I like the idea of exploration, the potential of getting lost, the adventures that could ensue, and the ride that’ll get me there. Sure, a weekend away to a ski slope I know relatively well isn’t that much of an adventure, but you never know what you’ll encounter on the road, where you’ll stop, what roads you’ll traverse; the possibilities are endless.
So, when the keys to a 2016 Audi Q3 landed on my desk, I knew immediately I wanted to explore somewhere, anywhere, that wasn’t home.
That weekend, we packed up the Q3 with two complete snowboards with two sets of boots, a pair of 175cm skis with accompanying boots, helmets, goggles, and of course overnight bags and accessories. And it all fit, along with two passengers. While the rear seats were folded, the skis and boards stayed in the rear and we were left our own space up front without intrusion from the luggage.
Truly, this is what really stood out to me about the Q3. From the outside it looks so wee and compact, with its coupe-like line and tight body build. However, it’s actually very roomy inside and offered up more than enough room for my son and myself during the week, and for my weekend away from it all.
But surely there’s more to an Audi than that?
There is, don’t worry. I mean, generally one is not buying an Audi Q3 to gush about the interior space actually being larger than it looks. No, you’re buying an Audi Q3 because of how it drives, because of the quality of materials used, and because of Quattro.
So, let’s explore the drive a bit.
Strangely, for all my years testing vehicles I’d never driven a Q3 before this. A Q7 yes, and various other Audi products from their lineup (even the glorious and oh-so sensuous R8 V10 Plus … but I digress), but never a Q3. I felt I was being cheated out of something basic (in the best way possible) from the Audi family, and was desperate to get behind the wheel.
I wasn’t disappointed, but I also wasn’t entirely blown away either. It drives well. Steering is heavy in a connected, meaningful way. And with the vehicle mode set in comfort, it is actually quite adept at glossing over uneven surfaces on the road. Set the Q3 in dynamic mode and the ride becomes noticeably stiffer and not very pleasant. Of course, in individual mode you can fiddle with the settings and keep the suspension and chassis light while tightening up steering and throttle response, which is ideal.
The 2.0L TFSI is sufficient in getting the Q3 up to speed. With its 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, this isn’t a speedy luxury crossover, but it is quick. The automatic 6-speed Tiptronic gearbox coupled with Audi’s renowned Quattro AWD means forward momentum is rather effortless, and on any surface.
Traversing twisty backcountry roads in the Q3 opened up the possibility for some spirited driving. Using the steering-wheel mounted paddles to row through the Audi’s six gears was somewhat rewarding, but switching the drive mode to dynamic and letting the system figure it out itself was even more so, and meant I could focus on the task at hand; handling the cornering.
The Q3 is compact and small in nature, but it feels heavy at times. Coming into a corner late, with hard braking needed, unsettled the vehicle at times. However, under acceleration for the exit, the Q3 always pulled through with all four wheels pushing forward.
As expected, Quattro performed well. However, I was a bit put off by the skittish feel in the steering wheel while I took the Q3 over an uneven, partially snow/ice covered gravel road. It was constantly searching for grip, even on the gravel-only portions and seemed to struggle with the unevenness, even at lower speeds. I expected it to feel more planted, more grounded.
Feeling dated inside
The Audi Q3 is still in its first generation guise. It arrived in Europe for 2011 and hasn’t been overly updated since then. This is immediate when you sit inside. Of course, the standard of materials and build quality are there, but it’s the overall design and layout that feels old.
I think, once refreshed and revamped, the allure the Q3 had upon introduction will return. I feel its gotten lost in the folds of other new Audi products and redesigns, but its worthy of an update to keep it relevant as it really is a versatile, fun-to-drive motor that’s worth the money.
Speaking of money, it’s not as pricey as you might think, being an Audi and all. My particular Q3 Komfort Tiptronic’s MSRP is $36,800 and comes very well equipped. You’d hardly need to add options and you’d have yourself a luxury crossover capable of all-weather, all-road motoring with more room than you might expect inside.
The luxury crossover segment is becoming as hotly debated as the non-luxury division, and if Audi wants the Q3 to be a winner, they will need to update it sooner rather than later.