The Audi Q3, the baby in Audi’s North American SUV lineup, is starting to gain some popularity in the US. Having first been released in Europe, it finally made its way across the Atlantic and is making a big splash. After all, US customers love small crossovers, so long as they don’t have to buy hateful wagons like Europeans do (I need a sarcasm font). Audi has had some great success with its SUVs in the ‘States, though, and most of them are very good. The Audi Q5 is great and the brand new Audi Q7 is outstanding. So I thought I’d sample the Q3 and see if it lives up to Audi’s pedigree.
The model I drove was a Cortina White 2015 Audi Q3 Prestige with the S Line package and Quattro all-wheel drive. In terms of looks, the Q3 looks very much like a shrunken Audi Q5. Based on the Volkswagen Tiguan platform, the Q3 successfully manages to hide its plebeian roots and look like something more upscale. While not very visually emotional, the Q3 is a handsome little SUV that wears the Audi familial look quite well.
On the inside, things are a bit of a mixed bag. While genuine leather is standard on all Q3s, and feels very nice to the touch, the rest of the materials are mixed. The leather on the steering wheel, as well as the overall feel of the steering wheel itself, is excellent and feels great in hand. The knobs for volume and MMI are knurled aluminum and feel like proper quality items that will last forever. However, the door pulls, much of the door panels, the center console and some of the dash are hard plastics that feel entry-level Volkswagen grade. I guess that comes with the fact that the Q3 is the entry-level Audi SUV, but at $38,000 to start for the Q3 Prestige, it should come with some better materials on the inside. Having said that, the design, navigation screen, seats and steering wheel are all top notch. Side note, Audi’s outstanding Virtual Cockpit should be available as an option next year and is worth waiting for.
In terms of performance, the Audi Q3 efficiently moves itself along but in a rather unexciting fashion. The 0-60 mph time quoted for the Q3 is 7.8 seconds and that feels about right. It never feels quick or even inspired to move, as the underpowered 2.0 liter turbocharged TFSI four-cylinder engine (200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque) has to haul quite a bit of weight around. However, the engine redeems itself for being buttery-smooth and whisper quite until you put your foot down to which it makes a surprisingly decent-sounding growl. The true downfall of this powertrain, though, is the transmission. While fine in its own right, the six-speed torque-converter automatic is just not up to par with the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox Europeans get in their Q3s. I’m not aware of Audi’s reasoning behind the transmission disparity between Europe and the US, but it makes a noticeable difference. The DSG gearbox would help tremendously in making this small engine feel a bit more engaging.
However, in terms of ride, comfort and interior noise, the Audi Q3 shines. It’s silky smooth, even over rough pavement, and its cabin is whisper quiet even at highway speeds. The Q3 is a serene and comfortable way to travel and is perfect for the average crossover customer. The Q3 might fall down in terms of performance, to other rivals like the BMW X1 or Lexus NX, but its quite cabin, supple yet stable ride and comfortable interior make it perfect for casual driving. And with the Prestige and S Line packages give the Q3 some much needed bling, it will cruise comfortably in style.
The Q3 Prestige does come well equipped, also. With a power-folding tailgate available as standard on all models, blind-spot monitors that work excellently and are big and easy to see, a crystal clear MMI display, heated seats and a panoramic sunroof, the Q3 Prestige is filled with goodies to make life inside of it nicer than life outside of it.
Overall, the Audi Q3 is a very competent, if unexciting, small SUV. It has great looks, superb seats and leather, excellent ride quality and a very hushed cabin. While its performance lags behind the segment, the Q3 delivers a very different experience from the rest and looks to be a solid competitor in the segment. As the segment stands today, the Audi Q3 is at the top of the class. However, with the new F48 BMW X1 set to debut this month, the Audi Q3 probably won’t be there for long.[Thanks to Ray Catena Audi of Toms River, NJ for letting us test drive the Q3]