A new player in the compact crossover game |
The automotive industry is all about perspective. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and it appears as though almost everything that was formerly unheard of is now commonplace. Porsche makes SUVs, Hyundais can cost upwards of $75,000, Ferrari makes a hatchback, and Lamborghini no longer offers a manual transmission. Therefore, the idea of a ~$35,000 SUV from Audi shouldn’t really surprise anyone. I have a bit of a soft spot towards Audi’s recent lineup, so I was eager to get behind the wheel of their latest offering to evaluate it for myself. I spent a weekend with the surprisingly affordable 2015 Audi Q3 to learn what this new cute-ute is all about.
At first glance, I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of the Q3’s styling. I think the big-daddy Q7 looks great, and the slightly smaller Q5 has also aged gracefully. The Q3 is now the entry-level crossover/SUV in the Audi lineup, and looks the part. It looks like somebody put a Q5 through the dryer for two cycles, and the lines just don’t look as elegant as the rest of the offerings the German powerhouse makes. Audi’s signature LED daytime running lights are on board, and the taillights look like a freshened take on the corporate design language. Despite being smaller and slightly toned down though, the new Q3 still looks unmistakably Audi, and definitely doesn’t look as cheap as its price tag might suggest.
Under the hood of the Q3 is something that didn’t surprise me at all. The Volkswagen/Audi corporate 2.0L TFSI turbocharged inline-4 is on board, and it’s just as pleasant here as it is in the new Audi A3. It sports 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. I was hopeful that the Q3 would have the excellent S-tronic dual-clutch transmission that I have come to love, but no matter which trim you opt for, this little guy comes with a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s not as bad as it sounds; the shifts aren’t lightning quick as they would be with S-tronic, but they’re quick and the paddle shifters on my tester were pretty responsive. The Q3 also feels gutsier than I expected it to; while acceleration itself isn’t very good, merging onto the 400-series highways is actually quite pleasurable because the throttle response is sharp.
Cornering and overall handling with the Q3 is very good. The Audi’s steering is extremely light at low parking lot speeds, and adapts to tighten up on the highway. It’s surprisingly natural and doesn’t feel as artificial as I would have expected. We took the Q3 through one of our favourite drive routes in the countryside that involved some brilliant sweepers and curves, and it handled them all like a champ. Save for the BMW X1, it’s one of the best-handling small SUVs out there. Plus, with the corporate quattro all-wheel-drive system, it’s going to be a great handler year-round.
So how exactly did Audi manage to keep the MSRP of the 2015 Q3 so low? Well, when driving one of these, it’s very important not to forget just how little money it costs to purchase. A bunch of features that most people expect to be standard equipment on a car bearing the four-ringed emblem are missing or optional. For instance, the base Q3 is front-wheel-drive; quattro is optional. This is great for those who live in climates where crazy winters aren’t commonplace, but I don’t really see too many Canadians opting for the front-wheel-drive model. Also, the seats are leatherette and the Audi MMI system is simplified (my tester lacked a navigation system), and the screen itself is static and not high-resolution. It looks a bit dated.
You don’t get everything, but there are a ton of things that do come with the Q3 that surprised me. My tester was the mid-range Progressiv model, so it came standard with the panoramic sunroof, all-wheel-drive, nicer wheels and tires, a power-operated liftgate, and leatherette. On nearly every other model Audi makes, the controller for the multimedia interface is located on the center console directly in front of the armrest. This makes buttons easy to reach with the right hand. On the Q3 though, it’s located on the dashboard itself, inches below the screen. While browsing playlists and satellite radio stations was simple enough, I wasn’t a fan of having to reach for the buttons.
The Q3’s main premium competitor is the BMW X1. Here’s the thing – I consider the X1 to be the closest thing to a driver’s “car” as you can find in the compact crossover/SUV class. It’s based off the same underpinnings as the 2006-2011 (E90) 3-series, which was a perfect chassis on its own. It has the same raw, heavy steering feel that older BMWs were known for, and it’s great fun to drive with either engine choice. Like the Q3, the X1 can also be had with a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder. As someone who truly values an enjoyable driving experience, I’d rather have the X1.
Fortunately for Audi though, most buyers aren’t me. The Q3 represents the perfect choice for the young family. This crossover is going to be excellent in the snow; the quick steering is perfect for parking lot maneuvers, and things like the power liftgate are excellent for loading large objects such as strollers. Additionally, the BMW X1 has a very car-like driving position that, when compared to the 3-series Touring, is quite similar to the difference between a Subaru Legacy Wagon and an Outback. From behind the wheel of the new Audi Q3, you feel no lower or less safe than in the larger Q5.
Mercedes-Benz has just come out with the GLA, and I’m sure BMW will give the X1 a facelift and full redesign in due time. However, none of these (including the Q3) are offered with a diesel on this side of the world. If I had to spend ~$35-40,000 on a proper family car, my choices would be either a fully-loaded Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen with the TDI engine, or a base-ish Volvo V60 T5. However, I think Audi is onto something here. Ever since hitting showrooms, the Q3 has been selling like hotcakes, and the attention I got with the car during my test was only evidence of how positive an impact it has had on the Canadian market.
2015 Audi Q3 TFSI Gallery