2019 Audi Q3 first drive review

No longer the underdog, the Audi Q3 is all grown up and ready to dominate

The Audi Q3 is for drivers who care equally about handling and connectivity.
The Audi Q3 is for drivers who care equally about handling and connectivity.
The Audi Q3 is for drivers who care equally about handling and connectivity.

Highs

  • Segment-leading infotainment system
  • Sharp exterior design
  • More compelling to drive than its rivals
  • Spacious cabin

Lows

  • Firmer ride than the competition
  • Fingerprint-prone touch screen

The Audi Q3 impeccably illustrates how fast America’s new car market has changed.

The brand’s top officials initially decided to keep the original model (which arrived in 2011) out of the United States due to its small footprint. “No one will buy it,” they argued. Audi performed a volte-face in 2015 when it tested the water with an American-spec Q3. Fast forward to 2018 and the second-generation Q3 stands a solid chance of becoming one of Audi’s best-sellers. How’s that for growth?

We’ll have to wait until halfway through 2019 to see the brand-new Q3 arrive in American showrooms. Audi won’t release pricing information until much closer to the model’s on-sale date but it’s reasonable to speculate it will start in the low-$30,000 range. Rivals Volvo, Lexus, Cadilllac, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW compete in this space and each one is playing for keeps; this is the varsity league.

All grown up

Seeing the second-generation Q3 in the metal for the first time was like running into a high school buddy you haven’t seen in a decade. It’s still easily recognizable as an Audi – and, thanks to its size, as a Q3 – but it’s all grown up. It’s bigger and more confident.

The front end borrows styling cues like an octagonal grille with a thick frame and vertical slats from the Q8 flagship. Flared, Quattro coupe-inspired fenders add character by giving the Q3 a more aggressive-looking stance than its predecessor. Out back, the rear lights are now split by the hatch rather than fully integrated into it. The changes come together to create a more mature Q3; we hope you can say the same about your long-lost 11th history class grade buddy.

The 2019 Audi Q3 boasts the best infotainment system in the segment by a long shot.

It takes a measuring tape to tell the Q3 has grown by nearly four inches. Three of them are located in between the axles so the additional sheet metal directly benefits the passengers. Extending the wheelbase gave designers the freedom to fit the Q3 with a rear bench seat that slides by about six inches. Push it back when you need more leg room; move it forward when you need a bigger trunk.

The Q3 upholds Audi’s reputation for building quality, well thought-out interiors. The materials feel and look nice and we like that the silver trim which surrounds the touchscreen echoes the shape of the grille. As a driver, you’ll appreciate having everything you need within reach, including the volume knob. As a passenger, you’ll be mesmerized by the back-lit Quattro emblem on the dashboard that, like an in-car lava lamp, glows in the same color as the ambient lighting. Lead designer Matt Baggley told us it’s an all-new feature his team developed specifically for the Q3.

The smartest there is

Audi gave the Q3 the task of ushering in a simpler, single-screen variant of the MMI Touch Response infotainment system found in bigger models like the A6 and the A7. We’ve praised the system in the past for its smartphone-like intuitiveness and its high-quality graphics, and we’ve often complained about how easy it is to leave fingerprints on the screen. This version uses the exact same 10.1-inch screen found in Audi’s more expensive cars but ditches the lower screen. It’s a good compromise; we never missed having the second screen to poke.

The Q3’s setup doesn’t look as high-tech as the Q8’s, admittedly, but it remains the best infotainment system in the segment by a long shot. You’ll have no trouble operating it if you can use a smartphone or a tablet – just remember to pack a microfiber cloth in the glovebox. Volvo’s system is good, too, but it’s not quite as straight-forward to use as Audi’s. Lexus and Mercedes-Benz both chose not to offer a touchscreen and instead took the more awkward route that leads to a touchpad or a dial.

Rest assured if you don’t like Audi’s infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility both come standard. And, to help keep passengers connected on-the-go, Audi built a USB-C charger with a signal booster into the center console. It’s standard, too, while a 4G LTE hotspot will be offered at an extra cost.

The Q3 isn’t available with traditional analog instrumentation. It comes standard with digital gauges, and Audi rewards buyers who explore the upper echelons of the trim hierarchy with a configurable virtual cockpit. Inaugurated in 2014 by the third-generation TT, virtual cockpit technology is Audi-speak for a wide color screen that shows a variety of information including the navigation directions, the media options, and the car settings.

The driver can navigate the various menus by using buttons on the three-spoke steering wheel. Virtual cockpit ticks two boxes: convenience and safety. Let us explain the latter. Putting the navigation directions right in the driver’s line of sight reduces driver distractions, and a screen is easier to read than a head-up display, which is often sensitive to glare. The Volvo XC40 comes with similar technology.

Torque for the mountains

Audi offers the 2019 Q3 with a single engine available in two states of tune. It’s a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder tuned to make 184 horsepower between 4,200 and 6,700 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 to 4,200 rpm. The horsepower picks up right where the torque drops off. That’s the base engine. Buyers who want more power can order a pumped-up version of the turbo four that places 228 hp and 258 lb-ft. of torque under the driver’s foot. Here again, the torque curve is shaped like an Antarctic iceberg: tall, long, and flat.

