Mountain Wheels: Audi’s enhanced Q3 SUV aims for an urban audience |

Mountain Wheels: Audi’s enhanced Q3 SUV aims for an urban audience

Updates to the popular Audi Q3 boost power to 228 horsepower and add a variety of high-end digital displays and tools, for a reasonable starting price.
Courtesy photo

While mountain folk love the idea of wilderness and generally uncrowded conditions — like my friends who visit Denver maybe once a year, if they have to at all — there’s a whole generation of younger people clamoring for the urban lifestyle.

And it’s those entrepreneurial and aspirational big-city types that Audi has imagined are the ideal market for its new 2019 model of the Q3 SUV. They’re hoping it will resonate with big city artisans and creatives who’d like to break into the world of European SUVs without breaking the bank. Personally, I think it’s a reasonably sized, winter-ready machine that’s an affordable platform for making weekend mountain trips to get the hell away from all that civilization.

To test their hypothesis, we spent a couple of days in Nashville, Tennessee, absolutely up to our armpits in sexy urban culture, including a visit to Jack White’s Third Man Records and a night with Audi’s female chef-focused culinary series, helmed by 2019 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award winner Ashley Christensen.

Based on the mind-bending traffic on the roads and terrifyingly clogged freeways circling Music City, which rivals Denver (or Dubai) for the enormity of simultaneous high-rise construction, Q3 drivers are really going to dig any chance they get to unwind with a spirited cruise, as we did in the rolling hills outside of town.

Q3 debuted in 2013 and has been one of the German brand’s most popular models in the U.S., but this most recent update incorporates the more cubist style cues seen in the very fancy Q8. It also brings a wide array of advanced technology found on more expensive models as standard equipment in a package that starts at $34,700. Every Q3 comes complete with standard Quattro all-wheel drive, as well.

The vehicle’s size has been bumped up a bit, with 3.8 additional inches of length and 1.5 inches of width, producing a 176.6-inch long vehicle with just a little more presence overall. Q3’s cousin, the Volkswagen Tiguan, is still a little longer, but the Audi gains improvements in rear-seat space and headroom, bountiful back-of-vehicle storage and a comfortable ride height.

For 2019 U.S. models, a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo is the single choice, offering 228 horsepower, up 28 HP from previous engines, and delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s not blindingly fast (a zero-to-60 time of 7 seconds), but the extra turbo power will mean easier mountain drives, and highway cruising certainly felt solid and accomplished. Highway mileage is also expected to be about 27 mpg, though our slogs through Nashville’s endless gridlock produced slightly less impressive results.

The Q3 offers five driving modes, boosting the buzz for faster shifts or optimizing the vehicle for the off-road driving we most certainly did not do in Nashville’s urban environment. Not to worry, however, as Quattro and slightly improved clearance, plus a hill descent control switch, mean the Q3 will still do all the legendary Audi winter and gravel trail running you are more likely to throw at it. Wheels from 18 to 20 inches are available; curiously, the bigger wheels feature painted plastic surfaces, about the only chintzy detail on the whole car.

The new model certainly provides an attractive retooling of Q3’s looks, with a bold and distinctive octagonal grille, a more flattened hood and bright LED headlamps (and taillamps), also standard fare on all models. A large and bright full-cabin sunroof is standard as well, plus heated leather seating.

Interior details are also clean and pleasant, with real wood and aluminum trim available, and in the slightly pricier ($36,000) S-line sport model, you also have the option of blazingly bright orange Alcantara suede inserts.

With those flashy urban tech kids in mind, Q3 ups its game by providing the second generation of Audi’s digital cockpit displays, with two available sizes of bright and easily reconfigurable instrument panels that can include full-sized maps.

There’s also two different and comfortably wide navigation and entertainment touchscreens for the dash. And rather than futzy trackpads on the center console, the new system now simply incorporates Audi’s MMI input system itself, meaning you can scribble letters or words on the screen to pull up directions and destinations. A large cordless phone charging pad (the Audi Phone Box) is also a useful feature, conveniently helping to boost your cell signal while your phone juices up.

Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at

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