Market trends often lead to a wealth of customer choice in fertile areas. This is good for the consumer—but not so much for the manufacturer, as it gets increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from competitors all offering the same basic wares. Those slinging premium crossovers right now are in that very predicament. To make a ripple in this overcrowded pond is difficult. To make a wave is nearly impossible. Enter the cannonballing 2019 Audi Q3.
The latest lifted hatchback from Ingolstadt is sharper, techier, and bigger in every way compared to the eight-year-old model it replaces in the U.S. this year. Those looking for a more refined experience will find it in the standard touches like real leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. It's handsome in a understated way that's appealing in this try-hard segment. And from the driver's seat, the new Audi Q3 feels like it might be right rock to shake up the stagnating crossover waters.
The 2019 Audi Q3, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $34,700
- Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter Inline 4-Cylinder | 228 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city | 27 mpg highway | 22 mpg combined
- Ground Clearance: 8.3 inches
- 0-60 MPH: 6.8 seconds
- Top Speed: 145 mph
Booming City, Quiet Cabin
Outside of being the home of country music, Nashville is a perfect city to test a vehicle like the new Q3. There’s traffic caused by the city’s burgeoning population, uneven and unmaintained highways marred by constant construction, and Nurburgring-caliber backcountry roads just a few minutes from the city’s center. A microcosm of the automotive universe.
Audi’s premium approach was evident from the moment we departed the city center. Nashville's deepening streets echo with the constant clanging of construction, very little of which made its way into the car. Wind and tire noise are still present, especially at higher speeds over rough pavement, but it's notably quiet if you're stepping out of something like a Toyota RAV4 or even a VW Tiguan. It could be made even better with wheels smaller than the 21s on my test car and chunkier tires.
The Q3’s cabin is also spacious, comfortable, and usable, with a clean design and a sensible mix of touchscreens and buttons along with the optional Virtual Cockpit gauge display. Audi elongated the wheelbase to increase cabin and trunk space, which rises to 23.7 cubic feet behind the second row with the moveable load floor in its lowest setting. I wouldn't call either the front or rear seats pillow-soft, but at least they're not something from a Russian gulag. Firmly comfortable is probably the best description. Overall, the materials look and feel like they'd age well under heavy use with the exception of the strip of Alcantara bisecting the dash on the uprated S-Line trim.
O'er Hill and Dale in the Audi Q3
Though not as cloud-like as its top-tier Q7 and Q8 siblings, the little Q3’s suspension and chassis absorbed much of the disrupted pavement, too. Neither the seat nor the steering wheel betrayed much of the chaos happening underneath. However, little of anything can be felt through the Q3’s steering wheel in Comfort Mode with the total removal of all sensation from the electrically assisted system. For those of a certain age, the boat-captain experience is similar to the slackness of a 1980’s Chrysler K-Car. That typical German directness seems in short supply.
Fortunately, switching to Dynamic Mode reduces the slack and delivers more road feel to your fingertips; it also spices up the throttle mapping to wring out the two-liter turbo four. The tradeoff for that mild excitement is a marked increase in fuel consumption. So there's a configurable Individual Mode that lets you set exactly how you want the engine and chassis to behave. I found the sweet spot to be handling in Dynamic and engine in Comfort.
In either setting, the 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque coming from this Audi's engine is more than enough to motivate the 3,916-pound SUV. The Q3 will zip to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and hit an Autobahn-approved top speed of 145 mph. Along the hilly Nashville backroads, the output feels more than adequate for the Q3’s intended use as a daily runabout, slightly less so for regular spirited drives. That's ok, though—you don't need an R8-powered crossover to grocery shop or drive the kids to school. And if you do, Audi's happy to oblige with the upcoming RS Q3. In Europe, at least.
Though the opportunity to get the Q3 muddy or onto a loose surface to really test the all-wheel drive system didn’t present itself, I’m confident Audi’s long-standing history of excellence in that area remains intact. And it still showed subtle hints of its poise over f*cked-up pavement.
Personally—and perhaps crucially—one of the best parts of the whole car was its infotainment center and optional Bang & Olufsen stereo. While many opt to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto regardless of vehicle, Audi's MMI Touch Response operating system is instinctual and well thought out in both 8.8 and 10.25 screen sizes. Key functions like navigation, radio, and phone pairing are exactly where you’d expect them to be and easily reachable when driving. The Q3 also comes standard with four USB ports, a generous offering.
Better still, the Bang & Olufsen stereo is perfectly crisp. Highs are high, lows are low, and it does a hell of a job making up for lossy streaming services. Confronted with the notoriously hard to get right Walk on Water by Thirty Seconds to Mars, the unit performed as if Leto had just laid down the master in studio.
Not a Pebble, Nor a Boulder, But a Sizable Stone
Starting at $34,700, the Q3 is well-priced compared to its competition given the more-expansive standard feature set. My test vehicle was closer to $45,000 with all the bells and whistles; that said, no matter which trim you choose, you’ll have a well-equipped vehicle. Perhaps the biggest disappointment on the pricing scale is the fact that the base model comes with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking as its only standard safety features, while things like blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise, lane keep assist, and even parking sensors are only found on higher trims.
Crossover shoppers have choices galore, and it takes something different to separate a new entry. The pond is large, and small stones hardly make a ripple across the surface—especially when following up the splashy success of new kids like the Volvo XC40 and updated cars like Mercedes-Benz GLC. Fortunately, the 2019 Audi Q3 takes what could’ve been a recycled crossover recipe from Volkswagen’s shared parts bin and imparts a distinctive personality. The exterior is slick, the interior is splendid, and the drivetrain is exactly what it needs to be. Audi just might have a hefty rock on its hands after all.
Got a tip? Want to talk? Email the author at Jonathon@thedrive.com or find him on Twitter @jonathon_klein.