On the Road Review: Audi Q3 Quattro

The auto industry is rapidly shifting its production focus to vehicles that buyers really want — crossover wagons and SUVs. Sedan sales are slumping — at a time when the best sedans ever are in full production at all makers. Hybrid and alternative-power vehicle sales are also slow — despite mandates, rebates and e-bates. Overpriced, generally range-constricted and not very versatile, buyers have balked with their wallets. Even Tesla, the high-priced, save-the-world electric car, is suffering from buyer pushback.

Yet, crossover sales continue to expand at an ever-growing pace. Porsche, the venerable sports car maker, is now led by two popular crossover wagons that eclipse car sales by a wide margin. Bentley, Aston Martin and Maserati now have crossovers, while Cadillac, Lincoln, Buick and Volvo survive because of their crossovers.

In addition, this is not just an American phenomenon. Buyers in China and in Europe are embracing crossovers like no other vehicles. Americans have their pickup trucks to hold dear, yet crossovers have surpassed truck sales on the way to making cars the minority vehicle class here in the states.

The last three years have seen compact crossovers jump to the head of the whole segment, with vast sales of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, GM’s Equinox/Terrain twins, plus Nissan’s Rogue and Jeep’s new Cherokee. Add the Mazda, Kia and Hyundai offerings, and you can see where this is headed.

These little truck-lets have fostered interest in even smaller crossovers — subcompact crossovers — as small car buyers see the merit in having a vehicle that has a hatchback, expandable cargo space, optional or standard AWD, plus the elevated seating position and enhanced forward vision engineered into these vehicles, all on a smaller footprint that fits urban life.

The German automakers have jumped into the fray with credible offerings that continue to evolve at the pace necessary to retain luxury buyers before they jump to competing brands. Audi’s new Q3 represents the brand in the subcompact class, competing against the BMW X1 and Mercedes’ GLA.

Externally, the Q3 looks remarkably like its larger Q5 sibling; they share profiles, styling cues front and rear, and even base engines — a 2.0-liter turbo-four that makes 200 hp and 207 pound/feet of peak torque. The Q3, however, is 10 inches shorter, 3 inches narrower and 500 pounds lighter, so yes, it is smaller.

This is readily apparent inside where the cabin is cozy. There is enough head and legroom up front for those long of inseam to handily fit, yet elbow room for heavyweights is at a premium. Six-footers-plus have ample leg room, however the telescoping steering wheel is short on extensions, so expect a long arm reach if your legs are comfortable. In the rear, a first glance says this seating is tight. But climbing through the rear door reveals a carved out headliner for added headroom, curved front seatbacks for knee-space and a rear bench that is plenty adequate for adult passengers. The seatback splits to fold, with the release levers reachable from the cargo hold, so 24 cubic feet quickly doubles in space under the powered liftgate.

Audi has always endowed its vehicles with a certain driving verve. And the Q3 won’t disappoint — mostly. Steering feel is responsive, handling and ride dynamics are nimble and predictable, while the whole package feels like a heavier VW Golf with better motion control than the BMW and a quieter cabin than the Mercedes. The Golf comparison is most evident on the console and dash, where some controls are carryovers from this car platform — including a push-button ignition on the console. Console storage space is lacking and some controls could be more intuitive and convenient to use, but generally speaking, the interior works pretty well.

Atop the dash, an optional ($1,900) MMI entertainment/navigation screen is vertically placed in the middle. An obvious add-on — like too many similar units from other automakers — the Audi’s screen also doubles as your rear camera panel, which oddly enough silences the radio when employed. I guess you shouldn’t be distracted by entertainment when backing, only visual displays.

Like many Audis, the Q3 has a soft initial throttle response from a standing start. Once moving, the Q3’s torque output gives the car earnest acceleration and snappy midrange responses through the conventional six-speed automatic transmission — no dual-clutch transmission here. There is a notable front-drive feel to the Q3’s handling, yet sandy road surfaces revealed the Quattro’s traction capabilities on numerous occasions.

EPA mileage estimates are 20/28 mpg on suggested 91-octane gasoline. Over the course of three fill-ups averaging 300 miles each, the Audi returned 26.1 mpg. Mentally, vehicles of this size and type “should return” 30 mpg, at least. Maybe-front drive models do. Maybe the turbo-diesel models slated for later this year will.

The Q3 is almost the exact same size as the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, as well as the class best-seller, the Subaru XV Crosstrek. The Audi, though, is the porkiest entry on this list — outweighing the similarly sized Subaru by almost 500 pounds. That excess weight (more standard components) affects fuel economy.

Q3 pricing starts at $34,625 for front-drive Premium models, $35,525 for Quattro equipped. Heated leather seating, power sunroof, Xenon headlamps, power liftgate and dual climate controls are all standard. Prestige trim adds components and price. The Q3 can tow 2,200 pounds, half of what the Q5 can pull.

Nice styling, nicely appointed inside, and a nice driver, the Q3 should win Audi dealers a significant portion of this burgeoning segment. Along with a brand new Q7 large crossover, Audi is in much better shape in these growing classes than in-house sibling Volkswagen appears to be.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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