2017 Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI Quattro Technik Road Test Review

Cool styling update shows new face of Audi SUVs

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Europeans have benefited from small luxury vehicles for decades, but the concept is relatively new to North Americans. Our collective mindset has traditionally been "big is better," and while this is still reality for the most part, there's a downsizing of the premium sector that's likely here to stay.

The Q3 is a prime example. Prior to its arrival here last year, Audi's only "compact" SUV was the Q5 despite its slightly larger than compact dimensions, the Q7 filling the Ingolstadt brand's midsize shoes, which leaves the Q3 in subcompact luxury SUV segment despite it being considerably larger than some of its peers.

Q3 first to show off Audi's new SUV styling

After its first year here the Q3 received big visual changes thanks to a mid-cycle update; its arrival in North America was preceded by years of sales in Europe. The most noticeable change to last year's model was a much bolder singleframe grille, the brand's equiangular hexagonal shape appearing broader due to longer upper sides and shorter more vertical lower sides resulting in a wider lower section, plus the previous generation's simple chromed edging was replaced with satin-silver trim that seems thinner on top and bottom yet much thicker where new extensions lead off from its four upper vertices to butt up against slightly revised headlamps. A new aluminum hood up top joined reworked corner vents and a modified lower valance combination below, all helping to transform the Q3's look, and I must admit that its front end appears completely new and very becoming.

Updated side sills improve the profile, while my tester's fabulous five-spoke alloys on meaty Pirelli P Zero 255/35R20s could only be from Audi. A vast array of alloy rims are available for the carryover 2017 model, the base version getting twinned five-spoke 18s on 235/50R18 all-seasons, whereas my Technik S Line-trimmed version would've been kitted out with 10-spoke 19s if it weren't for the upgraded 20s.

Likewise the new Q3's reworked blade shaped taillights finish off its attractive rear quarters nicely, a subtle rooftop spoiler above, new aluminum liftgate in between and racy looking diffuser-style bumper below pulling things neatly together, while dual chrome tipped exhaust pipes appeared as if this little family hauler had something truly saucy hidden under the skin.

Enthusiastic performance yet thrifty economy

All Q3s get the same peppy and efficient direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI four-cylinder. It's good for 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, and ample for a vehicle that weighs 1,585 kilos in its slightest front-drive form and 1,670 kg when equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive. A tried and tested six-speed Tiptronic automatic provides paddle shifters at the steering wheel when the Sport package is added to topmost Technik trim, resulting in truly enjoyable driver engagement. The Q3 certainly gets up and goes quickly, my notes reading, "the engine really takes off" (I'm not at my most creative when scribbling afterthoughts).

Also impressive, its five-cycle fuel economy rating is a claimed 12.0 L/100km in the city, 8.2 highway and 10.3 combined with standard FWD or 11.9 city, 8.4 highway and 10.3 combined with AWD.

Sport package makes for a more entertaining SUV

To make the most of any situation my Sport package equipped Q3 Technik came with a Drive Select button on its centre stack, which when pressed allowed selection of three modes that modulate throttle response, transmission response and shift points, plus steering feel, all displayed on the infotainment screen. Default is Auto, which worked ideally for everyday driving, whereas Dynamic (sport) mode really made a difference to overall feel and seat of the pants results when trying to maximize performance. Alternatively, Comfort does an excellent job of smoothing out untoward road surfaces, whether tackling wilderness trails or taking on the seriously rough stuff in town.

On that note the Q3's ride is superb and its handling fabulous fun thanks to a MacPherson strut front suspension and four-link rear setup, while its speed-sensitive electromechanical power steering reacted to input quickly and gave good feedback along the way. Even the four-wheel discs scrubbed off speed easily and didn't get all mushy after repeated stomps.

The Quattro upgrade certainly helps handling, especially in the wet, but if you're not likely to push the performance envelope the Q3's front-drive setup should be more than adequate for managing most winter conditions thanks to standard traction and stability control. On top of this, all the usual active and passive safety features join standard tire pressure monitoring for a full assortment of safety gear.

