Judged solely on its performance during a week of testing in and around CNET's San Francisco offices, the 2016 Audi Q3 Quattro comes out looking pretty good. Its cabin is quiet, the performance is pretty good, and the small crossover is almost universally handsome both inside and out. If you walked into an Audi dealership looking for a premium/luxury small crossover and drove away in the Audi Q3, you'd probably be pretty happy.
However, it doesn't live in a vacuum -- most drivers don't make purchases without also testing out the competition, and my evaluation of the Q3 came right on the heels of an adventure in the excellent and all-new 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i. So at the end of a very pleasurable week with the Audi, I can't help but think about all of the small ways that it falls short of the competition.
2.0 turbo Quattro
The Audi Q3 is not wanting for power; the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that lives under its hood makes a stated 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. This is, essentially, the same powertrain that lives beneath the hood of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but with a tune focused on efficiency, rather than all-out performance. However, when equipped with its optional Quattro all-wheel drive system and standard six-speed automatic transmission, the Q3 is some 700 pounds heavier than a GTI, which you feel as a slight lag when accelerating.
You also feel the weight when changing direction, but only just. The Audi feels nicely planted when rounding a bend or off-ramp, but there's a definite lack of feel through both the seat and the wheel. Now obviously, I don't expect the Q3 -- a compact crossover -- to round bends like a sports car, and a bit of softness to the suspension and top-heaviness to the ride is forgivable.
Our Q3 was equipped with a Sport package that adds larger wheels, sport styling bits inside and out and -- most interestingly -- a Drive Mode Select button that allows the Q3's pilot to toggle between Dynamic, Sport and Auto drive modes. Unfortunately, all three of these modes feel largely identical. Any changes to steering feel or throttle response were basically undetectable, which is a shame. The automatic transmission, on the other hand, has a Sport program of its own, which does liven up the throttle response by holding lower gears, keeping the engine RPMs ups and maintaining the turbo in a primed state.
Going fast in the Q3 requires becoming more patient with the crossover, smoother with the inputs. If I wanted a surge of acceleration, I'd simply have to keep my foot planted and wait for the turbo to surge -- not leap -- into action. The Q3 likes long, sweeping turns, where it can settle its mass between transitions and grip. I couldn't just chuck the Audi into a corner like I would the Mazda CX-3 or BMW X1.
In the Quattro configuration, the EPA reckons on 23 combined miles per gallon (which breaks out to 20 city and 28 highway), which is fairly efficient, but not what I'd call thrifty. The numbers are basically the same for front-wheel drive Q3s, gaining only a single highway mpg.
For comparison sake, Audi's own significantly larger 2016 Q5 2.0T has EPA numbers identical to the Q3's. Back in this class, the 2016 BMW X1 is also powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four that makes 28 more horsepower and 51 more pound-feet of peak torque, and the Bimmer bests the Audi's combined mpg by 4 miles -- still not a huge amount, but every advantage counts in this fiercely contested segment.
Inside, the Q3 gains ground on the BMW and the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 with its excellent tech, premium design and quiet construction. The Audi does an excellent job isolating its occupants from road and engine noise and has a cozy, inoffensive design that is simpler and more timeless than what Benz and BMW are doing with their cabins.