The Q3 does a good job at providing first time Audi clients with an experience
The Audi Q3’s conception in North America was a little bit awkward. It arrived in the summer of 2014 as a 2015 model year vehicle, but it’s very important to note that it had been sold in Europe for a few years already by then. This past spring, we received a refreshed 2016 model just as Canadian consumers were beginning to scoop up the 2015s. We briefly sampled a pre-facelift model upon its debut and came away with lukewarm sentiments, so when the new one arrived, I felt obliged to give it a whirl. My tester was a 2016 Audi Q3 Technik with all of the goodies and quattro all-wheel-drive.
Now, because the Audi A3 is currently available in sedan form only for Canadians, the Q3 is the closest thing we can have to a hatchback or wagon version of Audi’s hot little compact. However, we must note that rather than being based on the MQB platform that the A3 shares with the current Volkswagen Golf, the Q3 is based on the older chassis of the Volkswagen Tiguan. The next full redesign of the Q3, expected within a couple of years, will probably debut on the MQB chassis. For 2016, the Q3 gets an all-new fascia, new lighting front and rear, an optional rear diffuser (equipped on our S-Line Technik tester), and a series of interior updates that freshen it up nicely.
From a styling front, the Q3 is a winner in its segment. I’m personally not a huge fan of the new BMW X1 or the Mercedes-Benz GLA, both of which look like they’re trying too hard. As with everything else Audi has offered us over the last few years, the Q3 is designed with elegance in mind while maintaining the conservative and humble nature of the brand. It’s evolutionary and looks like it belongs in the Audi lineup, and doesn’t stand out as a departure from the brand’s design language. There’s brilliant LED lighting both for daytime running lights as well as sequential turn signals on the taillights that are similar to the Ford Mustang’s.
The Q3’s roofline is similar to other subcompact crossovers, swooped in a manner that emphasizes form over function. The power decklid is good in operation, but the rear shape compromises trunk space significantly. Interior space is very good though; both front and rear passengers have ample legroom as well as headroom despite the presence of a huge panoramic sunroof. Its higher ride height means the Q3 is enticing to those who want the driving position of a crossover, but it’s low enough to get in and out of easily as well.
Q3s sold in other markets get a series of motors including a turbocharged five-cylinder we’ve seen in the old TT-RS, but Canada makes do with just one engine choice. It’s not exactly a bad option, because this motor is versatile enough to be used in a series of Volkswagen/Audi applications. The magic unit here is the same 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder that powers the GTI as well as the Tiguan. In the Q3, it makes 200 horsepower and 207 lb/ft of torque, which is perfectly competitive with rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The surprise here is that rather than the quick-shifting S-tronic dual-clutch, Audi has chosen to stick with the six-speed automatic from the Tiguan.
While competitors’ engines feel numb and bland, the Q3 is actually peppy. This engine is known for its torque being available early in the powerband, and power delivery is linear right up to highway speeds. The six-speed automatic is a bit laggy in response and shift times, but there is a “Sport” mode on the shifter that livens things up a bit. Throttle response is good, and the motor makes a decent noise on full throttle acceleration. There is a front-wheel-drive Q3 available, but knowing Canadian buyers, the vast majority will spend the $2,500 to step up to the quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Our test took place at the tail end of the summer, so we didn’t get a chance to push the Q3 to its limits in snowy conditions, but both Audi as well as Volkswagen have proven time and time again that their all-wheel-drive systems are some of the best in the world. This particular Q3 was equipped with Pirelli P-Zero summer tires wrapped around 20” wheels – the very same 20s that were on our Audi S8 tester from just a few weeks prior. Thanks to the sticky rubber, the little German was a surprisingly sharp handler. Steering response is excellent and the Q3 hugs the road like it’s nobody’s business. I expect the front-wheel-drive model to have a little bit of understeer when pushed hard, but the quattro car we drove had none.
Steering feel is a bit artificial, but there’s enough quick response to make up for this. Audi Drive Select is on board here, with three settings – Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic. Unlike in sportier applications from Audi, there is no configurable “Individual” setting. This isn’t exactly a problem, because the typical Q3 buyer will leave the system in “Auto” and let the vehicle decide how to set things up. Ride quality is decent, and the dampers do an excellent job of absorbing road imperfections. I would pass on the 20” wheels because even though they’re sexy, the low-profile tires do make the Q3 ride choppier than it should.
There area few reasons that explain how the Audi Q3 is able to achieve excellent fuel economy. Firstly, the car is so relaxed to drive it encourages smoothness rather than aggressive accelerating or passing. Secondly, when left in “Comfort” mode, the Q3’s cabin is actually very soothing to eat up highway miles in. Over one combined cycle with a healthy mix between city and highway driving, I saw 8.4L/100km on premium 91-octane fuel. I expect city slickers who spend more time in rush hour traffic to see numbers closer to 9.8-9.9L/100km. I found it interesting that the lifetime average of our 2000km tester was displaying 9.6L/100km, leading me to believe that before my test, this car did a lot of city driving.
So, the Q3 looks good, has a tried and trusted engine, handles like it’s on rails, and sips fuel at an alarmingly low rate. It’s a great package, right? Yes, but there are a few flaws that stood out to me. Firstly, though the interior boasts normal Audi touches throughout, it just appears dated and in dire need of ergonomic improvement. The Tiguan’s strange bus-like driving position is reflected here too, and I just wasn’t able to get the steering wheel (yes, it has tilt/telescopic adjustment) positioned the way I wanted it. Rather than a flat-bottomed wheel that’s weirdly positioned, I’d rather have a slightly cheaper-feeling one placed perfectly.
Additionally, whereas the new A3 and S3 use the fully keyless remote fob, the Q3 uses the old switchblade-style fob with an actual key. Our Technik tester was equipped with the keyless go system, so the old key was a bit strange. What Audi has done right here is give the MMI multimedia setup a light overhaul for 2016, implementing the same fresh MMI that the A3 and S3 have. The resolution is much sharper, the navigation menus are easier to use, and the Bose sound system sounds excellent for its price point. One touch that would make the MMI experience here a lot better would be the relocation of the controls from the dashboard itself to down by the shifter, where they are in the A3.
The base model Audi Q3 with front-wheel-drive starts at just over $34,000. Our tester is the top trim level, with virtually every option that can be had on the Q3, including but not limited to full navigation, panoramic sunroof, heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, 20” wheels, S-Line appearance package, intelligent key with power decklid, front and rear fog lights, and full Sport Package. Nice touches throughout the cabin include a subtle backlit stripe around the door speaker grilles – these go a long way in giving the Q3 a hint of luxury. The sticker here is just under $48,000, not a paltry sum for the smallest crossover from Audi.
What we have here is an entry point to a luxury brand – Audi sells the Q3 with the hope that the consumer will eventually “graduate” to the Q5, A6, Q7, etcetera. The 2016 Audi Q3 Technik does a good job at providing first time Audi clients with an experience rather than just a car. It provides more elegant styling than its competitors, a comparable array of technology, and ample space for plenty of unique adventures. Based on what we know about the Audi brand, we can expect upcoming redesigns and mid-cycle updates to spread the Q3’s image even more, and convince the North American public that this is indeed a real Audi product.
2016 Audi Q3 Technik Gallery