By on April 11, 2016

2016 Audi Q3 at Hartlen Point, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

A week during which I recently spent driving an Audi Q3 clarified once and for all that, against everything pointing to the contrary, there’s not a bone of pro-Audi bias in my lanky frame.

My father didn’t claim that his handful of Audi 5000 Turbo Quattros — including a couple beige examples — and his red Audi Coupe were the absolute best driver’s cars, but he never wanted to drive what everybody else was driving. No BMWs, no Benzes, no Lincolns.

All five of us kids loved those Audis. One of my older brothers and I would pretend that the unbuckled middle seatbelt attachment was a microphone as we called the race home between Bobby Rahal in the Chevrolet Celebrity alongside, Emerson Fittipaldi in the Ford Taurus up ahead, and our dad in the Audi. And what a race it was. Mr. Cain didn’t take it slow until the four-cylinder Subaru bug bit 15 years later.

With all my childhood experience in five hard-driven Audis, you may forgive the natural eventuality, that in my career as a full-time auto writer, I wouldn’t be able to escape a pro-Audi bias. I’m only human, right?

Or, perhaps I’m superhuman, because try as I sometimes may for my father’s benefit, I’m not blind to an Audi’s faults.

The roots of pro-Audi bias my father thought he was calcifying inside me simply morphed into a desire to drive fast cars with manual transmissions. True, as Audi surged into North America’s luxury mainstream with more reliable cars and a broader lineup, I’ve had opportunity to thoroughly enjoy weeks in an S4, SQ5, S3, and an A6 TDI. But they weren’t perfect.

The S4’s supercharged V6 is mighty, but its B8 A4 architecture was long in the tooth two years ago. The SQ5 is a shockingly effective small crossover, but its exterior dimensions suggest the interior should be larger than it is, and I immediately followed up a week in the SQ5 with a Porsche Macan S test. The Porsche showed the true meaning of “shockingly effective.” The Audi S3 was one of the best cars I drove last year, but it’s difficult for me to imagine making the leap from the Volkswagen Golf R. And the A6 TDI? Bliss, but you can’t even buy one of those now.

2016 Audi Q3, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

I’ll be honest, I can’t say whether the Audi Q3 is awful. But the Canadian-spec 2016 Audi Q3 2.0T Technik Quattro we tested for a week in early March — that specific car — was a whole ‘nuther matter. From its CAD base price of $36,395 (U.S. pricing starts at $34,625), our test specimen added $13,450 in options, a 37-percent increase from the base price for all-wheel drive, navigation, paddle shifters, sport seats, and $800 20-inch alloys on 255/35R20 tires.

Yes, wheels that are sized appropriately for a GMC Yukon on a small crossover that’s seven inches shorter, bumper to bumper, than a Hyundai Elantra. Yes, tires that suit the rear end of a performance-minded Mustang on a high-riding hatchback.

Ride comfort is nonexistent. Never before had our two-year-old commented on a test vehicle’s ride quality, but in the Q3, he accused every road of being a rough road.

There are small blessings. The Q3 isn’t riding on a Wrangler’s 95.4-inch wheelbase, but a 102.5-inch wheelbase that at least makes sure the front and rear axles aren’t struck by the same frost heave at the same moment. But on low-profile 20s, the Q3 suffers from both a busy ride on all but the smoothest roads and from a body that’s severely disturbed by particularly disfigured portions of pavement.

There are vehicles that do one or the other; vehicles that constantly and annoyingly tell you that the suspension is working to mitigate pitch and roll and dive but don’t suffer mightily from expansion joint-intrusions, and other vehicles that remain largely composed until significant failures result from a serious conflict between wheel and pothole.

The Q3 fails miserably on both counts.

2016 Audi Q3 interior, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Should we be surprised? Probably not. This is a vehicle that was only launched in North America at the end of 2014, but the Q3 is based on the platform of the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf, production of which began 13 years ago. We’re not suggesting that the PQ35 platform hasn’t evolved during a period in which Volkswagen introduced a sixth and seventh-generation Golf, but the 20-inch-shod Q3’s lack of ride comfort isn’t the only trait that resembles a former era.

There’s no centre console mount for Audi’s MMI. It’s mounted instead above the low-slung climate controls. The 2.0-liter turbo isn’t the 220-horsepower unit from the current Golf GTI. It’s a 200-horsepower engine that demands premium fuel and travels only 20 miles per gallon in the city.

