Test Drive: 2015 Audi Q3 Quattro Technik

With compact crossovers being all the rage these days, it's somewhat surprising that North Americans haven't met the Audi Q3 before now. After all, it was designed back in 2009 and went on sale in European and Asian markets for the 2011 model year.

Having recently spent a week behind the wheel of a 2015 Q3 Quattro I can safely say it's a case of "better late than never."

Having recently spent a week behind the wheel of a 2015 Q3 Quattro I can safely say it's a case of "better late than never," because the Q3 is a standout entry in the increasingly crowded mini-SUV segment. But it does put me in the odd position of reviewing a "brand new" model after its replacement has already been unveiled: That's right, the facelifted 2016 model is already waiting in the wings.

For those who can't wait to get their hands on Audi's baby crossover but don't want to buy an instantly-outdated model, fear not: The 2016 changes are subtle to the point of insignificant, and only die-hard Audi aficionados will ever notice you're in the vanguard driving a 2015 model. The biggest change is that the 2016 will get a slightly revised grille surround that ties into the headlights. The headlights and taillights are also mildly restyled (though you'll need to look twice to see the difference), and there are some minor tweaks to the bumper shape and interior trim, but that's about it. So you could wait for the 2016, but really there's no need – the 2015 is available now, and no it won't look embarrassingly outmoded next year, nor will it feature any of the upgraded engines global markets receive.

Based on the same Group A5 platform as Volkswagen's Mk5 Golf and Tiguan, and looking a lot like a scaled-down Q5, the Q3 is a genuinely compact vehicle that's significantly shorter in length and taller in height than a Honda Civic, though somewhat wider. Inside, however, it doesn't give up much at all to the Q5, especially in the front seats. This is partly thanks to the Q3's transverse engine layout, which allows a more compact engine compartment than the longitudinally mounted engine in the Q5.

Nestled in the engine compartment is Audi's familiar, silky-smooth direct-injected 2.0L TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a traditional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic paddle shifting. The engine churns out 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of twist. It'll haul the Q3 from 0-100 km/h in about 8.2 seconds, but around town it feels quicker than that thanks to its deep, flat torque curve (maximum torque comes on from 1,700 rpm and doesn't start to taper off until 5,000). The only drivetrain option is the choice between front-wheel drive or Quattro all-wheel drive (as in my test car), with city/highway fuel consumption rated at 12.0/7.7 L/100 km for the FWD version and 11.9/8.4 L/100 km for the AWD version.

My test car arrived in my driveway showing a long-term average consumption rate of 11.3 L/100 km, but I averaged closer to 13 L/100 km in mostly city driving — not exactly outstanding, but not budget-busting either, and I wasn't sparing the horses. The one point to note is that the turbocharged engine requires premium fuel, raising the fuel costs that much further.

Inside, the Q3 is conservative but classy, and those who don't like dust and fingerprints will be pleased to know it has almost no piano black trim at all (just a little around the multimedia display). Everything is well fitted together and the materials are all up to snuff, with soft-topped dash, soft-skinned door uppers both front and rear, real brushed aluminum trim, cloth-wrapped A and B pillars, and standard leather upholstery. Rigid plastics are used for lower door trim, lower dash and console, as expected in this segment.

Standard equipment in the base Progressiv trim includes a panoramic sunroof, 19-inch alloys (18-inch for Quattro models), three-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a power tailgate, and some splashy interior ambient lighting including in the cupholders and around the door panel speaker grilles. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/XM/CD system with SD slots and Bluetooth connectivity, but the one thing notably missing is a USB port, with Audi instead providing its own unique Audi Media Interface plug and a range of available adaptors. So much for charging my cell phone or camera on a work trip!

My tests car's upgraded Technik trim (the only trim beyond Progressiv) added equipment including a potent upgraded Bose 14-speaker audio system, rearview camera, parking aids, blind spot detection system, and proximity entry with pushbutton start. My test car was also fitted with Audi's optional navigation package, which offers crisp graphics on the big seven-inch multimedia display screen. Control of the infotainment system is through Audi's MMI (multi-media interface), which offers reasonably intuitive control via a central control knob and four perimeter buttons that allow you to quickly select from available menus in the corners of the screen.

The front seats are decently spacious and I found them to be above average for comfort, but then my test car had a $1,600 Sport package that features upgraded sport seats. The split-folding back seat isn't huge (it's in the back that you really give up space compared to the Q5), but it's roomy enough for a pair of average-sized adults. At 5'11" I could sit behind myself in reasonable comfort, and I did manage to fit three adults across in the back seat for a short trip, with no real complaints. The panoramic roof makes the back seat feel roomier than it otherwise might, and it received positive comment from my passengers.

Aft of the rear seats there's a useful 460 L of cargo space, which rises to 1,365 L with the rear seats folded. I found the non-hinged cargo cover to be a bit of a fiddly pain to remove and install, and I noted that you do give up a fair bit of cargo room in exchange for the Q3's swoopy hatchback look (you also give up quite a lot of rearward visibility thanks to the thick C-pillars). I did like how the power tailgate has a lock button as well as a close button so you can lock the car and close the tailgate in one button press.

On the road, the Q3 provides tight, confidence-inspiring handling without imposing a harsh ride. Turn-in is quick and precise, and the Q3 feels well balanced and stays remarkably flat in the corners — clearly its width helps offset its rather tall stance. There is some tire noise evident on the highway, but the Q3 is stable and planted when cruising along, and noise levels in general were low. Audi's Drive Select control is standard, and while I found the distinction between Comfort, Auto and Dynamic to be fairly subtle I did have an overall preference for the slightly firmer, quicker-reflexed Dynamic mode.

The transmission's Tiptronic sport mode is controlled via steering wheel–mounted paddle shifters. On the bright side the transmission snaps off rev-matched downshifts in Sport mode, but I found the shift paddles to be a bit small and flimsy-feeling, and there felt like too much delay when responding to upshift requests. In automatic mode it behaved itself well, with nicely timed shifts that never left me wanting for power. Overall, the driving experience is really quite good, and while the Q3 may not be exciting to drive, exactly, it's certainly very rewarding to drive. Its refined nature makes it a decent little highway cruiser, and its compact dimensions make it an excellent city runabout.

Pricing for the front-wheel-drive Q3 starts at $37,895 including the $2,095 destination fee, which is a bit of bargain when measured up against the Audi's closest competitors: the BMW X1 starting at $38,995 destination in and the Mercedes-Benz GLA starting at $39,275 destination in. Of course there's plenty of room to move upward from there, because even though the Q3 is well equipped in base form there are plenty of available options, and even paint will cost you $890 unless you opt for plain black or white.

With its Quattro system and Technik trim my Glacier White Metallic test car carried a $40,900 base price before destination fees, and in addition to its paint charge ($890), Sport package ($1,600) and Navigation package ($1,950) it also has upgraded 20-inch wheels ($800) and adaptive headlights ($300) for an all-in test price of $48,535 including the $2,095 freight charge. At that price the Q3 is starting to play ball with some of its bigger rivals, but for those who genuinely appreciate its city-tailored small-car practicality and who place a premium on luxury, the Q3 still makes a lot of sense. It may be small, but it's got game.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
BMW X1
Buick Encore
Lexus NX
Mercedes-Benz GLA
Range Rover Evoque

2015 Audi Q3 Quattro Technik
2015 Audi Q3 Quattro Technik
Base Price $40,900
Optional Equipment $5,540 (Glacier White Metallic paint, navigation, Sport package, adaptive headlights, 20-inch wheels)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $48,635
Optional Equipment