By Matt Degen
The 2015 Audi Q3 is an all-new sport utility vehicle from the German luxury automaker and now the smallest among its Q lineup of SUVs. Where the Audi Q7 and Q5 were a little late to the upscale- SUV party, the Q3 is among the first in the emerging luxury compact/subcompact SUV segment. Like its main rivals the BMW X1 and the new Mercedes-Benz GLA, the 2015 Q3 offers buyers with a budget of $30,000 and change a way to step into a 5-passenger luxury SUV. The new Q3 isn't as spirited or as fuel efficient as an X1, but its freshness grants differentiation (for now), while its quality fit and finish and pleasant road manners are similar to those same attractors in its bigger brothers.
With more horsepower, better fuel economy, a lower starting price, and rear-drive instead of front-drive standard, the BMW X1 is a compelling alternative to the new Q3 despite not being as fresh. If you can live without a luxury badge, entry-level Q3 money can snag a top-line turbocharged Subaru Forester SUV.
The 2015 Q3 is a new 5-passenger SUV from Audi. Like its bigger brothers the Q5 and Q7, Audi's smallest in the Q line is a crossover SUV, which means it's based on a sedan platform and meant for comfort rather than a truck chassis capable of serious off-roading or towing.
As with other Audis, the Q3 SUV has a fine balance between tautness and comfort, which makes it enjoyable to drive on both straight highways and curvy canyon roads. The...
... lone engine offering is Audi's turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower. That is just enough to make the Q3 feel adequate off the line – spry if in Sport mode – for this class. But with 40 fewer horsepower than the turbocharged 4-cylinder in BMW's X1, the Q3 feels like it has to work harder. On the plus side, steering feel is top-notch, the cabin is hushed, and outward visibility is good. Taller drivers will want to test-drive the new Q3 before buying – the steering wheel in Audi's compact SUV is limited in how low it tilts, which can lead to an awkward driving position.
FIT AND FINISH
The Q3 may be considered entry-level, but it's still an Audi. Thus, it comes with an impressive array of features that look and feel of quality. This is found everywhere from the textured steering-wheel-mounted audio controls to a rear cargo shelf that's sturdy enough to set shopping bags on.
QUATTRO ALL-WHEEL DRIVE
If you live where it snows or you regularly contend with roads where traction is compromised, we suggest spending the extra $2,100 for Audi's all-wheel-drive system. Dubbed Quattro, it's been respected for years for its ability to get a grip.
The 2015 Q3 has two rows and seating for up to five passengers. Audi's compact crossover SUV has a cabin that is sophisticated yet understated. It's familiar territory if you've been in an Audi recently, though the buttons that control the optional navigation/infotainment system have moved from the center console to the center dash. Most functions are easy to find and use, though some are awkward, such as the flick-like temperature controls and sun visors that don't extend. The 12-way power front seats are comfortable. Rear legroom is just enough for adults thanks to the clever sculpting of the front seatbacks, as is cargo room behind the seats.
If you appreciate the rounded lines and squat stance of the Audi Q5 SUV, there's a good chance you'll like the design of the smaller Q3. The new Q3 is 10 inches shorter than the Q5 and its roof sits a couple of inches lower. Up front, the Q3 is distinguished with bright xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, while the tapered rear hatch gently slopes from the spoiler to the standard LED taillights. Dual exhaust outlets are a sporty touch. Aluminum trim lends an appealing frame to the Q3's side windows.
Refreshingly, the Audi Q3 is available in just two trims, which makes deciding on a model easier. The base trim is called Premium Plus and includes leather seating, 12-way heated and power-operated front seats, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with pass-through armrest, dual-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, push-button start, and bright xenon headlights. Audio entertainment is provided by a 10-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with HD and satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming and iPod integration. There's an SD slot for music-filled memory cards, but no USB input as standard. Also not standard is a rearview camera.
Both trims of this compact German luxury SUV can be had with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The Driver Assistance package, also available for both, includes blind-spot monitoring and the recommended rearview camera. The higher-trim Prestige Q3 adds a power tailgate, navigation with voice control, 14-speaker Bose premium audio, and the Driver Assistance system with blind-spot monitoring and backup camera. Aside from Quattro, the only major option for the well-equipped Prestige trim is the Sport Package that includes front sport seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with shift paddles, and Audi drive select to adjust handling and response. If you can swing the extra $3,900, the Prestige trim grants much for the money.
Unlike many other Audis that offer a range of gasoline, diesel and even
hybrid powerplants to choose from, the new Q3 makes do with just one: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. As we said earlier in this review, the 4-cylinder's 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque are just enough for the Q3. We certainly wouldn't turn down a few more horses in the Q3's stable, especially when its cousin, the 2015 VW Golf GTI, has a 2.0-liter that boasts 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard, and Quattro all-wheel drive (AWD) is available. The Q3 is rated up to 29 mpg, which lags the 34 mpg rating of the more powerful BMW X1.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
200 horsepower @ 5,100-6,000 rpm
207 lb-ft of torque @ 1,700-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/29 mpg (FWD), 20/28 mpg (AWD)
The 2015 Audi Q3 has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $33,425 for a base Premium Plus edition. The higher-trim Q3 Prestige opens at $37,325, and adding all-wheel drive to either is an extra $2,100. Fully loaded, the new Q3 hovers around $40,000. At its entry price, Audi's smallest SUV starts more than $1,500 above a base BMW X1 and $1,000 below a base Mercedes-Benz GLA250, though both of those models can cost thousands more when fully loaded due to their wider selection of options. The smaller Buick Encore is significantly less expensive, starting around $25,000. Before buying, check out the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying for their Q3. Because the Q3 is so new, we've yet to establish long-term estimates on its resale value. That said, the Audi Q5 and Q7 SUVs have traditionally held their value very well over the years.