NASHVILLE, Tenn.—I’m not normally one to gush over crossovers. But when Audi brought its new Q3 to the New York International Auto Show earlier this year, its looks won me over.
From the outside it looks like a nine-tenths Q8 and all the better for being less imposingly large. Open a door and the interior greets you with fashion-forward styling—including orange Alcantara if you’re bold—and an infotainment system that’s better than anything else on sale. It’s well priced for this highly competitive market segment and a huge leap forward compared to the first-generation Q3.
But is the new Q3 as good to drive as it is to look at? That’s the question I went Nashville to answer.
The 2019 Q3 is built using a Volkswagen Group architecture called MQB. This big bucket of parts and designs is used to make all of the group’s transverse-engine vehicles—everything from the Audi TT to the VW Atlas. The new Q3 is bigger than the model it replaces, having grown 3.8 inches (97mm) in length, 0.7 inches (18mm) in width, and 1.5 inches (38mm) in height. (Length: 176.6″/4,486mm, width: 72.8″/1,849mm, height: 64.1″/1,628mm) Most of the increase in length—3 inches (76.2mm) to be precise—was added to the wheelbase, much to the benefit of rear seat passengers.
All US-spec Q3s get an identical powertrain. The engine is a 2.0L TFSI (gasoline, turbocharged, direct-injection) four-cylinder unit, which provides 228hp (170kW) and 258lb-ft (350Nm). An eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is standard, as is all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive is a clutch-based system, and instead of locking mechanical differentials at each axle, the Q3 will brake individual wheels when necessary. The US Q3 also only gets a single specification of springs and dampers, which are tuned to US roads and driving styles. (European Q3 buyers have a choice of engines, transmissions, and suspension options.)
Competitively priced to rivals
The US customer does still get to make a few decisions about their Q3. The range starts at $34,700 for a Q3 or $36,000 for a Q3 S line, which comes with different front and rear bumpers and 19″ wheels as standard (the Q3s in the photos are all S line versions). The base trim is called Premium, and it includes leather seats (heated for the front row), an eight-way power seat for the driver, auto-dipping LED headlights, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and an 8.8-inch touchscreen MMI infotainment system with Android Auto and wireless CarPlay.
Premium Plus is an additional $1,600 and adds even better LED headlights, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, wireless charging for your cellphone, and a powered passenger seat. It also unlocks a couple more option packages. The $2,000 Navigation pack adds the latest version of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit driver display and the same 10.1-inch MMI infotainment system found in bigger Audis like the A7 and e-tron. And adaptive cruise control is a separate $800 option.
For S line models, there’s also a $500 sport interior. That gets you different powered seats with better bolstering and a different multifunction steering wheel. A better deal is probably the $42,900 Q3 S line Prestige. This gets all that stuff as standard, plus a Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Overall, the pricing is competitive with rivals like BMW’s X2 or Volvo’s XC40. The Q3 could do better in terms of fuel efficiency though, at 22mpg combined (19mpg city, 27mpg highway). That’s worse than AWD XC40s or X2s, although unlike those cars, the Q3 can use regular gasoline instead of premium.
Looks great but dull to drive
When automakers let journalists loose in a new model for the first time, the writers usually choose somewhere with great roads and not much traffic. This event was no exception, and in the right car, the countryside outside of Nashville certainly delivers an epic drive.
Despite its sporty looks, the Q3 is not that car. The steering never tells you much about what the front tires are up to, but you can probably assume the answer is “understeer.” You can add weight by putting the car in Dynamic mode, but heavier is not the same as more communicative.
Between the numb steering, understeer, a bit of body roll, and a transmission that sometimes leaves you waiting, the Q3 is not a crossover you want to take by the scruff of the neck on a twisty road. Audi has one of those in Europe. It’s called the RS Q3, and it uses the 400hp engine from the TT-RS I liked so much. But the company says there’s no real market for a car like that stateside, even if journalists salivate at the thought. If you want a fun-to-drive crossover, my recommendation remains the Mazda CX-5. (Audi also says there are no plans to bring the even-better-looking Q3 Sportback to the US.)
Approach the Q3 without thoughts of corner carving and you’ll have a much better experience. The ride quality is good, without much deterioration when fitted with bigger 20″ wheels. The cabin is wonderful, and the back seat is now much more spacious. Although I fell in love with the orange Alcantara option back in April, I don’t know if I’d choose that ($150) option if I was a parent. And it does feel a bit cheeky for Audi to charge $350 for rear side airbags rather than making them standard equipment.
But beyond that, there’s little to complain about. The 10.1-inch touchscreen MMI infotainment really is the best system on the market today, and in this instance retains physical buttons for commonly used controls like climate settings. Most models will come with wireless phone charging, and there are two USB-A and a USB-C port for the front seats and a second pair of USB-A ports for the rear passengers.
And from the outside, the Q3 is a real looker.
Luxury crossovers like this one have an interesting challenge. They have to be an affordable entry point but without so much cost-cutting that the qualities for which the brand is known are diluted out. Here, the 2019 Q3 makes a compelling case as an entry point to the Audi brand. Whether you think it’s better or worse than a Volvo XC40 probably comes down to whether you prefer German or Swedish design.