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2019 Audi Q3 First Drive: Elevating Entry-Level Luxury

Sometimes luxury isn’t about having the most extravagant or unique feature but instead is established by delivering the same amenities, quality and technology as larger, more expensive models in a brand’s lineup. That’s what the redesigned 2019 Audi Q3 subcompact luxury SUV does, putting Audi’s smallest SUV in a good position to take on class newcomers like the Volvo XC40 and Lexus UX. At Audi’s invitation we traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to see what the new Q3 is like to drive. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own airfare and lodging at such automaker-sponsored events.)

Related: Here’s Everything We Know About the New Audi Q3

Larger than its predecessor in all key measurements, the Q3 comes standard with all-wheel drive and a 228-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that works with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It went on sale earlier this month with a starting price of $35,695, including a $995 destination charge. I tested a Q3 S Line Premium Plus model with an as-tested price of $43,295.

Powerful Enough

The Q3’s drivetrain makes decent power that’s good enough to prevent the SUV from feeling sluggish, but it’s not strong enough to make the Q3 feel quick. The T5 version of the XC40 and the BMW X2, by comparison, deliver gutsier acceleration while the UX 200 feels the slowest of the group.

Helping the Q3 considerably is its responsive automatic transmission; the gearbox willingly kicks down under part and full throttle to make the most of the engine’s power, and the transmission makes smooth, predictable shifts.

2019 Audi Q3

Audi Drive Select is standard and includes five selectable driving modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual and Off-Road. The Comfort setting doesn’t help the drivetrain’s cause; gas pedal response is lazy, which makes the modestly powered four-cylinder seem even more lethargic. Selecting the Sport setting, however, heightens gas pedal response without making it feel too jumpy.

The EPA rates the Q3 at 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined, which trails comparable versions of the BMW X1 (25 mpg combined) and XC40 (26 mpg combined). The UX 200, which comes only with front-wheel drive, is way in front with a rating of 33 mpg combined. The Q3 does take regular gas, which is something of an equalizer according to the EPA’s fuel-cost estimates (the X1 and XC40 use premium).

2019 Audi Q3

Confident Cruising

Many small SUVs aren’t that enjoyable to drive on the highway, but the Q3 doesn’t fall into that camp. It’s stable and poised with the confidence-inspiring feel of a larger vehicle. Light-effort steering is direct and precise, which adds to the Q3’s highway manners. Get above 65 mph, however, and wind and road noise intrude.

All Q3s have a fixed suspension, but the SUV comes with a choice of wheels: standard 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, available 19-inch wheels with all-seasons or 20-inch wheels with summer tires. Our Q3 had the 19-inch wheels, and the mostly smooth roads and highways in and around Nashville didn’t do a lot to test the setup’s ride comfort. However, the few stretches of rough pavement we did encounter produced a firm, bumpy ride.

2019 Audi Q3

The Q3 didn’t much care for the winding country roads that made up most of our route. Tossing it into a corner induced moderate body roll, but worse than that revealed the SUV’s nose-heavy feel. Unlike the X2, the Q3 doesn’t urge you to drive faster. Selecting Sport mode tightens the steering a bit, which improves cornering feel, but it doesn’t change the sense that the Q3 is more at home cruising on the highway than tackling backroads.

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Class-Up Cabin

The Q3’s cabin doesn’t break any new ground from a design or technology standpoint, but it’s successful because it feels just as nice as the interiors of Audi’s compact Q5 and three-row Q7 SUVs. There are a few areas that have slightly lower-grade trim, like the slab of plastic where the center console meets the dashboard, but the materials and controls otherwise look and feel as nice as what’s in the Q3’s larger siblings.

2019 Audi Q3

The defining elements of the Q3’s cabin are its digital instrument cluster and center touchscreen, both of which are standard. A $2,000 Navigation Package upsizes both screens and adds Audi’s Virtual Cockpit technology. Virtual Cockpit lets you customize the appearance of the cluster and brings Google Maps satellite imagery to the instrument panel. Other standard features include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a panoramic moonroof and a power liftgate.

Heated leather front bucket seats are also standard, and they were comfortable for a day of driving. The side bolsters of the regular seats don’t do much to hold you in place in corners, but the Q3 S Line’s available Sport Interior Package includes sport seats with more substantial side bolsters.

The Q3’s backseat is more comfortable than you might expect. The 40/20/40-split bench seat slides forward and backward, and the backrest reclines. Headroom is good, and the panoramic moonroof helps the space feel airier.

In the Market

Luxury brands have long used compact sedans to court new buyers, but in a market revolving more and more around SUVs, it’s models like the Q3 that’ll increasingly become consumers’ introduction to luxury brands. For Audi, the new Q3 makes a good first impression overall, and it should appeal to both first-time luxury buyers and shoppers wanting to downsize from a larger luxury vehicle.

2019 Audi Q3

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