If you were a fledgling automaker bringing a new product to market, your first choice of battlegrounds would not be the compact-luxury-SUV arena. It’s as bloody as a UFC octagon in there. Think BMW X1. Mercedes GLA. Lexus UX. Volvo XC40. Fine machines, all. Frankly, Audi’s first-generation Q3 small sport-ute, unveiled in the U.S. market as a 2015 model and built on a dated platform, wasn’t much of a rival to its stalwart competition. But now comes a gen-two version, all-new for the 2019 model year. And after spending a week behind the leather-trimmed wheel of a lavishly equipped S Line Premium Plus edition, I can say this without hesitation: The upgraded Q3 is fully ready to leap straight into the ring and come out swinging.
First, this new Audi is larger than its forebear in every meaningful way. Wheelbase has grown 3.0 inches, width is up almost an inch, and overall length has stretched by nearly four inches. The new Q3 is 1.5 inches taller, too—which adds noticeable spaciousness to the cabin. The leather-lined rear seats are firm but comfortable for two adults, three in a pinch. The two front chairs—also leather—are even better (and include standard heating), while Audi has provided large and useful cargo bins in all four doors. The rear seats split 40/20/40, can recline, are able to slide through nearly six inches of travel, and, when folded down, expand an already acceptably sized rear cargo area that features a two-position load floor.
On the outside, the new Q3 sports a number of styling cues visible on bigger siblings like the Q5 and Q8. These include a similarly rakish profile; an upright, octagonal grille (I told you the new Q was ready for the UFC); and beefy wheel arches that Audi calls “Quattro blisters.” It’s a snazzy-looking piece, especially with the aggressive S Line exterior trim pieces, optional 20-inch wheels ($800), and blazing Pulse Orange paint job featured on my test example.
The cockpit is even better. Front and center for the driver is Audi’s fabulous 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit, which comes as part of the $2,000 Navigation package that also includes a 10.1-inch central touchscreen. Choose the view you prefer—say, big analog gauges or, my favorite, smaller outboard gauges that flank a huge, dynamic Google Maps view. The central MMI touchscreen likewise offers the Google Maps panorama, and it’s a thing of beauty. The result is way more information that you could glean from a conventional pictographic map. Curious whether that handsome house with the “For Sale” sign has a swimming pool? Just look down at your Virtual Cockpit—hey, there’s a kidney-shaped cee-ment pond right there behind the garage!
Sure, you could do the same thing using your smartphone, but the addition of 3D real-world maps on the dash adds a dose of real flair to the Q3’s cabin. Other attractions include stylish angular shapes with brushed-aluminum inlays (part of the $500 Sport Interior package), Alcantara accents ($150, and bright orange on this one), and a “touch response” interface that allows you to write words with your fingertip to access submenus, navigation destinations, and radio channels. Write “sports,” for instance, and the system will display a list of SiriusXM radio channels such as ESPN and MLB Network (the system can also be controlled via voice commands). In all, the cockpit is a work of aesthetic and technological art—and at night, when the LED interior accents come to life (they’re included in the $3,100 Premium Plus trim), the interior goes full swagger.
Clearly, Audi put the bulk of the Q3’s development money into chic design details and cutting-edge tech. The rig is a standout in both of those departments. As a machine for driving, though, the Q3 is merely fine. That’s not necessarily a knock. When you’re trying to stay competitive cost-wise (the Q3 S-Line starts at just under $37K), something has to give. And in Audi’s case, the designers and engineers and planners obviously surmised—and rightly so—that the vast majority of buyers in this segment want a great-looking, feature-rich transport device that performs respectably. Enthusiast-grade driving thrills? Not so important.
The Q3’s turbo 2.0-liter four, the one and only engine offering, wrings out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft, enough grunt for perfectly acceptable performance (and a decent EPA fuel-economy rating of 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. An eight-speed automatic does the shifting, and there are paddles behind the wheel that actually do add some sporting flavor when you’re manually changing gears while tackling twisty roads. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard (front-drive is not offered on any Q3). The Volkswagen Group’s modern MQB platform underpins the vehicle, and it’s a solid, jitter-free base. In the U.S., Audi offers only a standard suspension—other markets get Sport and adaptive options—but the ride in the new Q3 is nice and tight and delivers good compliance. (Opting for any tires other than the top-line, low-profile 20-inchers would no doubt improve the ride.) The speed-sensitive electromechanical steering is way overboosted, so there’s little road feel, but Audi’s answer is probably that buyers want a sense of “agility” though the wheel. Well, you could twirl this one with a single finger. It’s too light for my tastes.
In Premium Plus form, the Q3 gets all the modern active-safety aids, from blind-spot monitoring to rear cross-traffic alerts, lane-departure warnings, and parking assist. Also optional is a splendid Bang & Olufsen audio system ($850) with 3D surround sound. You’ll want for nothing in this cockpit.
For doing battle in the octagon that is the small-luxe-SUV arena, Audi’s new Q3 is fully equipped to go grille to grille with the best in the class. It’s a huge step up from its predecessor, boasting solid moves, chiseled good looks, and an interior as luscious as they come. But please: kick only the tires.
|2019 Audi Q3 S Line Premium Plus Specifications|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 228 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback|
|EPA MILEAGE||19/27 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||176.6 x 72.8 x 64.1 in|
|WEIGHT||3,950 lb (mfr)|
||7.0 sec (mfr)|
||130 mph (mfr)|