Furthermore, the Q3 is afflicted by the same disease that oppresses subcompact cars such as the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, and Kia Rio. Pay a little more money and you’ll get much more vehicle. In Audi’s case, the Q5 offers 20 percent more space for passengers, 74 percent more cargo capacity, 20 more horses, two extra speeds in its transmission, and — in all-wheel-drive form — costs just 14 percent more (USD) than the Q3.

Therefore, the rotten ride quality of this Q3 is matched by a rotten deal. Skipping the 20s won’t change that fact. (In fact, Audi USA doesn’t appear to offer the 20-inch upgrade, wisely leaving 19-inch alloys as the only upgrade.)

The idea of premium brands stepping down market sounds great — at first. Consumers believe they’ll get all the characteristics that make an E-Class a true Mercedes-Benz wrapped up in a smaller CLA-Class body, all the swagger of an X5M in a smaller X1, all the Vorsprung durch Technik of an S8 in a Q3. Thousands of consumers accept the notion, but many thousands more do not.

All too often, car reviewers believe consumers are simply getting it wrong. They’re buying too many Altimas, we say with exasperation, not enough Mazda6s. Why won’t they give the Ford Fiesta ST a look, we irrationally cry, instead of hoarding Honda HR-Vs?

But with the smallest premium brand utilities, it seems as though consumers are usually getting it right. In search of a greater sense of luxury, Americans are acquiring Mercedes-Benz GLCs 60-percent more often than GLAs, bless their hearts. BMW USA is selling 1.6 X3s for every Mini-related X1. And in Audi’s case, the Q5 attracts nearly four times as many American buyers as the Q3.

Pro-Audi? Nah, I’m really, genuinely, verily not. But when it comes to the Q3, I certainly do become awfully pro-Q5.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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46 Comments on “Pro-Audi? The Audi Q3 Makes Sure, Against All Odds, That I’m Not...”


  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Personally I think in almost every make you can get lots more for a little more.
    Even my beloved Mazda3 can be bettered by a few, if any, more dollars and get the 6.
    Ditto for the Escape.
    I think the Edge 2.o comes in at around 27, 28K and that is really equal to the Escape!

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      The Mazda 3 vs. 6 is a huge example of this when you normalize equipment between the two models.

      A 3i Grand Touring Auto is roughly equivalent to a 6 Touring Auto in feature content. At sticker prices of $23.5k for the 3 and $25k for the 6, that’s $25 on your payment a month to move to the larger vehicle. Run a truecar and it gets even worse – $22.8k vs 23.7k – so now less than $20/month at incentive financing rates, and the 6 looks like a better deal because it’s a larger % off sticker.

      On a tangent – Mazda misses the boat with some option packaging. I think it’s just wrong to force buyers into top trim models just to get heated seats. You can get them in Focus or Jetta trims with an average transaction price below $20k.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    The similar sized Buick Encore best the Q3 on many metrics and sold more this year than the Q3 did all of last year.

    It is almost as if Audi dealerships just use them as loaners.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      And if Audi is so desperate to destroy its brand for immediate sales, they too can start offering the Q3 for $179/month.

      But then consumers will start to think that Audis are crap like Buicks.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      There’s a tuner out of Henderson, Nevada called “Velocity Bro” that specializes in Buick Encores & Veranos.

      When I visited Vegas Motor Speedway’s drag strip last time I was there, I saw Encore’s ripping off sub-11 second 1/4 mile times with that Velocity Bro tune (it costs $387.23 and is worth every penny, IMO).

      The beet part of that tune is you can spend the day at the drag strip doing sub-11 sec 1/4 miles, then drive home in air conditioned luxury whilst getting 45 mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The high-end quality and performance of the Encore in stock form makes it more of a competitor for the SQ5.

      However, once the Encore is tuned you’d really need an S6 or above to realistically compete with the Buick.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The Encore is super narrow and shoulder-room is at a premium; plus it feels more like a tall hatchback (because it is) than any of the other premium subcompact crossovers. And the styling is disjointed. I really don’t like it at all.

      That said, I don’t like the Q3, either.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    True over $13k for options is a little out of control. But, for under $35k the Q3 is actually a deal compared to its competition. The bland grandma Acura RDX is probably cross shopped against the Q3. That doesn’t even come close to the Q3 personality. A $45,000 Q3 is ridiculous. Yet, Audi can’t keep them on the lot longer then 10 days.

    • 0 avatar
      Nellakwah

      The Q3’s primary cross-shop would likely be the Lexus NX or X1, which attracts a certain kind of new car buyer. The RDX is a size larger. Blander, yes, but it would also blow the doors off a Q3 and is likely more refined with a longer wheelbase and higher profile 18 inch tires.

