It’s easy to get lost in the spectacular views of northern Italy’s Alpine region. The jagged peaks of the Dolomites jutting up from the earth, the crystal-clear lakes filling the valleys, and the lush green hillsides are overwhelming. It should be easy, ascending and descending the never-ending switchbacks, to erase memories of the uninspiring first-generation Audi Q3. But it’s not.
Introduced in 2011 for other markets, the Q3 made its way to the United States for the 2015 model year to establish Audi’s presence in the booming luxury-subcompact market. But it was underpinned by a prehistoric platform, its interior could have been dated by radiocarbon, and its styling was as bland as Kansas Thai food. The second-generation Q3 starts with a clean sheet. Crack open the Audi Q8, split the Q7’s shell, and pull apart the Q5, and you’ll eventually work your way down to the 2019 Q3, which replaces the soft, dumpling-like look of its predecessor with a version of the octagonal grille and taut body lines that make up Audi’s current upright, aggressive design language. Each of the two trim levels features a unique fascia. The base model’s nose is subdued, while the S line’s larger faux air intakes and chiseled splitter present a far less benign face. Full-LED lights at all four corners are standard equipment. If you like the contrasting black wheel arches and rocker sills, as we do, you’re out of luck. On U.S.-market vehicles, those pieces will be matched to the body color.
The more important changes are the structural and mechanical ones. The Volkswagen Group’s versatile MQB architecture replaces the dated PQ35 platform, and the Q3 grows in every dimension, approaching Q5 territory. At 176.5 inches overall, it is 3.7 inches longer than the outgoing Q3 and just 7.1 inches shy of the Q5. Much of that growth—three inches—occurs between the wheel centers, stretching the wheelbase to 105.5 inches. Width pushes out by an inch, and height increases by the same margin.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four offers two output levels, straddling the previous 200-hp four’s. Both versions of the engine provide more torque earlier in the rev range than the old mill. A 184-hp variant motivates base models, producing 236 lb-ft of torque. We sampled only the higher-output version, good for 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. There’s a moment of lag at initial tip-in, but once rolling, the Q3 is sufficiently quick for a small SUV. Here in the States, an eight-speed automatic, which we did not sample, will be the only transmission offered.
All-wheel drive is standard on every model, and there will be no front-drive version. The Quattro hardware carries over from the outgoing Q3, although minor software tweaks improve efficiency, allowing the system to decouple the rear axle via an electronically controlled clutch pack and operate as a front-driver in certain situations.
To cut costs, Audi will offer only the regular suspension in the U.S., forgoing the Sport and adaptive-damper packages available overseas. Over northern Italy’s buttery-smooth roads, the busy ride of the last Q3 is absent, due in part to the longer wheelbase. Just the harshest impacts, such as thwacking an exposed manhole cover, reverberate through the cabin. We drove only Q3s equipped with 20-inch wheels wrapped in large 255-millimeter summer rubber and expect the smaller 18- and 19-inch wheel offerings to return even smoother rides. Although the steering effort is feather light and feedback is muffled, inputs through the steering wheel are translated with urgency, the Q3 changing direction gracefully and with minimal body roll. The brakes are much better, too. Gone is the old softness; in its place is a firm, progressive pedal that allows easy modulation.
The Q3’s interior is well sorted and has the most modern feel in the segment. Leather is standard, and the seating position is vastly improved, with an airy greenhouse and a panoramic sunroof. Synthetic suede divides the dash horizontally (it’s also available on the armrests). A 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster is standard, and Audi’s 12.2-inch Virtual Cockpit configurable instrument panel is optional. An 8.8-inch dash-mounted infotainment display is also included, and a 10.1-inch screen is available. This is the first use of the brand’s haptic touchscreen in a single-display application, as opposed to the two-screen approach that’s used in larger Audis. The system responds rapidly and renders the backup camera and available bird’s-eye view
in high resolution. The presence of analog HVAC controls in the new Q3 is a welcome change over Audi’s ostensibly more advanced two-touchscreen setup. Both control systems are angled toward the driver by 10 degrees. That longer wheelbase is a boon for interior real estate. The rear seats offer an adjustable recline function and 5.9 inches of fore and aft movement, providing ample space for adults of all sizes. The cargo hold grows two cubes over the previous generation’s, to 19 cubic feet. Of course, all manner of electronic-driver-assistance systems are available, including standard automated emergency braking.
Audi hasn’t announced pricing yet, but figure about $37,000 when it hits dealerships late next summer or early fall. It comes with enough standard equipment to credibly call itself an entry-luxury crossover, and it is a significant improvement over the ute it replaces. In time, we hope to forget all about that one.