The new Audi Q2 begins deliveries to UK customers next weekend (12th November), but before then the UK motoring press were invited to a first drive in the Suffolk countryside in early November. 

What is the Audi Q2? Well, Audi is marketing it with the zeitgeisty #untaggable strapline. Away from the hoopla of a car launch, they’re wrong of course. The Q2 is Audi’s first entry in the B-SUV segment, which is one of the fastest growing segments in Europe. The competitor set Audi UK has identified for the vehicle includes both the Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke for dimensions, while mid-level powertrains are tasked with taking on the Countryman and the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Higher power variants are left to duke it out with the BMW X1. 

So it’s been positioned by Audi to appeal to a broad array of customers. I’d been quite prepared to see the Q2 as an off-road cousin of the A1 (with which the Q2 will share a platform when the A1 switches to MQB Zero for its underpinnings next year) in the way that the Q3 relates to the A3. In reality, the Q2 is much closer in size to the Q3 than I expected. Its wheelbase is just 2mm shy of the Q3’s and a full 132mm more than the current A1’s. The Q3 is 197mm longer than the Q2 at 4,388mm and some 37mm wider at 1,831mm. Where they do differ is in that the Q2 boasts a much more hunkered down look due to its 1508mm height compared to the Q3’s 1608mm. The otherwise closeness in dimensions between the two suggests there’s plenty of bigger boots for the next Q3 to fill when it’s all-new in 2018. 

Within Audi’s SUV range the Q2’s launch brings the total number of Audi Q models to eight (if you count the SQ derivatives as separate models), and today Q models account for half of Audi’s global sales.

Also, surprisingly, it’s Audi’s first new segment entry for five years which either indicates that product white space for the brand is diminishing or that model proliferation at Audi is not as continuous as appears on the surface. 

Notwithstanding the competitor set Audi has identified, the car itself places Audi into a segment that the majority of its fellow German premium competitors will struggle to follow precisely, at least not without sacrificing coherence on the naming conventions of model line-ups. I mean – how does BMW go smaller than the X1 or Mercedes go smaller than the GLA? X0 or GLAminus anyone? Both can, of course, look to other brands in their stable to take the fight to the Q2, but direct competitors will be more difficult to muster. So, until we hear different, it would appear that Audi’s got the B-SUV segment sewn up among the German premium brands. That’s not to say there won’t be competition. 

The likes of Renault’s Kaptur, the segment leader in Europe, Peugeot’s 2008, GM’s Mokka, FCA’s Renegade/500X twins and Nissan’s Juke will all have something to say about the arrival of the Audi Q2 on the market. For its part Audi’s UK allocation from the Ingolstadt plant, where the Q2’s built alongside the A5 and A4, will be around 15,000 a year, although privately Audi harbours hopes of comfortably exceeding the target. In Europe, the segment grew by 28% in the first half of 2016, compared with the same period in 2015, to some 711,000 units. Given the existing competition, Audi expects a high conquest rate for the Q2. From its pre-orders it’s already seeing 50% of customers that are new to the marque.

Design-wise the new Q2 follows the recent design progression of the brand but it also leads in representing a new direction for Audi design. This is most clear in the design of the octagonal grille which marks a subtle departure for Audi and introduces a design that will be copied across the Audi Q range. Where the Q2 departs from the Audi template is the presence of the colour-customisable “floating blade” C-pillar, lending the Q2 a passing resemblance to the rear three-quarter view of the Citroen C4 Cactus.

The powertrain range is wide and varied leading in with the 116PS 1.0L TFSI and topping out (for now) with the 150PS 2.0L TDI Quattro which are interspersed with the 150PS 1.4L TFSI and 116PD 1.6L TDI. The model launches with the 1.4L TFSI, 1.6L TDI and 2.0L TDI Quattro, the 1.0L adds at the end of 2016, a FWD 2.0L TDI at the end of 2017. In mid-2017 we should see a range topping 2.0L petrol – whether this adopts the SQ2 moniker remains to be seen although prototypes of an SQ2 have been seen testing on German roads as is documented in just-auto’s PLDB model lifecycle database. Three trim levels are available – SE, Sport and S Line, with Audi anticipating the take rate for the entry level SE at 10%, mid-range Sport with 55% and the S Line hoovering up the remainder.

