-litre TFSi with 6-speed manual gearbox, through to the 1.4-litre top-spec petrol option which also adds the 7-speed S-Tronic auto gearbox. On the diesel front there are 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre options, the top-spec model offering Quattro four-wheel drive options and, therefore, higher torque ratio from that engine.
The bright yellow model pictured is that top-spec Quattro, which holds to the road like glue, even when popping over bumpy roads or cornering with a bit of pace. We also drove the 1.4-litre petrol, which had a slightly different ratio and could be wheel-spun away from lights, but remains a solid and very much on-the-road experience.
Leave the car in its eco mode and the lag when depressing the pedal isn't great. However, a tap back on that S-Tronic gearstick slips the car into sport mode, which is where the real fun is to be had. Sure, it deactivates auto stop-start, isn't remotely economical, and a lot louder and burblier, but is super-nippy in delivery and, importantly, just a lot of fun.
That, ultimately, is what the Audi Q2 does that many larger scale SUVs just cannot: deliver an engaging on-the-road experience.
The Audi Q2 doesn't feel like an SUV. It doesn't feel like a family car. It feels like a gutsy fashion statement, one backed-up with ballsy on-the-road performance and injected with heaps of tech.
If, of course, you part with the right sum of cash. Starting at £20,230 for the who-will-bother 1.0-litre option, the Q2's price extends to £30,610 in its top-end 2.0-litre Quattro spec - and that's before adding additional package options. At which point you could buy a Mini Clubman Cooper S with everything on it and pocket plenty of change. Comparing an Audi to a Mini isn't something we thought we'd be doing any time soon, but that goes to show the Q2's different stance.
Being fickle minded we'd go with the fashion option. The Q2 is a mini departure from the Audi norm, but one delivered with all the style and performance gusto you could realistically want. Just don't buy one thinking you'll be easily squeezing a full family in the back, for this Audi is very much about the single-minded SUV driver experience. So now we're both fickle and selfish… but we don't care.