The first-generation Audi Q3 made its way into the US in 2015, as buyers turned their interest to subcompact luxury SUVs. Trouble was, it started selling in Europe in 2011, so by the time it arrived here, it wasn't exactly new, leading it to feel like somewhat of an afterthought. That's set to change with the arrival of the second-generation Q3, which will go on sale in the US next year. It's better suited to compete, and with a segment that's even hungrier than it was, I think it'll go over well.
A fun look, by German standards
The Q3's exterior is much sharper than before, with some serious side sculpting above the wheels and some slick LED running lights up front. Sadly, Audi confirms that my tester's two-tone lower panels will be body-colored in the US. Lame.
The subcompact SUV segment demands some lighthearted attitude, and the 2019 Q3 delivers in one interesting way. Cars optioned with the bright pulse orange paint job also receive a dash of microfiber color on the dashboard and door-panel armrests. Audi of America is still determining packaging for US-spec models, so it may not come Stateside, but I certainly hope it does. The Volvo XC40 has an entire carpet in nearly the same hue, after all.
Otherwise, the cabin is very comfortable. The physical switches feel expensive, the seats are cushy and the dashboard's shape is far less bland than it was before. The only thing that weirds me out is the headlight switch, which is now a single on-off button instead of a dial. Though, if that keeps people from driving at night with just the running lights on, I'll keep my mouth shut.
The whole shebang feels a bit bigger than before, and it is -- it's 3.8 inches longer, although the height is about the same. That extra length brings benefits out back, where cargo capacity grows by nearly 50 percent. Rear-seat passengers won't forget they're in a subcompact SUV, but at 6 feet tall, I'm surprisingly comfortable thanks to a standard sliding and reclining second row.
Potent powertrain, poised chassis
The second-generation Q3 comes in a half-dozen flavors in Europe, but in the US, we'll get our choice of two outputs from a 2.0-liter I4 gas engine. The base engine offers 184 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, but there's also a variant offering 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet, which you might recognize from the VW Golf GTI. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission will both be standard.
Sadly, my tester is a Euro-spec car, so while it has the same higher-output engine that we will eventually get in the US, it comes mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. I find this transmission too reluctant to shift at the right time, even in the sportiest mode, but the engine is a peach, singing at just the right volume as it relies on its ample torque to push me up through the Tyrolean Alps. Based on prior experience with Audi's eight-speeds, I expect the US-spec Q3's automatic to supply that extra pep I want in its step.
As for the chassis, the Q3 feels much more composed than it did before. Even with the adaptive suspension in its cushiest mode, the Q3 remains nearly devoid of body roll as it soaks up bumps in the road. Stiffen it up, and it plays like a GTI in designer heels. And that's what I like the most about this new Q3 -- it feels less like an SUV and more like a hatchback. Yet, when it comes time to live family life and stock it with kids and groceries, it'll still do that, too.
The only true bummer that I experience is wind noise, which pops up as I creep toward highway speeds and can be slightly annoying when it goes on for long stretches of time.
There are two gauge clusters and two infotainment screens on offer. The lower-end offering wields a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster with fixed digital gauges flanking an adjustable center portion and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen. Spend some money, though, and that grows to a 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit fully animated gauge cluster and a suitably large 10.1-inch infotainment system.
My tester has the larger setup, and it gives me basically all the information I could ever want no matter where my eyes wander. But I don't even need to move my head to look at the infotainment screen, since Virtual Cockpit takes nearly every vital function, including navigation, phone and audio, and slaps it in the gauge cluster. And since Virtual Cockpit's controls are on the steering wheel, my hands never need to wander. It's one of, if not the most capable and usable gauge clusters on sale.
The infotainment is the same version of MMI that made its debut on the much-more-expensive A6, A7, A8 and Q8 models. It's plenty fast, plenty pretty and while it lacks the digitized climate controls of its more expensive brethren, it still feels more premium than any other offering in the segment. It's far less confusing than Volvo's Sensus Connect, that's for sure. Of the two USB ports up front, one is USB-C, which is great if you appreciate fast phone charging.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are along for the ride, too, because it's all but a requirement these days. An optional connection package will also add a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, as is wireless phone charging that acts as a signal booster, using the car's own antenna to (hopefully) improve your phone's reception in the cabin. It's clever stuff.
Down to brass tacks
Obviously, I'll need time with a proper US-spec Q3 to give my full opinion on it, but based on my abbreviated experience with this tester, the Q3 launches itself to the top of the pile in a segment full of hungry buyers. Its tech and driving dynamics feel superior to the Volvo XC40, and it looks much better than the BMW X2 (although, to be fair, that isn't hard). Eager buyers will have to wait some time to pick one up, but patience is a virtue.
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