You'd have thought that there were no more niches left to fill in a marketplace crowded with every conceivable size and type of car. The biggest manufacturers cast their design nets as far and wide as possible, hoping to ensnare the demands and desires of the broadest spectrum of consumers. Audi’s new Q2 is the latest manifestation of this policy, joining a line up that currently consists of the A1, A3, Q3, A4, A5, Q5, A6, A7, A8, Q8, R8 and TT (without even factoring in the various ‘S’ and ‘RS’ variants). This showroom full of alphabet spaghetti runs along relatively organised lines; the bigger the number, the bigger the car, with the ‘Q’ suffix added in 2005 with the introduction of Audi’s first SUV, the Q7.
There have been eight Qs since, if one counts variants and new generations, and the Q2 is the latest in the line-up. The Q7 is simply enormous, but even the Q3 isn’t exactly small. Hence the need to plug the perceived gap below it with what the company is calling a ‘premium compact SUV’, explicitly pitched at gadget-aware millennials who like their cars connected, compact and forward thinking. It’s a triumph of marketing, first and foremost, but the company has done its utmost to cram in technologies once found on much bigger cars, from the virtual dashboard, head-up display and semi-autonomous traffic jam assist system.
Chamfered bodywork makes the Audi Q2 a pleasant object to look at
It may be small, but the Audi family resemblance is clear. Perhaps grille sizes are like hemlines, acting as a subconscious indicator of market confidence as they rise and fall, shrink and grow. In the case of the auto grille, bigger and bolder seems to imply some kind of over-compensation for brand insecurity. Two decades ago, Audi’s brand was rock-solid, and the famous four-ring badge was mounted on a slender radiator grille barely twice its width. Today those rings are marooned atop a cliff of horizontal bars that plunge from the bonnet down below the bumper. Mercifully, the Q2 is an indication that this trend might be finally waning, and although the car has a veritable jigsaw of slots, openings and light fixtures, the relatively small scale means it’s not quite as intimidating a presence.
Audi has a long aesthetic memory. There are strong shades of the 2001 Steppenwolf Concept in the Q2, one of the first renderings of how an Audi 4x4 might look. The thick slab-like C-pillar dominates both designs, and on the Q2 it can be specified in various contrasting colours as part of the copious personalisation packages (just like the R8’s signature side blade). Such flashes of character are pretty rare in a contemporary Audi, and the Q2 makes a quietly tasteful overall package. The bluff ends, chamfered bodywork and excellent build quality make it a pleasant object to look at and sit in, and it’s also suitably impressive and relaxing to drive. More performance-focused variants will arrive some time next year, but in many respects this is a car for people who care increasingly little about speed and dynamics. Having ready access to your music and contacts is far more important, as is accurate, Google-powered mapping.
The Q2 recalls the 2001 Steppenwolf Concept
The main rivals in this newish sector are the Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman, BMW X1 and the Mercedes GLA, all ‘soft’ roaders that use their elevated ride height for easier urban maneuverability, not scrambling along muddy tracks. Most of these alternatives conspicuously fail the aesthetics test, struggling to combine their rugged features with sympathetic proportions. In this respect, the Q2 wins before you’ve even got behind the wheel, but it also emerges triumphantly ahead of its siblings. It may be small, but it’s at the head of the queue.