The Audi Q3 is a compact crossover, introduced for 2005 to a booming category that includes the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Acura RDX, Buick Encore, BMW X1, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Mazda CX3. The Q3 looks like a stubby version of the stylish Q5 SUV on the outside, and like the A3 sedan on the inside.
The grille and rear end are tweaked on the 2016 Audi Q3, while a rearview camera and parking sensors are standard on all 2016 Q3 models. LED headlamps appear on upper trim levels of the 2016 Audi Q3.
The Q3 comes with one powertrain, a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, quattro all-wheel drive available. The Q3 can accelerate from zero to sixty in about eight seconds (not quick), and go 130 mph (fast).
It’s considered a five-seater, maybe two adults and three smallish kids. Standard equipment is generous, including leather, sunroof, xenon headlamps, 18-inch alloys, LED interior lighting, heated front seats, satellite and HD radio, and Bluetooth streaming. A USB port only comes with the optional navigation.
The Q3 is built for comfort not speed. The suspension tuners chose ride quality over crisp handling. The Q3 rides like the bigger Q5. But by using the Drive Select modes, it can be made to handle almost as sharply as the Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen models. Drive Select is not standard, but an option worth considering. Modes alter the throttle, steering and transmission response.
The Q3 gets an EPA-estimated 20/29/23 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined, which could be better, given the competition in the class. The efficient quattro all-wheel drive scarcely dings those numbers.
The styling of the Audi Q3 is predictable, not dramatic in any way, but nice. It may be stubbier than the Q5, but it’s a flattering imitation. The lines are attractive enough to have been borrowed from by the Lincoln MKC. We also see some Fiat 500X in there, believe it or not.
It’s problematic to put a nice silhouette on a compact crossover, given the shortness and roof height, plus the brand identity that must be addressed. But the Q3 admirably succeeds, and the tidy shape will have legs, as Audi shapes do.
Even though the Q3 is only one year old, the 2016 model gets tweaks at the nose and tail, partly to keep pace with the updated A6 and upcoming 2017 Audi A4. The big grille makes it look like the front end is almost on the ground. It’s nicely framed by lovely narrow headlamps, and balanced by big air intakes.
The sills are sculpted gently, as they climb toward the coupe-like roofline. At least Audi says it’s coupe-like. The glass is relatively slim, while the wraparound tailgate and LED taillamps try to erase the box.
The reason this five-seater doesn’t work for five grownups is largely headroom, reduced a bit in the back seats by the sunroof. Rear legroom isn’t great either. Front passengers don’t have these worries, and they should love the optional sport seats, well bolstered and comfortable.
Cargo space suffers less from the compact crossover limitations. There’s 16.2 cubic feet behind the 60/40 rear seat, and with the seat folded that space gets tripled. That’s room to carry a lot of stuff, more than 48 cubic feet.
Like the A3 sedan, the cabin is swathed in subdued black plastic and metallic trim that’s integrated fairly well, rings and all. Fit and finish meet the Audi sedan standard. The gauges are big and clear, and the infotainment appears on a seven-inch screen that stands up impressively from the dash to display hi-rez and hi-contrast images from Google Earth.
The Audi MMI system is different in the Q3, in that it’s not controlled by a roller on the center console, but rather a knob on the dash.
The cargo area offers luggage capacity of 16.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat; folding down the split rear seatbacks increases this capacity to 48.2 cubic feet, fine for a weekend’s worth of luggage for two, or a mid-month run to the big-box store.
The acceleration of the 2.0-liter turbo engine is less than dazzling, given the Q3’s weight of 3500 pounds with front-wheel drive, but it’s better than in the fancier Q5, because the Q5 uses the same engine and weighs even more. The Q3 is also lower, so it feels more lively.
However, less than dazzling is still pretty good. It’s like an appearance of the little engine that could, with locomotive-like torque, with most of the 207 pound-feet available at 2000 rpm. The engine is supported by a 6-speed automatic transmission that enables brisk spurts by its gears spaced neatly to the powerband of the engine.
The Q3 suspension can handle anything 200 horsepower can dish out. With struts in front and four links in rear, and fairly quick electric power steering, the Q3 feels tidy and firm, predictable, and well damped even with the optional 19-inch all-season tires. It’s no X1 around corners, but it beats the GLA-Class on rough city streets.
In the compact crossover class, the Q3 is good in all areas, but beaten for best in all but one: it’s an Audi. Its small engine offers giant-killer torque, its 6-speed transmission is neatly executed, its ride is smooth and handling predictable. Good cargo space, but don’t expect it to seat five comfortably.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. Sam Moses contributed to this report.