      Subcompact crossovers are fine, until you compare the back seat and trunk to a comparable compact crossover.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      If you call a rough ride, a cramped interior, and terrible value for the money “personality” it’s no wonder you are a fan of VW in its darkest times.

      That Acura can offer the RDX for the same money Audi offers the Q3 at is an indictment of the Q3, not the RDX. Your fanboyism is showing.

      Truthfully the whole subcompact CUV segment is awful and a clear demonstration of “a bridge too far”. VWAG is no exception. The cost cutting from the Q5 to the Q3 is blatant and downright cynical in its application, and the Q3 is just another demonstration of the unarguable fact that peak Golf is the Golf/GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        You’re correct.

        The NX is more compact than subcompact. The RDX is certainly compact. Ditto for the MKC, which is yet another competitor. But that’s just it. Price-wise, the Euro offerings tend to compete with American and Japanese SUVs that are a class-size larger. You’d spend about the same on the MKX that you’d spend on the X3, even though the MKX is quite a bit larger.

        Between the Q3 and the RDX, I’d have to take the latter. The Acura is less ceremonial, yes, but it’s bigger, has a bona-fide V6, and is a better long-term bet. Of course, I’d take an XC60 over both of those because I just really like that one.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          Especially with the T6 Supercharged?turbo Charged!
          Nuthin wrong with that combo!

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          There’s not even a big mileage ding for that V6- 1 MPG combined and they are equals on the highway… and the RDX is a rocket by comparison, getting to 60 in 6.2 in AWD trim vs 7.8 for the Q3 Haldex… sorry, Q3 Quattro :)

          Just a cynical poorly executed cash grab from Audi, which is bizarre as I’m pretty sure the Q5 is a class leader. In any case it seems it would be better to pony up for the Q5 or step down to an A3/Golf. An A3 wagon or GSW AWD would make this thing completely redundant.

          I’m a big fan of the XC60 as well but big questions loom… will it safely and comfortably hold a rear facing infant seat? Will it fit in my garage without me having to give up a ton of space? And how is that reliability looking? Not ready to take that gamble though it is intriguing…

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Yeah, true Quattro (longitude-engine setup) is one thing, but the AWD system on transverse-enginedVolkswagen products is nothing to write home about.

          • 0 avatar
            JLGOLDEN

            In February, we were looking to replace our 2013 BMW X1, and we looked briefly at the Q3. Loved the style and size, but ended up buying a new A3 sedan (to replace my Impala) and a Golf R as the direct replacement for the X1.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            The RDX with 6 is the top 3 of all my choices.
            I am seriously looking at (without my wife knowing since she says NO MORE CARS).
            My favs now, in no real logical way:

            Edge 2.0 with back up camera.
            RDX with 6.
            CX60 T6 supercharge/turbo.

            The only reason I would not pick the Edge is the worry of mountain drives with a full load. Reviewers have me worried.
            I test drove one last week and around town it was simply wonderful and never lacked power. Very solid car.

      • 0 avatar
        VW16v

        Part of that $13,000 in options is a set of ridiculous wheels. The base Q3 does not have the harsh ride. The rdx is a nice bland vehicle. Which is pretty much reason why people turn to Audi and BMW. For the un-vanilla type vehicle. The Forester Touring has more personality over an rdx.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          “Personality” often means “I’m trying to justify my vehicle’s flaws.”

          There is not a single thing that the Q3 Haldex does better than a RDX other than wear four rings. Its performance and comfort are both inferior, its AWD system is just as bad, and its interior is worse (the only comparison where you’ll ever be able to say that about an Audi versus an Acura).

          The RDX, bland as it may be, is actually a pretty useful reality check on luxury compact and subcompact CUV efforts. It drives well by FWD standards and is a very strong value.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            Style is a thing. Even the crappiest Audi has it…unfortunately the RDX does not. Although I’m sure the RDX is better all around, it looks like a toaster on wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Q3 is hardly a thriller… almost 2 seconds slower to 60, equally boring transmission, less sophisticated AWD system, boring turbo 4 vs a god honest NA V6…. with less overall practicality (cargo and passenger room) as well as identical fuel economy. I’m sure the Q3 is worse equipped out of the box as well… for the extra money you would have to spend on the Q3 you could make the RDX “exciting” with some 20s and high performance summer tires and an intake + exhaust. RDX might not be “exciting” but the Q3 is just as boring while also being a significantly worse vehicle for the $$$. But when it comes to VWAG uncompetitive traits = “character” lmao.

