2019 Audi Q3 second drive review: More for the masses

The 2019 Audi Q3 has been a long time coming. After making its first appearance in the summer of 2018, I took a spin in a European-spec version of this compact luxury crossover last September. Now, almost a year later, the American Q3 is finally on our shores and, more importantly, at dealers.

Even at the time of its initial announcement, the second-generation Q3 was sorely needed. Since the first generation's stateside debut in 2015, the Q3's segment has ballooned with some impressive offerings, many of which leapfrogged the older Audi in terms of luxury and tech. Consider the tables turned, though, as the new Q3 feels sharp, fresh and ready to once again lead a segment it helped pioneer.

Clever details survive the boat ride

At the time of my original first drive, Audi wasn't exactly sure how US-spec Q3s would be equipped. At the time, I knew the two-tone paint getup was already counted out for the US, but I'm happy to report that my other favorite bit -- the orange Alcantara suede interior accents -- is available as a $150 option on the S Line's Premium Plus and Prestige trims. It's just a small smattering of color, sure, but it's a neat little dose of character that impresses a surprising number of people.

Compared to its predecessor, the new Q3 is quite a bit different. It's much bigger than it used to be, coming in 3.8 inches longer, 0.7 inch wider and 1.5 inches taller, although half an inch of that newfound height is solely for Yankee buyers, since we like our extra ride height.

Those swollen dimensions bring major benefits to the occupants. Families will have an easier time at the grocery store, with the cargo area growing from 16.7 cubic feet to 18.7, or 23.7 with the adjustable load floor set to its most capacious setting. The 40/20/40 folding second row also gains tilting and sliding capability, the latter offering nearly 6 inches of movement. The Q3 feels big for what it is, and occupants of all shapes and sizes should be plenty comfortable despite the still-small footprint.

The Q3's interior looks represent just as much of a leap forward as the exterior, both of which lean heavily on the fresher designs found in more expensive Audis like the A6, A7, A8 and Q8. It's less boring than before, with attractive shapes on the dashboard and switchgear that feels more expensive. Nothing about it feels particularly cheap, which puts it in good stead against other fashion-forward competitors like the Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC40.

Pep in its step

The sinewy roads around Nashville aren't quite the same as those that took me up the Tyrolean Alps in the Euro-spec Q3, but Tennessee's asphalt provided plenty of ways in which to suss out the Q3's new powertrain. A single engine is on offer -- a 2.0-liter, turbocharged I4 putting out 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque -- and it comes mated to a standard eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

I'm more than familiar with the engine, which also makes an appearance in the VW Golf GTI, and it's easy to appreciate its brand of hustle, with low-end torque giving the Q3 more than enough motive force. The eight-speed eliminates the general reluctance to shift that Europe's seven-speed dual-clutch offered, and I think US buyers will be more than happy with it, even though I do feel the occasional clunk at low speeds.

The Q3's 'Merican handling feels a bit different than its European twin. The extra half-inch of ride height shouldn't impart much change, but the retuned suspension definitely does. The Euro-spec adaptive dampers have been replaced with a static setup that feels a little floatier, resulting in a bit less composure over iffy roads, and that doesn't really change if I flip the Q3's drive mode from Comfort to Dynamic.

The American Q3 feels a bit floatier than its European counterpart, but I think a lot of that boils down to market tastes.

Audi

Switching to a more aggressive mode does, however, stiffen up the electric power steering, but only a smidge. This, too, feels much different in US spec, with the steering exhibiting a surprising amount of boost in Comfort mode, bordering on an old Buick. Given the lack of feel in Comfort, and the fact that even the engine doesn't get much more aggressive in its sharper mode, I find Dynamic to be the best setting for around-town driving, odd as that may seem.

The cabin noise from the European Q3 transfers to the US, as well, standing as the only real annoyance in an otherwise pleasant drive. Most of that comes from wind whipping over the body, but some of that definitely comes from my tester's optional 20-inch wheels, which are clad in 255/40R20 summer tires. Sticking with the smaller standard wheels and their 235-width all-season tires should drop the decibels some, but it can't do anything about the aerodynamic stuff.

Much more tech, all of it great

Perhaps the biggest leap forward in the Q3 is its tech. The standard twin-screen setup on all cars comprises an 8.8-inch touchscreen in the center console and a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. Spend an extra $2,000 on the Navigation Package (or opt for the top Prestige trim) and that's upgraded to a 10.1-inch center screen and a 12.3-inch cluster running Audi's always-excellent Virtual Cockpit.

No matter the middle screen's size, it runs the Roadshow Shift Award-winning MMI Touch Response system, which is responsive, attractive and loaded with features. The larger screen also adds handwriting recognition, as there's no physical pad included. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on both configurations, too.

There's loads of standard tech in the Q3, including automatic windshield wipers, LED headlights, keyless start and four USB ports -- one Type-A and one Type-C for the front row, and two Type-As for those in the back. Moving up trims adds features like Audi's "phone box," a wireless charging tray that also hooks the phone to the Q3's own roof antenna to boost its signal, as well as fancier LED headlights and interior ambient lighting. Options packages ramp up the fancy even further, with offerings like a Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system and keyless entry.

The Q3 also packs a number of safety systems, most of which are optional. Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are standard on the base Premium trim. Stepping up to Premium Plus adds parking sensors, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring, while adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality is standard on the Prestige trim, although it can be added to Premium Plus trims as an $800 standalone upgrade. Prestige Q3s also get a high-resolution surround-view camera.

This is hands-down my favorite cockpit in the segment now. Sorry, Volvo.

Audi

Down to brass tacks

There's a whole lot o' value in the 2019 Audi Q3. A base price of $35,695 gets you a the Premium trim, which includes stuff like a panoramic moonroof, leather seats, LED headlights, a power tailgate, heated exterior mirrors, automatic climate control and all the aforementioned tech. That standard Q3 is offered alongside the Q3 S Line, which starts at $36,995 and adds sportier looks inside and out. It's also the only way to reach the top Prestige trim, which makes every feature-based upgrade package standard.  

The compact luxury SUV space is now a thick one, rife with strong competitors like the recently refreshed BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque. The XC40 is still a strong contender, as well, and Mercedes-Benz should have a new GLA-Class in the works as we speak. The 2019 Audi Q3 is an impressive little number, but it needs to be.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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