Americans are crossover crazy; we just can’t get enough of these glorified station wagons. Whether it’s their all-season capability, generous cargo capacity or improved fuel economy they have distinct advantages over sedans and traditional SUVs, upsides that account for much of their appeal.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; 200 hp, 207 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, quattro all-wheel drive
Fuel Economy: 20 miles per gallon city, 28 highway, 23 combined
Price: $38,625 as tested
Of course automakers have taken notice of this trend and are introducing more and more car-based utilities, seemingly at an ever-quickening rate.
A similar movement is taking place in the luxury space right now. As a way of increasing sales and attracting new customers top-tier brands are reaching down market. Products like the Audi A3, BMW 2 Series and Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class are perfect examples of this ongoing shift.
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At the intersection of those trends is the Audi Q3. It’s a premium compact crossover that’s making its North American debut for the 2015 model year. Clearly this vehicle has a foot in each camp but is it truly the best of both worlds or is it simply compromised in more ways than one?
Sizing up the Competition
Riding atop a 102.5-inch wheelbase the new Q3 is sized like a C-segment car. Its hub-to-hub span is slightly shorter than a Honda Civic or Chevy Cruze’s, though it exceeds subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent by a couple inches.
Accordingly this crossover rivals products including the BMW X1 and new Mercedes GLA, both of which are slightly larger inside and out, though not by much. With its second-row seats folded flat, maximum cargo space in this Audi is slightly greater than 48 cubic feet, meaning from a junk-carrying standpoint it’s comparable to a Mazda3 hatchback.
Like many other products in the Volkswagen Group empire the Q3 features a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine; it’s the only powerplant on the menu for ‘Murican drivers. Of course Europeans have a veritable buffet of options with all kinds of spark- and compression-ignition engines to choose from. They can even get a manual transmission; the only gearbox we have is a six-speed automatic.
In any event, the four-banger in this Audi delivers 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are rather unimpressive on paper. The same displacement engine used in the brand’s larger Q5 crossover for instance delivers 20 extra horses and an additional 51 units of twist, plus it has two more forward gears. This isn’t fair!
As for fuel economy you can expect to get 20 miles per gallon around town and 28 on the interstate. Combined, all-wheel-drive versions of the Q3 should average 23 MPG.
Cut from the Same Cloth
Despite its petite dimensions this crossover certainly looks the part, dovetailing nicely with the rest of Audi’s lineup. Up front it has that unmistakable single-frame grill. Flanking this large air opening are standard xenon headlamps as well as LED daytime-running lights.
The rest of the Q3’s design is clean and tasteful; superfluous flourishes have been kept to a minimum. Supposedly it has a coupe-like profile though that’s debatable. A standard panoramic glass roof lets plenty of light into the cabin, which can be pretty dark, especially with an all-black interior.
‘Round back this vehicle has standard LED tail-lamps and some nice chrome exhaust tips. And if you want you can even opt for a power hatch. Overall from an exterior-styling standpoint this vehicle is pure Audi, though look scan be deceiving.
The four-ring brand has a well-deserved reputation for building some of the nicest interiors in the automotive business. They’re tastefully done, impeccably built and constructed of some of the nicest materials south of a Rolls-Royce. This is true of most Audis but not necessarily this one.
Regrettably when it comes to cabin quality the Q3 is a bit disappointing. Some of its plastics are a little down-market, notably a strip of hard stuff that runs right across the dashboard. Additionally much of the switchgear feels low rent. For instance the MMI knob clicks like a cheap ball-point pen you’d get for free when opening a checking account. Also the oddly designed temperature controls for the standard dual-zone climate system feel flimsy. They look like rotary knobs but are not. Rather that rolling around 360 degrees they only click left and right. This is all very strange given Audi’s obsessive attention to detail and uncommonly good taste.
As for the front seats, they’re mostly comfortable though they do seem a little flat. Some extra contouring and bolstering would be nice. This is mostly true of the Q3’s aft accommodations as well. The back seat offers surprisingly good legroom for my six-foot frame and the lower cushion is at an excellent height, though there could be a little more headspace.
At Least it Won’t Break the Bank
If you can live with a somewhat down-market interior the Q3 is quite affordable, as Audis go. Including $925 for destination and delivery you can get an entry-level model for less than $34,000. The example I evaluated cost just shy of 40 grand ($38,625) and was optioned up with a few worthwhile extras.
Items like the navigation package ($1,900), 19-inch wheels ($800) and a power tailgate ($400) all padded the sticker price of this quattro-equipped Premium Plus model. But perhaps what’s more telling are the features that are absent. There are no paddle shifters to be found (not that I ever really use those) and adaptive cruise control is NOT available. Also, if you want a backup camera and blind-spot monitoring you’ve got to shell out an additional $1,400 for the Driver Assistance package. But what do you expect from a German car, one that’s built in Spain with an engine sourced from Hungary and a Japanese transmission?
With “only” 200 horses in its corral and a curb weight of around 3,700 pounds the Q3 feels a little dull. Acceleration is more than adequate and when equipped with quattro this vehicle can scamper to 60 miles an hour in 8.2 seconds. Front-drive variants can do the deed in about 7.8.
A little extra power would be appreciated. Do you need it? No, but MOAR is always better, right? As for the rest of the Q3’s dynamics it drives nicely, kind of like a taller, slower, slightly less involving Volkswagen GTI. Its engine and transmission work well together and are extremely smooth.
Unfortunately the ride is not, as it’s a little on the stiff side, especially when traversing frost heaves, pot holes and washboard surfaces. Naturally, the tradeoff for this tautness is good body control and the Q3 feels pretty sporty. Also, its steering is light to the touch, quick to turn-in and remarkably precise.
The new Q3 certainly looks the part, dovetailing beautifully with the rest of Audi’s range. Unfortunately it’s letdown by a disappointing cabin, middling performance and a lack of features. Given the choice I’d rather have an A4, or better yet spend a few grand more on an Allroad wagon. The Q3 is nice but not quite nice enough to wear the four-ring badge; this is a product that belongs at a Volkswagen dealership.