Q3 interior is a class act

Like most mid-cycle updates, interior modifications were kept to a minimum. Then again, apply fingers to the four buttons surrounding the MMI infotainment system's centre-mounted rotating dial and you'll likely notice the new Alu-optic soft keys. The finely finished aluminum quartet feels extremely nice to the touch and works as advertised, a nice improvement to an ideal interface for inputting commands to the freestanding tablet-style base 6.5-inch display atop the dash.

Last but not least, Audi added a new more convenient soft retractable cargo cover to the luggage compartment, the latter of which is sizable at 473 litres with its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks upright or 1,365 litres when they're folded flat. A standard pass-through allows you to take longer items like skis along for the ride when the two outboard seats are in use, making the Q3 especially versatile. The Q3's cargo compartment is one of the best finished in its class too, a nice treat in a small SUV segment that sometimes forgets it's supposed to be pampering its premium crowd from front to back.

Pampering is right, with a full soft synthetic dash-top that continues most of the way down the upper instrument panel. The door panels are made from premium pliable surfaces from top to bottom, unusual for this class yet welcome all the same, while padded leatherette inserts sit atop comfortably padded armrests. Attractive aluminum surfacing gets used for the dash and door inlays as well as the lower console, while the Q3's switchgear fits together tighter and is better damped than most competitors.

A better mix of features for 2017

The Q3's standard eight-way powered driver's seat with four-way powered lumbar was superbly comfortable and amply supportive, while its pullout extensions add cushioning under the knees. Additional standard Komfort kit includes auto on/off HID headlights, LED DRLs, LED taillights, LED ambient interior lighting, an electromechanical parking brake, heatable powered side mirrors with LED turn signals, powered windows with auto up/down all-round, rain-sensing wipers, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, MMI infotainment, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with satellite radio and Bluetooth audio streaming, voice activation, heatable eight-way powered front seats, leather upholstery, a panoramic glass sunroof and more for just $34,600 plus freight and dealer fees. The only options in this trim level include $890 metallic and pearlescent paints, Audi's Music Interface for $350 and a powered liftgate for $500.

Second-rung Progressiv trim, which starts at $37,400, adds a new rearview camera, and standard proximity-sensing keyless entry with pushbutton start, rear parking sonar and a powered tailgate that were previously part of last year's $1,500 Convenience package, an awesome value, while carryover upgrades include aluminum window surrounds and roof rails, aluminum doorsills, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, Audi's music interface, and a stainless steel trunk sill.

Progressiv buyers can also add the aforementioned paints, a $1,400 Sport package featuring unique 19-inch alloys, S Line bumpers, a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, Audi drive select, brushed aluminum inlays, sport seats, and a black headliner, while the same 20-inch alloys from my tester can be added to the Sport package for an additional 20 $800. Lastly a $1,900 Navigation package adds a seven-inch infotainment display, upgraded audio, and more.

Top-line Technik trim makes for a seriously advance compact SUV

As mentioned my tester came in $41,700 Technik trim and therefore included everything I've already mentioned as standard, other than the Sport package, which was added to my tester. Other Technik enhancements include LED headlights, dynamic taillight indicators, S Line styling upgrades, S Line doorsills, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors, a colour multi-information display, an upgraded 14-speaker Bose audio system that sounded superb, and the Audi side assist active warning system. Lastly, Quattro all-wheel drive adds $2,500 to all trim levels.

Additionally, Dark Brown Walnut inlays can be had for another $500, while the exterior can be done out in a $500 Black Optics package that details out all of the aluminized exterior trim in glossy black, or a new $300 Daytona Grey contrasting S Line exterior package that details some key S Line trim bits in grey.

A safe bet in the subcompact luxury SUV class

Of note, the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded this latest Q3 a Top Safety Pick for 2016, receiving the highest possible "Good" rating for each test, so it will likely receive the same for the 2017 model. The NHTSA, on the other hand, has already tested the 2017 Q3 and awarded its best possible five-star rating. See what I mean? You don't have to go large to get good.

That's the premise of the Audi Q3. While not measuring up to the Q5 and Q7 in size it comes close to measuring up in luxury, refinement and feature sets while delivering cutting-edge design, superb fuel economy, and great value.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

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