by Jared Rosenholtz
The Audi Q3 is the smallest of Audi's Q range of crossovers in the US. It exists in a relatively new vehicle class called the subcompact luxury SUV and competes against the likes of the BMW X1 and X2, Cadillac XT4, Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLB, and Volvo XC40. I've been extremely skeptical of this class of vehicle, questioning whether subcompact SUVs and luxury vehicles are compatible. Over Thanksgiving weekend I spent a freezing few days in Pennsylvania to determine whether the Q3 is worthy of its luxury badge.
The second-generation Audi Q3 recently went through a complete redesign, which resulted in a car that's bigger and (arguably) better looking both inside and out, and comes with improved tech features. For 2020 the Audi Q3 remains mostly unchanged but Audi has changed the model designations from the '2.0T' in previous year models to '45 TFSI.'
The recently redesigned Audi Q3 got a massive facelift that clearly distinguishes itself from 2018 models and offers a more contemporary design, which looks like a baby-Q8. Standard exterior features include LED headlights with high-beam assist, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, and a power tailgate. Premium Plus and Prestige models benefit from unique DRL signature LED headlights. Prestige models roll on a set of standard 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels while Premium and Premium Plus models get 18-inch wheels, growing to 19 inches for S line derivatives. S line cars benefit from a sporty front bumper, S line badging, illuminated door sills and those cool-looking larger alloy wheels. The S line Package makes an enormous difference visually, transforming the Q3 from a dull crossover into a more aggressive vehicle befitting of its Audi badge.
The Q3 occupies the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment of the flooded SUV market and is Audi's smallest SUV offering, slotting below the Audi Q5 and Q7. The 2020 Q3 measures 176.6 inches in total length, stands 64.1 inches off the ground, and is 79.7 inches wide with side mirrors. The Q3 rolls on a 105.5-inch wheelbase, and while par for the segment, the Q3's body is slightly bigger than the BMW X1, over an inch in length, and height, as well as width. Weighing in at 3,905 pounds (3,916 lbs for S line cars), the Q3 weighs over 300 pounds more than the X1.
During my first day with the Q3, I transported four of my adult family members, meaning three had to squeeze into the back seat. My family instantly told me that the back seat felt cramped with three of them back there and it is worth noting that none of them are over five feet five inches tall. For a budding family with one child, the Q3 might have enough space, though it is an easy vehicle to outgrow as you have more children. This complaint is also true of the Q3's competitors, so it is more a commentary of the subcompact luxury class as a whole than the Q3 specifically.
Premium and Premium Plus cars without the S-Line moniker are available in nine colors while S-Line cars get seven. Cost-free color options on the base model and entry-level Premium Plus model are Ibis White and Pulse Orange, while colors such as Cosmos Blue Metallic and Nano Gray Metallic come at a $595 premium. S-Line cars only get seven exterior color choices, which include Chronos Gray Metallic and Tango Red Metallic, shared with the non-S-line models, but also gain access to two S-line exclusive colors, Turbo Blue and Glacier White Metallic - the former a no-cost option while Glacier White costs $595.
Upon being delivered, my family was immediately torn on the Chronos Gray Metallic color of my tester. In certain lights, the paint almost looks green but in other lights, it appears more gray. By the end of the week, I received several compliments on the color from onlookers, though I'd personally prefer a more exciting shade like Pulse Orange or Turbo Blue.
The 2020 Q3 still makes use of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot, which, when fitted to a 3,905-pound SUV feels less peppy than it would in a hot hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf GTI. There's still a decent amount of torque and top-end pull on offer once you get going and it feels up to par with base-model offerings from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. Keep the Q3 in comfort mode, and acceleration feels delayed, bordering on sluggish, which is disappointing, considering the fact that this car will spend most of its life in the city and suburbs, where small turbocharged engines are expected to respond quickly to throttle inputs. Switching over to Dynamic mode improves things slightly, but I yearn for the recently-revealed RS Q3, which remains a Europe-only option. Audi claims a zero to sixty sprint time of seven seconds and a top speed of 130 mph, the former assisted by Audi's standard quattro all-wheel-drive system. Once up to speed, the Q3 offers good mid-range punch, and becomes a capable cruiser, just don't expect to win any drag races.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine used in the 2020 Audi Q3 is a VW sourced unit that also does duty in the Golf GTI and many other VW Group products. This engine makes use of a cast-iron block and aluminum head, double overhead camshafts as well as a variable valve lift system to produce 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and Audi's renowned quattro system, which in fact, is a Haldex-based system in the Q3.
