Behind The Wheel: Q3 delivers turbo Audi prestige

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With a turbo-charged engine and a price tag that starts at under $35,000, the 2016 Q3 SUV delivers a fun and nimble ride along with Audi prestige.

The smallest of Audi's three SUVs, the Q3 received some minor updates for 2016, including a new grille, fascia, bumpers taillights and wheels. It also now comes equipped with a review camera and front and rear parking sensors, an overdue upgrade that has come standard on many lower-priced SUVs for years.

The Q3 also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where reliability is rated as much better than average.

The base price of the Q3 also increased by $1,200, but it remains competitive with other small SUVs from luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz.

The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the base 2016 Q3 Premium Plus model is $34,625 with front-wheel drive and $36,725 with Audi's quattro all-wheel drive.

This compares with the $33,885 starting retail price of the 2016 Mercedes GLA with two-wheel drive and optional rearview camera.

All Q3s come with a 200-horsepower, 2-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces a palpable 207 foot-pounds of torque starting at 1,700 rpm and continuing to 5,000 rpm.

In the test-driven Q3 Prestige, the power came on with verve and the SUV felt light and spirited.

Easy to manuever

Rather than lugging along like a heavy SUV might, the Q3, which weighs less than 4,000 pounds, sprinted forward and easily merged with traffic and tucked into lanes.

The German-engineered Q3 scooted up mountain roads, gripping them tenaciously and moving stably through curves and turns. It also stayed responsive, with the driver using the optional steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for downshifts nd upshifts.

While the Q3 is taller than many cars, it's not that tall — just 5.2 feet in height. In length, the 14.4-foot-long Q3 is a full foot shorter than a Honda Civic. This compact size, plus the way the SUV's body was closely hewed to the vehicle's underpinnings, delivered a solid, stable ride.

Passengers noticed a firmness as the test-driven model's 18-inch tires rode over road bumps, and some road noise intruded into the passenger compartment. The ride wasn't jolting, though, when encountering all but the worst potholes.

With the power going to all four wheels in the quattro model, the SUV remained surefooted in wet conditions. On dry and wet roads, there was never any squealing of tires when the driver pressed the vehicle to accelerate quickly away from a stop.

The Q3's interior was impressive, with its crisp streamlined style and distinctive Audi character. Several pleasing amenities, such as panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and sliding, height-adjustable center front-seat armrest, are standard on even the base model.

In the test-driven Q3, the gauges were clear and easy to read. Plastic trim was nicely grained to give a rich appearance. The fit and finish were excellent, and the black leather-trimmed seats were comfortable in the front row.

The Q3's back seat, however, is short on legroom and the rear doorways are narrow. Rear-seat passengers get just 31.1 inches of legroom, which is less than what is in the back seat of a 2016 Toyota Corolla.

The Q3's cargo space behind the back seats is small, too, with just 16.1 cubic feet of room. This is less than the trunk space in some sedans.

But the Q3 cargo space grows to 48.2 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down.

Fuel economy is disappointingly low in the Q3. The test-driven model averaged less than 21 miles per gallon in combined city and highway travel. This translated to barely 350 miles of travel range on a single tank of gasoline.

Premium gasoline is required for the turbo engine, so filling the Q3 cost just under $38 at today's prices.


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