Available for the assembled press were a variety of petrol 1.4s and diesel 1.6s to test around Suffolk’s roads. First up for me was the petrol 1.4 with the S tronic 7-speed DQ200 dual clutch transmission. Despite the Q2 being a new entrant surprises for the model were few and far between. This is part of Audi’s proposition for the vehicle – it’s designed to fit into modern lives as seamlessly as possible – so comes equipped with the latest in ADAS and connectivity features. The ride itself is nicely pliant, with none of the “thrump” and crashiness that has been a criticism of Audi chassis dynamics in the past. As ever, for an Audi, the interior’s pretty unimpeachable, save for some lower rent plastics in the door modules and in the lower part of the dashboard. And, while positioned as a five-seater, the rear seat’s a squeeze for anything more than two adults for a sustained period of time.

More interesting for me was the comparison between my next two steers, manual versions of the aforementioned 1.4 TFSI and the 116PS 1.6 TDI. It’s fair to say that the diesel is not as engaging a drive as the petrol. For one, the diesel’s gearchange – despite the presence of the same MQ200 6-speed gearbox – is not as smooth and some vibration is present through the drivetrain. Perhaps more important is how close in efficiency the petrol is to the diesel. The petrol’s CO2 emissions are rated at 124g/km against 114g/km for the diesel. In the real world I managed 47MPG in the petrol over a 45 mile route and 51.5MPG in the diesel. Given that the petrol’s recorded MPG amounts to 89.8% of its official combined figure of 52.3MPG and the diesel’s 80.2% of its 62.2MPG figure it’s easy to make the case for the petrol over the diesel. Add in the petrol’s superior refinement, enhanced driver engagement and that it’s £100 cheaper whatever the trim level chosen and it becomes a no-brainer. And that’s certainly how Audi UK’s PR folks see the battle between diesel and petrol developing in the minds of Q2 customers. It’s planning a 60:40 split in favour of petrol for the Q2’s sales in the UK. 

That the petrol can boast of such impressive fuel economy is down to the addition of Cylinder on Demand (CoD) technology to today’s usual technology mix of a downsized direct injection petrol engine with a turbocharger. Generic versions of the technology, known in the industry as cylinder deactivation, have been around since 1981 when GM’s Cadillac introduced the V8-6-4 engine with technology jointly developed with Eaton. The technology is undergoing a renaissance today thanks to the more sophisticated electronics and mechatronics that are available on the market and because of the pressure OEMs are under to eke out efficiency improvements from the internal combustion engine as CO2 and fuel economy regulations tighten. For example, Delphi’s partnership with the tech start-up Tula’s Dynamic Skip Fire technology seemingly represents the next development of cylinder deactivation technology.

The more sophisticated electronics available mean that today’s systems suffer none of the clunkiness associated with earlier iterations from the likes of Cadillac and Mitsubishi. Indeed, in operation the workings of Audi’s CoD are imperceptible unless you happen to be blessed with the hearing of a bat. In the four-pot, CoD is activated when the engine spins between 1,400 and 4,000rpm and when there’s sufficient torque. 

Audi’s system uses a cam shifting system that closes the valves of cylinders two and three when the engine’s operating under part load and also cuts ignition and fuel injection to the inactive cylinders. CoD is not debuting on the Q2. It was first introduced in Audi’s 4.0L V8 petrol engine back in 2011 and made its way to the 1.4L in 2013.

While CoD is one of a number of technologies being employed to narrow the efficiency gap between petrols and diesels – and one causal factor in just-auto’s QUBE service seeing West European diesel penetration dip from today’s @49% to 45% by 2020 – it’s a technology that can’t be ruled out for diesels. Audi’s CoD system can also work with diesels, although the exhaust gases would then need more after treatment to meet emissions targets so the advantage would be reduced. However, with exhaust gases needing more aftertreatment with the advent of Euro VI it is feasible that OEMs, including Audi, will look to introduce cylinder deactivation to diesel engines once Euro VI programmes are established.

So in a nutshell, the Q2 is a car that pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s the first premium brand entry into a burgeoning segment, so if past experience of premium forays into mainstream territory are anything to go by it will sell like hotcakes. While pricing can quickly get into the more than GBP30k territory after the addition of a few choice options, this probably won’t detract from sales given the Q2’s predicted attractive residuals and the fact the UK market is increasingly driven by PCPs and leasing deals. So the Q2 is certain to make hay; at least until Audi’s German premium rivals reconfigure their nomenclature to make room for a direct competitor.