I never felt like the engine itself was lacking in power, but the Q3's hefty curb weight makes the 2.0-liter mill feel far less "peppy" than it does in a smaller vehicle. The Q3's eight-speed automatic transmission (sourced from Aisin) was equally uninspiring and left me wondering why Audi didn't just use one of its excellent DSG dual-clutch units that are employed in the Q3 in Europe. The shifts are smooth, much like a CVT, but even with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, I could never get the transmission to shift precisely when I wanted.
As with the engine and transmission, my overall impression of the Q3's driving dynamics was that they were ok but somewhat uninspiring. The steering is light, making city driving and tight parking maneuvers easy at the expense of driver enjoyment. Placing the car into Dynamic mode adds a bit of weight to the steering but it never felt particularly engaging. On the plus side, the Q3 rides smoothly (even with the 19-inch S line wheels), the same can not be said of the BMW X2, which is too firm for my tastes.
I imagine the typical Q3 buyer being someone who lives in a city or crowded urban area and needs a tight wheelbase along with a higher driving position. Due to the Q3's diminutive size, it never feels like a true SUV, but rather a hatchback that has been slightly raised. I would much prefer an A3 hatchback but since hatchbacks are sales poison in the US, I see why the Q3 makes some sense. If it were my money, it would be a Golf GTI or Golf R sitting in our driveway for around the same price as we'd easily trade the ground clearance and improved infotainment for driving enjoyment.
Compared to its contemporaries, the 2020 Audi Q3 delivers disappointing fuel economy results: Audi gives an official EPA-rated figure of 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined. These are the weakest figures among premium class rivals, with the Range Rover Evoque boasting 23 mpg combined, while the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 and BMW X1 xDrive28i boast 26 mpg combined estimates. The 2020 Q3's 15.9-gallon fuel tank should give it a maximum range of 349.8 miles in mixed conditions. During our week of testing in cold temperatures with mostly highway driving, I averaged just over 23 mpg combined. As with performance, weight is likely the Q3's worst enemy when it comes to fuel economy.
2020 cars get a cabin filled with sharp angles and a finely consolidated overall look that welcomes the Q3 into the new decade with open arms and stands in contrast to the more elegantly designed interior of the Mercedes-Benz GLB. The clean design of the Q3's interior goes a long way in creating a sense of space inside the cabin which is finished off with an attention to detail typified by Audi. Standard features include three-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats, and a panoramic sunroof. Premium Plus models enjoy an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a built-in digital compass. The control layout is straight forward, easy to reach, and looks sleek and uncluttered in comparison to its larger sibling the Audi Q5.
But even though I felt the Q3's cabin was well-laid out and nicely designed, my family wasn't too fond of the interior materials. Some of the materials, like the seat leather and dashboard Alcantara, felt like it belonged in a $45,000 vehicle. But other spots like the door cards and shifter looked and felt a bit cheap, leaving my family unimpressed. My father even asked why this car costs $45,000 and a GTI costs around $30,000 and my simplest answer was to point at the Audi badge.
The base seats in the Q3 are quite boring looking, but my tester was equipped with a $500 Sport Interior Package, which dresses up the cabin and is easily worth the price. It includes more bolstered front seats (which also look more aggressive), a three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters, and brushed aluminum inlays. Audi says the front seats offer 40 inches of legroom while the rear seats offer 36.1 inches. This is fine for the segment, but even shorter occupants will find their knees touching the front seats. The rear bench can slide backward and forwards and recline, but the legroom is tight even in the furthest position. Fitting three people in the back proved to be tricky, with the Q3's 55.1 inches of rear shoulder room proving to be a tight squeeze.
Audi offers leather seats finished in Black, Rotor Gray, Okapi Brown, and Pearl Beige along with aluminum or wood trim. My tester was finished in all Black with an Orange Alcantara package, which dressed up and otherwise drab cabin. I would recommend opting for the Orange Alcantara to dress up the interior but if you plan to have kids in and out of the car, you may want to hold off.
Total trunk and cargo space measurements play a large role in the purchasing decision of people looking to buy SUVs, especially people carriers such as the Q3 that will most likely end up being used by small to medium-sized families. The 2020 Q3 can't brag about offering the most trunk and cargo space in its class, but it still does better than a lot of its competitors, including the Mercedes-Benz GLA. With the rear seats in the upright position, the 2020 Q3 offers 23.7 cubic feet of space. The BMW X1 does much better with a measurement of 27.1 cubic feet. With the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats folded down, the Q3 opens up 48 cubic feet, while the X1 still bests it with 58.7 cubic feet of space. With the rear seats up, the Q3 will easily swallow up enough groceries and school bags for three kids and a medium-sized dog.
