Since doing this job, I’ve driven and reviewed so many cars I’ve forgotten most of them. Yet I can still clearly remember the tepid awfulness of the first-generation Audi Q3.
In this modern era, there are very few bad cars on the road. Even boring cars are objectively good at being cars; A-to-B transportation machines. But the first-gen Q3 was about as bad as a modern car can get. It was miserably slow, had a cheap feeling interior, had poor ride quality, sloppy handling and too high of a sticker price. I actually can’t remember a single redeeming quality.
So when the second-generation Audi Q3 made its official debut, I was filled with optimism. The new car looks great, has a fantastic interior, is built on an all-new chassis with tons of promise and it sports a punchy enough engine (in America) to make it real-world quick.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to review this new Q3. I had high hopes for the improvements it supposedly made. Plus, I’m one of the few enthusiasts that actually really likes the BMW X1. It’s probably the best small crossover on sale, with good steering, a playful enough chassis and nice interior. So is this new Q3 capable of taking on its top-shelf Bavarian neighbor?
Makes a Great First Impression
For starters, the second-gen Audi Q3 looks far better than before. While it’s not gorgeous, its design is a massive leap forward over the car it replaces. Thanks to its more aggressive headlights, new front air intakes, larger grille and swollen wheel arches, this new Q3 looks sportier and more premium than before. I even liked the relatively small wheels (they’re still 19-inchers) and meatier tires on my test car and I loved the Turbo Blue exterior color. The latter made a typically bland car seem far more interesting.
Step into the new Q3 and you’re greeted with a cabin that would fit in a car costing twice as much. It’s seriously high-quality on the inside, with superb build quality, top-notch materials and an ergonomic, high-tech design that both looked and felt premium. Its interior is the best part of the car and I was always happy to spend time in it. I actually can’t think of a single gripe.
My test car had the optional Sport Interior Package and it’s well worth the $500 Audi asks for it. The S Line sport seats it brings are worth the money themselves, as they’re not only great looking but wonderful to sit in; both comfortable and supportive.
Dominating the interior is Audi’s latest technology, though. The large MMI Touch Response screen looks great and is easy to use. Personally, I don’t love touchscreens but Audi’s is among the best in the business, if not the very best. Graphics are slick and easy to read and the touchscreen is quick and responsive. But we’ve already reviewed this system a ton. The fact that it’s standard on a relatively inexpensive crossover is impressive.
Equally as impressive is Audi’s latest Virtual Cockpit. Again, I’ve raved about it since it first debuted in the pre-facelift, second-gen Audi Q7. It’s better than it’s ever been and far better than anything else it competes with. Just a joy to use.
If Only the Drive Matched the Looks
What wasn’t always a joy was actually driving the Audi Q3. Before I nitpick it, I want to preface this by saying the new Q3 is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. It’s better than the car it replaces in every single way; suspension, comfort, handling, steering and performance. However, while objectively competent and a big improvement over a pretty bad car, there’s absolutely zero joy in driving it.
The new Audi Q3 may be one of the absolute least interesting cars I’ve ever driven. It’s not bad; its steering is responsive enough, its suspension is supple and composed and its performance is more than peppy enough. However, it never seems particularly interested to be doing any of it. It’s just… a car. A premium, stylish, transportation appliance.
Honestly, that’s fine. Audi Q3 customers are not looking for a hair-raising, high-performance experience. As much as I’d love a more enjoyable experience, 99-percent of its customers are going to love it. There’s nothing it really does wrong. It’s just wholly uninteresting to drive, due to its lifeless and gluey steering, rattle-can engine noise and complete lack of enthusiasm.
I think where my disappointment lies is in the fact that most of the other cars which share the same chassis are far more fun to drive. If the Q3 just drove like a big Volkswagen Golf, it’d be outstanding. But it doesn’t, so it isn’t.
Having said that, as an actual car, it’s hard to fault the Q3. Would I still prefer the BMW X1? Yes, it’s the nicer driving car. But for customers that care more about everything else, I can understand choosing the Q3 instead. It looks good, has a great interior, has a comfortable suspension, tons of tech and surprising practicality. All of that is crammed into an affordable package, making it a car that’s absolutely worth buying. Just so long as whoever’s buying it doesn’t actually care about driving.