Mountain Wheels: Tech upgrades add to Audi Q3’s frugal versatility

One of Audi’s most popular vehicles, the small Q3 offers two engine choices but is universally outfitted with Quattro AWD.
Courtesy photo

People may occasionally dismiss the offroad capabilities of your average contemporary SUV, but after a deliriously exhaustive intermountain route a few weeks back in the 2022 Audi Q3, I can state that this low-cost and urban-oriented automobile still has a versatile, all-road spirit.

We don’t get much opportunity to see everything Audi now does in our Denver-area media fleet, but my ride in a considerably upgraded S Line 45 model — priced at $48,740 — suggests that the company’s incremental tech changes are starting to appear in every model.

You can still, conceivably, order a base Q3, the 40 model, for about $34,000, which will get you a 184-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo, and still come with standard Quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

My S Line model starts at $38,700 and gets the added bonus of a higher-output 2.0-liter, generating 228 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. That makes it more than a second and a half faster to 60 mph than its smaller brother, but can still generate an appealing 28 mpg or more on highway drives.

The newest tech bits, included as an optional technology package, include a very impressive 10.1-inch touch display screen with 3D Google maps, using over-the-air data to build their displays as I drove along — sometimes with snow, of course — but surprisingly useful, even in low-cell-service zones.

I also got the full 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display, with more adaptive readouts or duplication of the maps, plus a premiums Sonos sound system.

The Q3 also came with an optional black optic sport package, which offered high-gloss black trim and roof rails, specially embossed and highlight stitched sport seats, and a cool LED mood lighting system. For some reason, the phone signal-boosting Audi phone box was not included. A triplicated set of upgrades put the Q3 on 20-inch wheels, upgraded from the standard 18-inch and the 19-inchers part of the sport package.

Q3 debuted in 2013 and has been one of the German brand’s most popular models in the U.S., but this most second-generation model, which first appeared in 2019, incorporates the more cubist style cues seen in the very fancy Q8.

Inside, it’s still a low-drama affair, with a simplified console and a dash and displays that are not overwhelming in any way. You’ll find an easier-to-access stop-start button located higher on the stack, and a real volume knob I managed to miss for the first five days of my drive — plus a wide tray topped with drive select and hill descent controls.

For the first time, I actually got a Q3 off the pavement and cruised along a series of rough gravel back roads between Golden and Black Hawk. That allowed me to try out the real off-road settings and discovered that they disabled the stability control — maybe this is designed more for fording streams or crawling over boulders — and also found that the hill-descent kicked in once I hit a pretty steep grade.

The reality is that Q3 is still mostly crafted to be a small but competent urban machine, with enough all-weather versatility to make it a great winter performer. 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.

This model certainly provides an attractive re-tooling 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. For the upcoming 2023 models, full LED headlights are standard and a wireless charging pad will replace that phone box — now I see what was going on. The standard 40 model will get 18-inch wheels as its regular choice, plus 19-inch wheels as an option

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