The last time I tooled around the Hunter Valley roads west of Newcastle was in 1971.
In the back of an army truck.
Against my will.
I was bouncing off the slatted timber seats with a bunch of nasho mates who were complaining even more loudly than me. We didn’t spend much time enjoying the scenery — we were all wondering how many of us were about to get picked for the all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam.
The only bright light was a just-released new HQ Holden that caught up with us and followed for a few kilometres before swooping past.
Twist the dial to 2017, I’m back in the Hunter Valley but everything has changed. I’m in Audi’s new Q2 2.0-litre TFSI Quattro Sport, with performance and features that weren’t even imagined back then.
In reality, a 1971 four- cylinder engine that could produce the Audi’s 140kW and 320Nm was a rare beast, reserved for racetracks. Plus it usually went bang, hopefully as it crossed the finish line.
This new model is the top of the Q2 food chain, a range which was released earlier this year. The 1.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel have sold well nationally, gaining 14 per cent of the luxury small SUV market in the eight months they’ve been on sale, and trending upwards.
Here in WA the Q2 has 16 per cent.
But the local network has been keen to get the bigger TFSI engine so it can attract core Audi buyers to this small SUV.
The Q2 is so close to the Q3 in dimensions it makes you wonder why it exists. However, the Q3 is on the VW Group’s PQ35 chassis that is now more than a decade old, while the Q2 is on the MQB structure first introduced on the new A3 and TT models.
It delivers major weight savings, production efficiencies and much higher rigidity, leading to sharper road manners and safety.
The car is barely smaller than the existing Q3; in fact the wheelbase is within less than a centimetre of its larger brother, even though it is 20cm shorter overall.
In short, the Q2 is an engineering generation ahead, with the added advantage of a design profile that is edgier, with a coupe roof line highlighted by wide wheel arches full of tyres. It is also futureproofed for alternative drivelines.
The car is a five-seater with a 405-litre luggage space behind the rear seats. That can be expanded to 1050 litres if there’s just the two of you.
Audi’s MMI monitor is standard, delivering touch control, navigation plus on the 8.3-inch monitor and the LTE module for fast online connection. There’s a wi-fi hotspot (for up to eight devices) and Android/IOS interface.
Free text input and voice control allow you to solve problems before your companion rolls out the dreaded “are you sure you know where we are?”
The nav system overlays Google Earth, always the best for finding your way in the context of your surroundings, and includes Google Street View to make sure you knock on the right door when you get there.
Audi’s standard driver assistance packages include pre-sense front alert with pedestrian detection. Optional is the full Audi techno treatment — adaptive cruise, stop and go function, traffic jam assist, side assist, active lane assist, park assist and cross traffic assist.
The traffic jam system combines a handful of those and works up to 65km/h. It’s a level two autonomous system, which means you can let the car handle speed, distance from traffic in front and lane changes where required.
While the car is allegedly looking after itself, driver and passenger(s) will enjoy the now expected high level of Audi interior trim. There are actually nine upholstery options, and a range of ambient light settings to select from.
The designers claim it provides the ease of access of an SUV with the dynamic feel and seating position of a sports car. That might be stretching it a bit, as I was always aware I was sitting higher than a passenger car, and while the firm seats were comfortable they didn’t hold you tight as a sports car would.
The rear seat is set low enough to deliver good headroom in the back but using the front seat’s full rearward adjustment leaves little for adult knees and shins.
There’s heaps of storage in nooks and crannies that will help with all the detritus of an active — and probably messy — family.
An optional LED interior light package can vary the hue between 10 colours, helpful if you’re bored witless in traffic at night. LEDs have also made it to head and tail lights across the entire Q2 range.
Audi has managed to prevent most of the engine noise intruding into the cab. With full throttle you can hear the car working but it delivers such a turbine-like surge of go that you never feel like changing up to quieten things down.
Audi claims a new combustion process for the engine that leans towards a Miller Cycle, with a shorter compression phase and a lengthened expansion phase. They’ve delayed the injection and bumped up the pressure, claiming that the engine only has to compress the same amount of fuel as the 1.4-litre.
The latest generation S-tronic seven-speed transmission has its dual clutches running in an oil bath. The ratios are set to keep the engine at its most efficient power and torque delivery no matter what the speed.
Tweaks to the “efficiency” mode in drive select enable coasting with the clutch disengaged, and the engine shuts off when speed slips below 7km/h rather than waiting for the car to stop.
This new Q2 draws down a swathe of hi-tech features from Audi’s premium models, packing them all into a small SUV and wrapping the lot in a skin that draws the younger eye.
It’s at the top end of the $40,000-$50,000 price bracket, and mixes it with the Cooper S Countryman, Mercedes-Benz GLA 1.6-litre and a couple of Infiniti Q30s. In that company, the littlest Audi SUV acquits itself well, and at the very least deserves a lengthy test drive.
Model 2.0 TFSI Quattro Sport
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission Seven-speed automatic