Inside the cabin, passengers are able to store smaller items in a fairly sized center storage bin, there are smaller storage slots in front of and next to the shifter, and the door pockets are wide enough for a medium-sized water bottle. Audi has cleverly but a wireless charger in front of the shifter, where your phone will be easily accessible. There is also a special slot between the cup holders for a second phone, should it not have wireless charging capability.
The Q3 fully embraces its classification as a premium SUV, and the standard feature list makes it abundantly clear that Audi wants to take the fight to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Premium models, the base model of the 2020 Q3 range, comes equipped with standard exterior features such as rain/light auto window wipers and LED headlights, a power tailgate, and power-adjustable heated side mirrors (auto-dimming driver's side on Prestige models). Premium Plus models add a unique DRL signature and high-beam assist as well as an anti-theft alarm system with motion sensors. Inside, Audi treats its customers to standard three-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, and heated leather power seats. Models higher up in the range get standard auto-dimming rearview mirrors, ambient LED lighting, and improved front passenger seat functionality. Standard on Prestige models is the 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display, wireless phone charging as well as a surround-view camera system and an auto-dimming driver's side mirror.
Audi's MMI touch response infotainment system is among the easiest to use in the luxury segment. Unlike some of the larger Audi models, which have a second touchscreen for climate controls, the Q3 makes do with just one screen. Also unlike its big siblings, the Q3 responds normally to touch inputs and doesn't require a harder press of the screen to make a selection. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard but MMI touch is so good, I didn't use them much during the week.
If you don't like getting your fingerprints all over the car, Audi's voice command is highly intuitive and makes use of natural speech. Audi's Virtual Cockpit Display is also handy to show navigation prompts in the gauge cluster, so you rarely have to look down at the center screen. As with the main screen, Virtual Cockpit is highly intuitive and can be customized to show mostly gauges, or a giant Google Maps-powered display.
Hopeful owners can rejoice, as the NHTSA hasn't issued any recalls for both 2019 and 2020 year models. Although the 2020 Q3 hasn't been rated by the likes of J.D. Power, this German subcompact SUV should prove to be reliable over the course of its lifetime. Audi backs up the Q3 with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, which includes 12 years of corrosion protection, four years/50,000-miles of drivetrain protection, four years worth of roadside assistance and a one-year/unlimited mile maintenance plan.
The 2020 Audi Q3 is one of the safest cars in its class. The fresh Q3 hasn't been tested by the NHTSA, but the IIHS took it upon themselves to put this subcompact luxury German SUV through its paces, and it proved to be so safe that they awarded it with a Top Safety Pick Plus award; their highest praise, with only the headlights on one trim scoring anything less than perfect marks.
Achieving a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS is no mean feat, and indicates that the Q3 must have a pretty serious list of safety features. Standard equipment and active driver safety tech includes a basic eight airbag system (which can be bumped up to ten when you include the optional rear-passenger thorax side airbags), LED headlights with high-beam assist, a rearview camera, as well as forward collision alert. To get to the good stuff, you need to select the optional convenience package, which adds Audi Side Assist with rear cross-traffic assist and lane departure warning as well as front and rear parking sensors.
On a safety note, I do have to mention the Q3's stop-start system. At first, I felt the system did a fine job restarting the engine smoothly but my mood quickly soured as it also locks up the car's power steering. On more than one occasion, I began to turn the wheel to maneuver into another lane only to find the steering was locked in place. The car will eventually start back up, but it happens too slowly and you are left with no steering in the meantime. In city driving, this is both irksome and slightly dangerous if you need to make a hasty lane change.
Compared to other vehicles in the subcompact luxury SUV segment, the Q3 is among the best. The Q8-inspired design looks great, the interior is filled with strong technology, and the ride comfort is better than most of its rivals. But the Q3 didn't quite do enough to justify the existence of subcompact luxury SUVs in my mind. Aside from being easier to park, there is very little the Q3 (or any of its competitors) does that is better than a larger, cheaper mainstream option like a Mazda CX-5 or Toyota RAV4. Those models have been significantly improved in recent years and seriously make me question recommending any "entry-level" luxury model, including the Q3. For just under $45,000 as-tested, the Q3 just doesn't offer enough of an upgrade compared to many top-trim mainstream options.
I was thoroughly impressed by the Q3's infotainment and interior design but its diminutive size and lackluster interior materials didn't shout "luxury" to me. Models like the Q3 are meant to act as an entry point into a luxury brand but after driving it for a week, I feel you are better off buying from a mainstream option until you can afford Audi's best, like a Q8. But if you decide that I'm an idiot and there's no way you'd buy a Mazda or Volkswagen over a luxury-branded vehicle, it's hard to do better than the Q3 in this segment.
