Audi gets serious about the mini-luxe crossover market
When Audi introduced the first-generation Q3 to Europe in 2011, it had some idea that compact crossovers were about to be the new hot commodity, but it couldn’t have predicted just how hot they would become. The first-gen Q3, developed just before Volkswagen Group’s switch to modular architectures, wasn’t originally meant for the North American market, but America’s insatiable appetite for sport utes prompted Audi to bring a version of it here in 2014. Though it was already an aging product by the time it arrived, the Q3 nevertheless plugged the hole in Audi’s U.S. lineup, even if competitor offerings were stronger. This time around, Audi is better prepared to meet global small CUV demand with the new MQB-based 2019 Q3.
The new model is a ground-up redesign—and it shows. Even if you’re like me and you barely remember what the old Q3 looks like, just one glance is all it takes to notice the design is now much more butch. Audi’s signature octagonal grille dominates the front end, and is flanked by a pair of LED headlights that slant inward. The body is also shapelier, with more prominent shoulders, Audi “Quattro blisters,” and a raked rear liftgate that ditches the previous model’s clamshell design.
The look isn’t the only thing that’s changed, of course. The switch to MQB also comes with increased dimensions. American product planners had a big say in the 2019 model’s development, which is one reason why it’s 3.8 inches longer and sports more SUV-like proportions. Because Americans like a big back seat, the wheelbase grows by 3.1 inches, and you feel that gain most in the second row, which also benefits from seats that slide 5.9 inches for even more legroom.
Though the U.S. was more involved with the 2019 Audi Q3, the crossover we drove in South Tyrol, Italy, was not a U.S.-market example. Still, we’re told it’s close to what the North America will get next year. Europe and other markets will have a range of diesel engines available, but the North America will only receive Audi’s venerable 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected I-4 in two states of tune. Similar in recipe to the A3 sedan lineup, the base Q3 will make 184 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, while an upgrade engine will make a VW GTI-matching 228 hp and 258 lb-ft. Both engines will come mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive. Audi says it has no plans to sell a front-drive version.
We sampled the more powerful 2.0-liter engine, which Audi expects to be the volume seller of the U.S. lineup. Despite a not-for-U.S. seven-speed dual-clutch, there was still plenty to learn about the Q3’s top engine on the winding roads of the Tyrolean Alps. Power is available almost immediately, and the engine continues to pull through the middle of the rev band before running out of steam in the higher rpms. The force-fed mill was docile and civilized when driving through the small towns that dot the region, and it was also eager to run with a little application of the throttle. Audi estimates this drivetrain combo will do 0-62 mph in 6.3 seconds. We’ll have to wait and see if our version is as quick, but if the U.S.-spec Q3’s transmission is anything like the eight-speed autos in other recent Audis, it should swap gears about as smoothly and quickly as this dual-clutch.
For a crossover, the Q3 handles surprisingly well. There’s less body roll than you might expect given the higher center of gravity, and turn-in is relatively sharp. Steering is light in comfort mode, but gets subtly heavier in Dynamic mode. In any mode, the steering feels a tad artificial, but it’s always precise. That precision was welcome on the narrower mountain roads we drove. On the highway, the ride was comfortable even on 20-inch wheels wrapped in wide, low-profile 255/40R20 Hankook summer tires, though the lack of cushioning underfoot was more noticeable as the road got rougher. Audi says a summer tire in this size will be available in the U.S., but it might not be this exact model. Our market will also get a slightly different suspension setup, with U.S.-spec models raised 0.7 inch in the front and half an inch in the rear.
Our test car also came loaded with such extras as Audi’s optional 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster and the larger of two MMI touchscreen infotainment displays. This system is essentially the same as the one in the A6 and A7 minus the lower screen used for climate control. The single screen is responsive and looks classy with its dark graphics. I like that you can access any menu within a couple taps from any screen, even when running Apple CarPlay.
The interior design is modern and attractive. In typical Audi fashion, the cockpit lines are straight and understated. Up front, the Q3 features unique floating door pulls and a mix of premium and not-so-premium materials. Some plastics feel VW-grade, which would be perfectly fine in another class of car, but here it accentuates that this is the entry point to the Audi brand. Choosing the optional Alcantara trim will help you forget that fact, as it covers the door panels and dash in a soft, rich-feeling microsuede that’s available in a variety of colors. Audi is still finalizing packages for the North America market, but says Alcantara will be available. All U.S.-spec Q3s will get leather seating, a panoramic roof, and a basic digital instrument cluster standard. The fancier Virtual Cockpit screen is optional and recommended if you’re driving in a foreign country on unfamiliar roads, as it can display turn-by-turn directions from the navigation screen.
The 2019 Audi Q3 takes the big steps needed to be competitive in the increasingly cutthroat compact luxury crossover category. Instead of a warmed-over Eurocentric model adapted for our market, we’re getting a product that’s purpose-built to appeal to American tastes and capture U.S. sales—and the new Q3 should do both of those things well.
|2019 Audi Q3|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENG||2.0L/184-228-hp/236-258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WT||3,750 lb (mfr)|
|LxWxH||176.5 x 73.1 x 63.6 in|
|0-60||6.3-7.3 sec (MT est)|
|EPA ECON||22-23/30-31/25-26 mpg (est)|
|ON SALE||Late Summer 2019|