In typical Teutonic fashion the 2019 Audi Q3 is stable, accurate, and easy to drive.

Both engines shift through an eight-speed automatic transmission; note that we drove a European-spec car equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Winter weather-beating Quattro all-wheel drive comes standard regardless of which turbo four occupies the space behind the grille.

There’s no mistaking the Q3 for a 1990s Ford Bronco but, from behind the wheel, it feels more like an SUV than the BMW X1 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA. The front seats place the passengers relatively high up and the thin roof pillars help clear up a good view of the road ahead. Our test drive took place in the Italian Alps, where sharp bends and blind corners are a dime a dozen, so we welcomed every speck of visibility the Q3 gave us.

The Alpine route gave us the opportunity to simultaneously experience the 228-hp model’s maneuverability and performance credentials. The steering system is better weighted than the one in the last-generation Q3 and it’s fairly precise.

2019 Audi Q3 first drive
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Our test car came with progressive steering, which aims to offer the best of both worlds. On one end of the spectrum, it’s light enough to make tight, three- or four-point turns a breeze. As the pace picks up, it becomes more direct and heavier in order to extract more dynamism from the Q3. It waltzes well on a twisty road. This isn’t a sports car, Audi makes the zippy TT if you want to treat yourself to one, but it’s more engaging to drive than the UX and the XC40.

The low-end torque largely keeps turbo lag in check. The Q3’s lively 2.0-liter – which is related to the engine found in other Audi models, like the aforementioned TT – revs quickly and smoothly once the turbo spools up. It won’t pin you and yours to the back of the seat but it’s happy to move in a real hurry if it needs to. The seven-speed dual-clutch in our test car fired off quick shifts, though keep in mind the American-spec model will receive an eight-speed automatic. We’ll have to wait until we drive the Q3 on U.S. soil to fully evaluate its powertrain. It’s promising, though. And, we don’t expect the market-specific transmission will change the fact that the turbo four is startlingly quiet at moderate and high speeds.

2019 Audi Q3 first drive
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

There’s nothing unpredictable about the way the Q3 handles. In typical Teutonic fashion it’s stable, accurate, and easy to drive. The suspension tilts towards performance and away from comfort, which creates a relatively firm ride. The setup keeps body roll in check while letting more road imperfections filter through the cabin than a softer tune would. You win some, you lose some. We found the brakes adequate in every situation we used them in.

We didn’t spend enough time behind the wheel of the Q3 to measure real-world fuel economy. It will likely use less gas than its predecessor, which returned 23 miles per gallon in a combined cycle, but we don’t expect it will become the most efficient car in its competitive set. Buyers whose main concern is spending less money on fuel should look at the Lexus UX, which is offered with an optional gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Volvo will add a hybrid powertrain to the XC40’s list of options in the not-too-distant future. It’s too early to tell whether Audi will hybridize the Q3, however.

Peace of mind

The Audi Q3 comes standard with dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems. The list of standard features also includes rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic headlights, lane-departure warning, and pre-collision warning with automatic braking.

While Audi hasn’t released warranty information yet, we expect that, like all of the brand’s new cars, the Q3 will come with four years or 50,000 miles of coverage, whichever comes first. The brand will also include a 12-year corrosion warranty, 24-hour roadside assistance for four years, and it will pay for the first scheduled service.

The challengers

Audi tossed the Q3 into one of the most ruthlessly competitive market segments. The stakes are higher than ever. Many motorists in the market for a compact premium crossover are first-time luxury car buyers so a positive experience with the brand could turn them into loyal customers for life. Making a negative first impression will send buyers running across the street to the competition when it’s time to upgrade.

The contestants in this segment include the BMW X1, which is more family-friendly than ever before, the Cadillac XT4, which is one of the freshest alternatives around, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA, which is past its prime and in need of a major overhaul. Other options include the stylish Volvo XC40 and the high-tech Lexus UX. Both models are cleverly offered through a subscription service (called Care by Volvo and Lexus Complete Lease, respectively), a business model that Audi is beginning to look into as a Netflix-like alternative to buying or leasing.

How DT would configure this car

We can’t outline how we’d configure the 2019 Q3 without seeing Audi’s list of standard and optional features. We liked our test car’s virtual cockpit, which is offered as an option, and we were pleasantly surprised by the crystal-clear tones delivered by the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Conclusion

The Q3 is no longer an afterthought in America. Audi acknowledged the importance of the compact crossover segment and went to great lengths to make its entry a compelling one. The German firm created a dapper-looking trucklet that’s pleasant to drive and spacious enough to take on a road trip. The segment-leading infotainment system and an upmarket interior bolster the Q3’s appeal.

Buyers will get a more compliant ride (and funkier styling) by shopping at Volvo or Lexus, but what they gain in comfort they’ll lose in driving engagement.

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