          • 0 avatar
            VW16v

            No one is saying the rdx is an awful vehicle. The average person drives a BMW or Audi for its personality, not for it’s usefulness or reliability. If that was the case BMW would not be leading in the luxury market. On the other hand, consumer reports has rated Audi the highest ranking brand this year. While Acura is down on that totem pole. Don’t even look for Infiniti.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            The first gen RDX – with a turbo and torque vectoring AWD – had personality. Too much, and Acura toned it down for the second gen, which is much better suited to the intended audience. Sales are way up as a result.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Why do you keep arguing the Q3 has any “personality?” It doesn’t. It’s just a poorly executed version of a two-generations-old car with an interior well below its make’s usual standards.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think, honestly, that the new FWD X1 is the best subcompact premium crossover (or even the old RWD one), and that this pales in comparison. If you like the styling, the NX is also a good bet.

  • avatar
    carguy

    If a cramped interior, a rough ride and a high price weren’t enough, the Q3 seals the deal by also serving up sub-par mileage. I have heard owners complain that they get sub 20 MPGs in town.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The 2016 Escalade ESV I rented this past winter had cylinder deactivation and delivered 19.5 MPG average, on regular fuel. That beats the 2011 X5 I had, which never got above 19 MPG on premium.

      The Audi does have terrible fuel economy.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    Unlike most here i firmly see why there is a market for small, premium SUV. Urban professionals, second vehicle for the family, etc etc, there is a market here and as a lessor of an X1 i shop in this segment.

    Where it falls apart is in the pricing, for not a lot more you can go the next size up, that’s what loses me.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    So far, no maker has taken the time and effort to make a reasonably good offering in the subcompact CUV segment. All of them — and this car is no exception — seem like cynical efforts to build something fashionable as cheaply as possible. The compact class represents a much better value.

    Just think about it… is there a winner in the bunch, other than the now-departed rear-drive X1 based on its driving dynamics? The Q3 is a fifth-gen Golf on stilts. The GLA is a CLA, the most wretched car Mercedes has ever built, on stilts. The CX-3 is worse than a Mazda3 in every single respect. The HR-V takes away the Fit’s strengths and leaves the buyer with its weaknesses. The Mini Countryman (and, I assume, its mechanical twin the new X1) manages to be mini inside while feeling maxi behind the wheel. The Jeep Renegade is fun to look at, but also one of the cheapest-feeling products on the market. The Encore is somehow popular with old people, but no reviewers like it or its Chevy sibling at all, panning build quality, power from the 1.4T, and a busy ride.

    It’s a bad class and will need an iteration or two to get better.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Don’t blame the Mk5 platform for a lousy ride. My ’09 GTI has a wonderful balance of comfort and performance, even after 90,000 miles. But my wife’s Tiguan, barely worn in at 40,000, rides like an empty pickup truck on its 19-inch rims. I blame the current taste for wheels that look like they came off a Conestoga wagon, dipped in a chrome bath.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      The point wasn’t that fifth-gen Golfs couldn’t absorb bumps, but that the platform as originally intended likely wasn’t designed with 20-inch wheels/increased ride height/fairly limited body roll – collectively – in mind.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        I was comparing it to a GTI, which rolls on 18s in the summer. So I’d blame the added ride height, even more than the rims, on second thought. If a road irregularity causes the chassis to tip one degree, that sets up a lever motion sideways, and that movement gets amplified the farther up you go. That’s from the Laws of Simple Machines, well-understood for thousands of years. Your body is that lever, and on top of that sits your head, where we sense these movements. If you raised my GTI a foot, the same thing would occur.

        I conclude that all raised vehicles, from pickups to crossovers like this one, will have choppy rides, compared to a car-height car. Unless they have soft suspensions, which would suit most drivers better in almost every situation.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    It seems a little mean to spec oversized insane wheels and then complain about ride quality.

    Yes, Audi offered them (bad on them).

    Audi didn’t make you TAKE them, though.

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    “The SQ5 is a shockingly effective small crossover, but its exterior dimensions suggest the interior should be larger than it is, and I immediately followed up a week in the SQ5 with a Porsche Macan S test. The Porsche showed the true meaning of “shockingly effective.”

    Was it the interior/cargo area that’s half as large as the Audi with the same exterior dimensions, comparably lackluster torque off the line, worse interior quality, or 30% surcharge that’s “shockingly effective?”

  • avatar
    Jimal

    The current Q3 was rushed into production to try and take advantage of the hot CUV market, and it was meant to be a 1-2 year model before it caught up with the Q3 currently sold in Europe, which I believe is MQB. I’d have to look at the numbers, but anecdotally from my time working at an Audi dealer, the Q3 had a much more successful launch with no event or splash than the A3 did with all its hipster baiting.

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