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Test Drive: Audi Q3. It’s Not Easy, Being Three

Audi has been absolutely crushing it in the styling department for more than a decade now. The Q3 just another example of how it really is possible to make entry-level luxury vehicles that don’t look entry-level. In this hot market, though, you need more than just looks to score points on the sales board, you need a vehicle that delivers the goods in every aspect of the experience. The 2019 Q3 is all-new, but is it good enough everywhere to catch the BMW X1 on the sales charts?

Fast Facts

Engine: 2.0L, turbocharged inline-four
Output: 228 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): (2.0 AWD) 19 city, 27 highway, 22 combined
U.S. Price: Premium $34,700, Premium Plus, $37,800, Prestige S line $42,900. As tested estimated $44,200
Actual as-tested price CAD $50,915 plus $2,095 destination

Back to that styling. While this little crossover is handsome at first glance, keep looking and it keeps revealing more details. The large single-frame grille is unmistakably Audi, flanked by slim LED headlights that are fitted as standard. The shape is defined by sharp angles and straight lines, but keep looking and the gentle curves above the door handles and the subtle yet muscular bulging fenders reveal more depth to the shape. Most importantly, nothing about this look screams cheap, even in the basic trims and boring shades of paint. Something many competitors can’t claim since they can look decidedly downmarket if you pick the wrong color and spec.

Not that this one is the wrong color, because that Turbo Blue is going to catch and hold the attention of anyone within miles of you. It takes some serious guts to put a hue this bright (the same as the one on the TT-RS) on a crossover, and we love it. It’s also offered only on S-Line, along with an equally bold Pulse Orange. Audi needs to park a trio of these together to make a tribute to that classic Gulf Oil livery of so many wonderful (but not Audi) race cars.

Just one engine is available in the new Q3, a 2.0L turbo-four that makes 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, badged on the boot as 45 TFSI. This is the two-liter that you’ll find in just about everything Audi, and there aren’t really any big surprises here. It’s smooth and powerful, able to bring the Q3 to 60 mph in seven seconds, Audi says, though we’d be happier with an S version offering a bit more of a shove. It’s 28 hp more than last year, and 51 extra lb-ft, but we’d still call it just adequate. Quiet and refined, but not exactly inspiring in this pudgy crossover.

Quattro all-wheel drive is, of course, standard, and the only gearbox is an eight-speed automatic. That gearbox stands out as one of the only disappointments in the Q3. The shifts were abrupt, verging on harsh, and I don’t think that there was a single time when pulling away from a stop was smooth instead of hesitant and jerky. Toggling the drive select to Dynamic transforms the shifts from abrupt to full-on snappy, but at least then it feels purposeful: you’re doing it to sacrifice comfort for a more athletic feel. In comfort, it’s less pleasant. The modes also adjust the steering response, and it does make it feel more direct, though it’s not exactly making your fingertips tingle with the road surface in any case.

Inside, the first thing you’ll notice is the meaty, flat-bottomed steering wheel. If you live in Canada, don’t get that one. Unless you like shift paddles more than you like warm hands because the flat one gets paddles but no warmth. In the US, neither one is heated, so pick whichever one you like best, or the one that’s on the lot.

Behind that wheel is a 10.25-inch digital cluster on Premium and Premium Plus, with Prestige getting a 12.3-inch version with Audi’s wonderful digital cockpit that lets you put the nav map on the dashboard in big or small, and also lets you customize enough things that an afternoon spent fiddling still won’t be enough to show you everything that’s possible.

Our favorite part of the Q3’s virtual cockpit, though, is this: Using Android Auto and the Waze app (doesn’t work with Google Maps) you can set one navigation destination on the native nav in the cluster and a second destination in Waze on the 10.1-inch MMI display. Why would you do this? We don’t know either, but it’s hilarious to hear the systems try and commandeer the voice response to tell you that you’ve missed both of your turns and need to take two completely different new directions. It’s the little things that bring joy to our lives. If you get navigation and Audi Connect, it will support wireless Apple CarPlay as well.

Little things like the bolstered sport seats in my Technik S-Line tester (Canada gets Komfort, Progressiv, and Technik because up here Premium Plus is a saltine), which are comfortable and supportive, offering more bolstering than any compact crossover buyer (short of S and RS buyers) will ever actually need. Heated leather seats are standard across the board, the only one in the segment to offer that. Same goes for the panoramic roof, and those are both features that you’ll probably want.

Thanks to Audi to using real buttons and dials for most of the climate controls, and we’ll save any test-drivers and buyers some time by reminding you that the only way to sync the dual-zone climate control temperatures is to hold down the Auto button for at least a couple of seconds. You’re welcome for that saved trip to the manual. The gauge surround and infotainment surround both reflect the large Audi grille, and it’s a handsome effect. The whole thing can get a touch dull, though, so if you can get those bright orange Alcantara inserts we say go for it. From the MMI stack over is all angled quite steeply toward the driver, and that gives it a snug, cockpit-like feel. It’s cozy in feeling, though not tight on space.

Just a couple of things disappoint in the cabin, first, the door handles that might look like a stealth bomber from the top, but have such a flat-angled grip that our hands failed to grasp the handle (or slid off) throughout our test. The second is the filler panel that’s home to the start-stop button and volume knob. The panel itself feels and looks far cheaper than the rest of the vehicle, and the volume knob’s positioning means it’s really only for the passenger to use, not the driver. Piano black trim is all the rage, and you’ll find it around the MMI screen here, but keeping it dust (and scratch) free is a task that even Sisyphus would call too difficult.

Headroom is adequate for even very tall drivers despite the large panoramic roof, and space in the front and rear are both good for the class. Cargo space, at 23.7 cubic feet with the seats up and 48 with them folded, does come up a bit short for the segment, nearly 11 ft smaller with the seats folded than the BMW X1. Seats up, you probably won’t notice the extra 3.5 or so cubes.

All of the usual active safety kit is on offer here, Audi pre sense basic is standard and prepares the Q3 for collisions by tightening the belts and closing the roof and windows. Pre sense front adds alerts of possible collisions and is also standard. Side assist lane departure warnings are optional as is rear cross-traffic assist, adaptive cruise, and parking proximity sensors. New this year is parking assist that can parallel and perpendicular park itself and a top view camera using four 360-degree cameras.

Enough about what it’s got, though, this is a luxury ride, and that means that it’s as much about the intangibles as the spec sheet. On the road, the Q3 is exceptionally well damped by crossover standards. It’s never floaty on dips, neither is it jarring on expansion joints and other road imperfections. Like all Audis, it’s on the stiffer side of the ride spectrum, but that just pays dividends when the road gets windy. Then, the direct steering offers quick turn-in, and it corners neutrally at real speeds. It has acceptable amounts of body roll (this is still a tall vehicle after all), but it just feels right.

The Q3 is a quiet cruiser, with even the engine offering little in the way of disruption to your day. Though if you convince it to run to redline, you’ll be able to hear it work.

Turn up the 680-watt available Bang & Olufsen 15-speaker audio system and there were some mild rattles in the door, but if you’re past the point of turning it up to 11, it offers excellent sound. And other than that one center stack panel, everything feels as solid as an Audi should.

With this new Q3, Audi has made a compact crossover that looks and feels better than its sticker price. While it’s not necessarily the cheapest, it feels like good value in the segment to us. It’s a soothing place to sit, and a pleasure to walk toward and walk away from on each journey. Like Goldilocks and the Q3 bears, this one is just right.

Love it:
MMI/Virtual cockpit

Leave it:
Small boot
No heated wheel

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