The Audi Q3 is somewhat of a pioneer in its segment. While we’re now accustomed to seeing subcompact crossovers of all shapes and sizes, Audi was among the first premium automakers to give it a shot (in our market) back in 2015. It’s fair to assume, then, that due to this head start, Audi should own the segment, right? Not exactly.
While a significant model facelift in 2019 did give the Q3 more substance and a more appealing design language – making it appear like a Q5 “light” – the fact of the matter is that newer, more complete premium subcompact crossovers from Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and – ahem – Cadillac do a better job at being what they are.
Things crumbled down to an even more depressing reality when I realized the MK7 Volkswagen Golf, a car which shares much of its mechanical components with the Q3, is better sorted out.
The Competition Has Gotten So Fierce
The Q3’s biggest problem isn’t that it’s a bad vehicle. I mean, it does have endearing qualities, which I’ll get to in a bit. My issue with it is that the segment now offers such overachieving alternatives that Audi’s entry level utility vehicle simply can’t keep up.
Mind you, my example looked quite dashing dressed up in the top-of-the-line Technik package which gives the already attractive Q3 a slightly meaner and more purposeful look. Special mention goes to the optional Pulse Orange paint job, which really allowed my posh little crossover to stand out in Montreal’s frivolous Dix30 suburban neighborhood.
The 45 in my tester’s nomenclature refers to the Q3’s drivetrain; a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder good for 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s an engine that shares certain components with the VW Golf R, except that it’s mated to a conventional 8-speed automatic gearbox instead the Golf’s dual-clutch unit.
The Q3 also comes in a less powerful 40 variant, essentially the same engine but detuned to 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive is standard across the lineup.
In Technik form, the Q3 certainly isn’t cheap. My tester stickered at nearly $50,000 before freight and delivery, but it does at least provide a lot of substance, especially inside.
In typical Audi fashion, the Q3 exhibits near perfect build quality and impeccable fit and finish. I personally appreciated the orange suede material that spanned the dashboard and door inserts. It prevented the Q3’s cabin from going down the spartan lane that’s expected of German vehicles.
Overall seat comfort is excellent in a Q3, with thick and plush leather seats and fantastic visibility all around. Rear leg and head clearance is also rather impressive considering this thing’s dimensions, and the entire dashboard design has a striking yet elegant three-dimensional angular theme to it. The level of ergonomics is also class-leading, with easily accessible controls, superb haptic feedback from the infotainment system, and downright common sense in the way everything is laid out.
Audi does a fantastic job of dressing up its digital interfaces to make them stand out, whether it be the infotainment system or Audi’s beautiful Virtual Cockpit digital gauge pod. Several carmakers currently offer such readouts, but none of them come close to Audi’s elegant execution.
The Q3 lags behind some rivals in terms of cargo space. While 1,359 litres of total room with the rear seatbacks folded down is fair, a BMW X1 (1,642 litres) and a Mercedes-Benz GLB (1,755 litres) is better. Even BMW’s coupe-like thing, the X2, get 1415 litres.
Where Did the Golf Go?
The reason I’ve mentioned the Golf so many times in this review is that the Q3 rides on the Volkswagen group’s ubiquitous MQB A2 platform, essentially a reworked version of the MK7 Golf’s architecture and what VW currently uses for the Tiguan.
This is a good platform, one that’s allowed the Golf to rank as one of the best compact cars of its era thanks to a rock-solid foundation, nimble handling, and a pleasant experience behind the wheel. I had huge expectations for the Q3.
Sadly, things started falling apart when I drove it. Yes, the Q3 does feel expensive on beaten Quebec roads. It also transmits the sense of quality we expect from Audi. But it ends there.
I’m not sure if it’s due to the short wheelbase and the lifted ride height, but the Q3 is very bouncy and jittery at high speeds. It’s never confidence-inspiring when driven with a bit more vigour than usual, so you quickly get discouraged from having fun with it.
Then there are the drivetrain delays, both from the engine and the transmission. Turbo lag is apparent – expected from this engine – but the way the transmission works with the powerband only amplifies the effect. It’s slow to react, and at times refuses to downshift. There’s just no powertrain harmony here.
Lastly, overall fuel economy isn’t exactly great. I averaged 11L/100 km and that’s rather high for a vehicle of this size. I did better in a Chevrolet Suburban Duramax.
Perhaps I’m being a tad too harsh with Audi’s fashion-friendly utility vehicle. After all, most owners won’t even come close to this thing’s redline, let alone try to flog it hard into a corner.
In the world of overpriced condo apartments, purse-sized pets, and business-class plane tickets, the Audi Q3 makes a lot of sense. This presumably explains why Audi has no problem selling 35,000 of these things in the U.S. and Canada each year.
But if you want my honest-to-goodness opinion, I’d say go get a Volvo XC40 instead. It’ll look just as fashionable, drive even better, and it offers an electric variant to boot.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.