There’s not much that’s new about the 2015 Audi Q3. This small crossover has already been on sale in Europe for four years, and its platform and powertrain are shared with the aging Volkswagen Tiguan. But despite the Q3’s age, Audi’s timing is impeccable. This used to be the type of niche crossover that only made sense in Europe, but Audi is bringing the 2015 Q3 to the U.S. just in time to catch the oncoming wave of small luxury crossovers such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Lexus NX.
The Q3 quickly found success here in the second half of 2014; more than 3,000 buyers snagged the first Q3s to hit American dealerships in spite of a quiet rollout without much advertising or fanfare. Are these buyers on to something, or is the Q3 just a temporary placeholder until Audi comes up with something new for this hot segment?
Haute couture on wheels
The A3 sedan proved last year that an entry-level Audi need not be a compromise, and the 2015 Audi Q3 gives off a similarly strong first impression. There’s nothing about the Q3’s clean, high-style look that jumps out, but its attractive proportions and tasteful chrome detailing give off all of the same prestige and richness you’ll find in the upper reaches of Audi’s lineup. In other words, spending around $7,000 more for a Q5 won’t get you any more curb appeal.
What you do give up with the Q3 is size. Compared to a Q5, the smallest Audi crossover is 10 inches shorter, 2 inches narrower, and almost 3 inches lower overall. This small footprint makes it ideal for driving around town, but the cramped interior makes us question whether this crossover offers any more usability than a compact hatchback. There isn’t much room in the rear seat, and the paltry cargo area offers only 16.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. That’s less than you’ll find in the trunks of many midsize sedans. The Q3 is really more of a fashion accessory than anything else. It’s stylish and trendy, but hardly practical. At least the interior materials are up to snuff, with plush leather for the seats and nicely grained, soft-touch plastics for the dashboard.
Soul of a hot hatch
If the 2015 Audi Q3 isn’t much more than a stylish, raised hatchback, at least it still drives like a good hatchback. The relatively low beltline makes for clear visibility out front, and it’s easy to place the car thanks to its diminutive size and accurate steering. Despite the combination of a short wheelbase, a tall profile, and a relatively plush ride, handling is tighter than you’d expect, prompting a few editors to even compare it with a Volkswagen GTI. That’s no surprise, considering it shares its PQ35 platform and 2.0T engine with the previous generation of VW’s hot hatch. “There’s a nimbleness and zip to this car that I wish other small crossovers exhibited,” associate Web editor Jake Holmes noted.
Like all of its key rivals -- the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Lexus NX -- the Audi Q3 is powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Two hundred horsepower in a 3,682-pound crossover doesn’t exactly make the Q3 feel fast, but the smooth-shifting, responsive automatic transmission means the power is always readily available in day-to-day driving.
A few wrinkles
The 2015 Audi Q3 begins to show its age when you start to look at elements such as fuel economy and technology. Its combined fuel economy of 23 mpg seems low for such a small vehicle, and it lags behind the Mercedes-Benz GLA’s 27 mpg and the BMW X1’s 26 mpg.
We also weren’t thrilled with the Audi’s infotainment system, which uses the company’s last-generation MMI software. It’s a bit of a stretch to reach the high-mounted, small control knob on the dash, and the interface itself isn’t nearly as responsive or intuitive as the company’s newer systems. It’s also a letdown that our $38,625 Premium Plus model doesn’t have a backup camera unless you pay another $1,400 for the Driver Assistance package.
An Audi through and through
These small shortcomings are hardly deal breakers for the 2015 Audi Q3, and the overall package is a compelling one despite its age. Plus, the recently announced refresh for the 2016 Q3 looks to iron out some of the Q3’s wrinkles with an updated powertrain and a few styling changes inside and out.
This Audi crossover is much more than its humble underpinnings would suggest, thanks to smart styling, solid driving dynamics, and a richly trimmed interior. As senior editor David Zenlea put it, “The Q3 looks, feels, and goes down the road like an Audi.” Don’t be fooled by its relative-bargain pricing and compact-car roots; the Q3 is a worthy addition to the Audi lineup, and a fully competitive entry in this trendy new segment.
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