Luxury subcompact SUVs start around the mid $30,000 mark, with the 2020 Q3 starting with an MSRP of $34,700 and rising to $36,000 for the S-line equivalent (it is worth noting all-wheel-drive does come standard). Premium Plus cars start at $37,800 and climb to $39,100 for S-line models. At the top sits the Prestige, which will set you back $42,900. These prices exclude a destination fee of $995. Fully loaded, the Q3 Prestige will cost you close to $47,000.
For 2020, Audi offers three Q3 models, namely Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige, with a sub-trim called S-line available for Premium and Premium Plus models.
The base Premium model offers good value for money and includes standard features such as a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, power liftgate, LED headlights, power leather seats, forward collision alert, a sunroof, and three-zone automatic climate control.
Premium Plus models gain SiriusXM satellite radio with a 90-day trial subscription, wireless phone charging, and a HomeLink garage door opener, as well as advanced keyless start and stop, hands-free tailgate operation, and much more. On the safety front, the Premium Plus adds front and rear parking sensors, rear-traffic assist, and lane departure warning.
Prestige models take things even further with a standard 12.3-inch virtual cockpit plus display and infotainment system with navigation and a Bang & Olufsen 3D premium surround sound system, as well as a top-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, and park assist.
The S-line appearance package adds a set of sportier wheels, more aggressive bumper inlays, as well as an S-line spoiler and other styling details - standard on the Prestige but available as a standalone sub-trim for the Premium and Premium Plus derivatives.
While much of the equipment is broken down into the various trim levels, a number of packages and standalone options can increase the levels of spec on the Q3. Premium models are offered with the Convenience package, which adds Audi's advanced keyless start with hands-free power tailgate release, side, and rear-cross traffic assist and lane departure, front and rear parking sensors, as well as SiriusXM satellite radio and HomeLink for only $1,600. More supportive sport seats can be selected in Premium Plus S line and Prestige models for an extra $500, and brushed aluminum inlays will set you back $500. Premium Plus models are also eligible for the Driver Assistance Package which adds features such as adaptive cruise control with stop & go, as well as a navigation package for $2,000 which includes a 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit display and 10.1-inch center display with MMI Navigation Plus. For the music lovers, the Premium Plus can be had with a 15-speaker, 16-channel amplifier Bang & Olufsen sound system for $850. For added safety, rear-passenger thorax airbags can be included for $350. Prestige cars come packed with most of the available features, so you'll mainly get to pick fun stuff like optional projected quattro logos and interior cargo accessories.
My Premium Plus S line tester was missing two key features - adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree camera - which would have made it the ideal city car. ACC can be added for a minuscule $800 but the surround-view camera can only be had on the top Prestige Package. By the time you load up the Premium Plus model with options, you would be better off just opting for the Prestige, which includes most of them as standard equipment. Just add the 20-inch wheels for $800, Sport Interior Package for $500, and Alcantara Interior Package for $150 and the Q3 rings in at $45,345.
If you value performance over ride height, a Volkswagen Golf R offers this same engine producing 292 hp for around $5,000 less.
So how does Audi's baby SUV stack up to their midsize offering, the Q5? Starting at $43,300, the Q5 is almost $10,000 dearer than its smaller sibling in base form. Both cars are powered by the same Volkswagen derived turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but in the Q5, it produces 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque instead of the 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque you get in the Q3. The Q5 is slightly heavier but returns an impressive 22/28/24 mpg, which is over two miles per gallon better than the Q3. The Q5 is a visually larger car from the outside, offers superior interior space, and more cargo space. The Q5 offers more or less the same standard features as found in the Q3 but does offer more practicality and space, perfect for larger families who could use the extra room. But if you don't need the room, the Q3 is just as good in almost all other aspects, and at a lower price.
The BMW X1 is one of a multitude of offerings from the Bavarian automaker in the SUV market. Power is provided by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces an identical 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and is sent to either the front or all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The BMW does better at the pumps, recording a gas mileage figure of 23/31/26 mpg. Squaring up to the Q3, the X1 is visibly smaller but offers more interior space, and significantly more trunk and overall cargo space. Where the X1 fails to impress is in the safety department. Whereas the Q3 was awarded a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS, the X1 was unable to get even a Top Safety Pick rating. The X1 is a nice driving thing and feels more carlike than the Q3. With a starting price of around $37,000, it's more expensive to start with but offers more practicality. The Audi however, is more luxurious and tech-focused.