Test Drive: 2016 Audi Q3

I was trying to explain the concept of a small crossover to my mom over the phone. She likes the idea of a crossover, but hates climbing up into a vehicle.

“You sort of plunk down into the Audi Q3, a little bit. It’s more like getting into a car.” Later on, I took mom out for a coffee, and she gave the Q3 two thumbs up: one for being easy to board and exit, and one for feeling roomy and sitting us up high – higher than in a car, but not towering over the road.

It feels like an Audi through and through: good news if you’re returning to the brand, as well as if you’re new to it.

Lately, it seems like every week sees the release of a new small crossover model as shoppers demand more options for downsizing out of a larger SUV, or upsizing out of a smaller car. Vehicles like the Q3 are the new answer for many shoppers. Competing with current and upcoming machinery from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Buick, Infiniti and others, it represents an offering of conventional looks, proven powertrains, and interior and exterior cues that are largely familiar and well executed.

Existing Audi drivers looking to upsize or downsize into a Q3 will feel right at home: the central-command system is of the MMI variety, utilizing a central control knob and four peripheral buttons to control hundreds of functions with minimal dial and button clutter. It’s a bit complicated and intimidating at first, but powerful and slick once you get it down.

Instrumentation, controls, and even switches and buttons are all familiar to the brand, too. Even the signature feel of heavy doors, durable handles and switches, and a thick and solid build quality throughout the cabin are all in attendance. It feels like an Audi through and through: good news if you’re returning to the brand, as well as if you’re new to it.

Notably, though the tester’s cabin looks simple and tidy at a glance, closer inspection reveals plenty of detailing via nicely finished edges, first-rate materials, and thoughtful little trim bits scattered throughout. There isn’t a single, flashy element adding to the upscale feel, but a comprehensive scattering of small details and touches see this cabin hit harder than the price tag suggests.

The 2.0L turbo engine is a staple of the brand. It starts up eagerly, settles into a creamy smooth idle, and barely makes a peep thereafter. This boosted four-cylinder is smooth and buttery from idle to redline, however driven. Torque is generous at low revs, enabling a high-responsiveness, low-rpm feel through traffic, no need for downshifting to climb highway hills, and pleasing thrust when opened up. Pushed, the engine never feels like it’s being overworked or leaving its comfort zone, and it responds with a tastefully restrained hum that’s pleasing, though far from loud enough to interrupt a conversation.

Available full-throttle grunt should be adequate for the majority of drivers: it’s not excessive, not wimpy, and feels, largely, just right. Once the six-speed automatic transmission learns the driver’s habits a little, it’s a smooth operator.

Fuel economy proved moderate during my test drive: with some 1,400 km of driving, including plenty at a good clip on major highways, measured-by hand consumption landed at 9.4 L of premium per 100 km. The computer suggested that figure was closer to 9.0 L/100 km. Your results will vary.

For someone like your writer, the Q3’s sizing is bang-right-on. I have no kids, typically drive alone, or with my dog, who can enter via the doors or a jump in via the tailgate with relative ease thanks to the low floor height. That low floor height also sees the cabin easily accessed by elderly or mobility-challenged passengers. The cargo hold isn’t enormous, and loses some capacity on account of the rake of the tailgate, though it’ll accept a full Costco-run worth of groceries, no problem. Further, rear seats fold nearly flat when you’ve got to haul more large items and less passengers.

The powered tailgate features two options when closing: one button closes it, and the other closes it and locks the vehicle. If your keys are buried in your pocket and you have an armful of groceries to unload, just press the ‘close and lock’ button, grab your stuff and walk away, with no need to fish for the remote to lock the Q3 afterwards. It’s a thoughtful little touch.

With the tester’s S-Line package bolting big wheels wrapped in thin tires to a suspension with sporty calibrations, the ride and handling equation are a bit of a mixed bag. Handing is sharp, unmistakably athletic and pleasing, without feeling nervous or hyperactive. The Q3 cruises the highway eager to stay centered on its line with good steering weight, and vigorous browsing of sequential bends sees fast responses and flat cornering with minimal inputs at the wheel. With some crossovers packing handling thrills on par with a dumpster, Q3’s pleasing, grin-worthy and mischievous handling is a refreshing touch.

There’s a trade-off though, and test drivers are advised to visit the roughest road they can find on a test drive, to confirm that the ride quality falls into their desired comfort and noise levels. Simply, the S-Line setup and Q3’s short wheelbase leaves ride quality at the mercy of the surface beneath, with elevated road noise levels and some abrupt suspension movements when the going gets rough. Skip the big wheels if you’re after luxury first and sportiness second.

Other notes? Q3’s small footprint and quick steering make it a cinch to park, outward visibility and sightlines are decent, and the driver has access to numerous cubbies, open and covered, to keep items organized and secure. Brake pedal feel is a little soft at initial application, though the braking system proves powerful and fuss-free when called upon for panic stops, with minimal intrusion of vibration or noise from the ABS system.

The vibrant LED headlight system, fitted as part of the tester’s Technik trim grade, is also magnificent. A unique lighting signature as the Q3 comes down the road conveys a sense of high-tech charisma, and the performance of the lighting system on dark highways is second to none. Engagement of reflective surfaces far up the roadway, and a uniform flood of clean, white light, are key benefits. Drivers can expect reduced eye fatigue, and plenty of confidence, after dark.

Complaints? Road noise, likely thanks to the thin wheels, was higher than expected, and the back-up camera system disappointed slightly, on account of a notable delay before it activates when reverse is selected. Unlike numerous competitors, the viewing angle isn’t particularly wide, either.

Ultimately, whether you’re looking to upsize, downsize, or simply add a luxurious and flexible runabout to your family garage, the Q3 makes a compelling argument for your crossover cash. For shoppers after a proven drivetrain, a driving experience that’s as sporty as it is luxurious, and a stand-out cabin finished discreetly and beautifully to the last detail, Q3 should be at or near the top of your “To Test Drive” list.

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

Competitors:
BMW X1
Buick Encore
Infiniti QX30
Mercedes GLA-Class
Mini Cooper Countryman

2016 Audi Q3 Quattro Technik
2016 Audi Q3 Quattro Technik
Base Price $43,200
Optional Equipment 20-inch wheels ($800), Navigation Package ($1,900), Sport Package ($1,850)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $47,850
Optional Equipment