We still aren't sold on sub-compact luxury crossovers.
Let's get one thing out of the way - we like the 2020 Audi Q3. In fact, we have it rated near the top of our sub-compact luxury crossover rankings along with strong competitors like the Volvo XC40 and Mercedes-Benz GLB. But even after driving several vehicles in this segment, we aren't sure why these cars need to exist. Crossovers like the Q3 are great for people who live in a city and need a vehicle that can fit into tight parking spots while also providing the additional ride height most consumers crave.
The trouble is, crossovers that are this small don't tend to feel very high off the ground (compared to surrounding traffic) and don't provide the same level of luxury found higher up in their respective brand portfolios. The Q3, for example, is one of the nicest crossovers in its segment but we can't definitively say we prefer it over a much cheaper (and larger) mainstream crossover like the Mazda CX-5. To explain why we still aren't sold on sub-compact luxury crossovers, here are four things we love about the Audi Q3 and four things we hate.
Styling is highly subjective but we think the Q3 is one of the prettier designs in the sub-compact segment. Audi decided to make this all-new Q3 look a bit like a miniature Q8, which was a great move. Especially when finished in a cool color like Cosmos Blue Metallic, Pulse Orange, or Chronos Gray, the Q3 will impress the neighbors when you park it in your driveway. Opting for the S-Line package with its 19-inch wheels certainly improves the overall curb appeal without ruining the ride comfort.
The Q3's starting price of $34,700 seems pretty reasonable until you start adding options to it. By the time you step up to the S-Line Prestige trim with all the bells and whistles, you'll be paying more than $45,000. While that's not unreasonable compared to other vehicles in this segment, it just feels like a lot for a small crossover with "only" 228 horsepower.
We may be comparing apples to oranges here but a top trim Mazda CX-5 Signature offers similar power and luxury for just $37,055. Even the Volkswagen Golf R, which is admittedly smaller, is less expensive and provides much greater performance for the money. If it were our $40,000, we'd spend it elsewhere. Admittedly, this gripe (and many of the others on this list) is not purely a fault of the Q3, but the entire sub-compact luxury SUV segment.
Regardless of whether it's an entry-level crossover or a flagship sedan, Audi knows how to execute on technology. Audi's new Touch MMI infotainment is painless to use and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility should you prefer to use those systems. The voice command works using natural speech so you can avoid getting fingerprints on the touchscreen and Audi's virtual cockpit display is one of the best gauge clusters available. It can easily be switched from a traditional tachometer and speedometer to a beautifully rendered Google Earth map. More automakers need to learn from Audi here.
The Audi Q3 is classified as a subcompact crossover and when compared to other vehicles in this category, it offers comparable passenger space and cargo capacity. This is fine on paper but when put into practice, the Q3 felt too small. We had three average-size adults sit in the back seats and they complained about a lack of leg and shoulder room. If you only plan to put children back there, the Q3 will be fine, but two or three adults will feel cramped.
We think the Q3 is better suited for Europe, where the roads are genuinely small. If we wanted a compact vehicle to drive in the US, we'd opt for something lower to the ground like an Audi A3 or a Golf GTI.
Audi's interior design in simple yet effective, even at the entry-level. We particularly love the optional orange Alcantara accents, though we can imagine them getting dirty over time. All of the controls are intuitive and there is plenty of storage space spread out around the cabin. There is a wireless charging pad area in front of the shifter as well as a slot between the cupholders to stick a phone. We've tested many larger SUVs that aren't as ergonomically sound as the Q3.
While the Q3's cabin design looks great from a distance, there are some obvious areas where Audi was forced to keep the price down. This is the company's least expensive crossover in the US after all, so there are bound to be some hard plastic surfaces throughout the cabin. But anyone who has spent a lot of time driving higher-end vehicles from Audi will quickly notice that the Q3's cabin feels more like a high-end Volkswagen than a high-end Audi.
Some of the vehicles in this segment (we're looking at you BMW X2) tend to have a very stiff ride due to their short wheelbase and large wheel size. The Audi Q3 doesn't suffer this problem and is one of the most comfortable vehicles in its competitive set. Even with the larger 19-inch wheels, the Q3's ride never felt punishing over rough road surfaces. On the downside, the Q3 isn't one of the sportier vehicles in this segment with a lack of steering feel and driver engagement.
The Audi Q3 is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those figures are pretty poor for the luxury segment and even worse when compared to some of the mainstream alternatives. The poor fuel economy stems from the combination of the Quattro AWD system and the Q3's portly 3,900-pound curb weight. A Volkswagen Golf GTI, for example, weighs about 900 pounds less and can get up to 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway using the same exact 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Even the Audi A3 with AWD can get 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway because it weighs about 500 pounds less and is more aerodynamically efficient.