Confirmation bias can be a tricky thing to overcome in this business. You might not know this, but some people in this business think I have a bit of a preference for the Blue Oval. Some of my frenemies in the automotive journalism world have accused me of being pro-Honda. As for me, I’d like to think that I can objectively evaluate any car, but let’s be realistic here — we’re all humans. We have experiences and biases that rear their ugly heads even when we are doing our damnedest to shove them deep down inside ourselves.
But there’s a entire class of car I personally find reprehensible, for no other reason than I find the types of people who drive them to be, well, reprehensible. When I think “Luxury Compact CUV,” I think “Basic Bitch.” These vehicles serve no actual purpose. In most cases, they have less space than their compact car siblings, worse gas mileage, and prices that soar at least $5-7k higher. The only reason to purchase or (more likely) lease such a Basicmobile is to fit in with the other SAHMs in your subdivision who have seamlessly transitioned from college frat mattress to PTA vice-president in only 10 years flat. When a female friend of mine texted me recently with, “What do you think about the Audi Q3?” my response was so vile that I can’t put it into print (and if you think about the things I’ve written, that’s saying something).
As a result, I was absolutely determined to hate the 2017 Audi Q3 Premium when I selected it from the Emerald Aisle at Miami International Airport. There was only one problem with drinking this particular flavor of haterade.
It’s a pretty damn good car.
Of course, it took me a little while to come to this conclusion. I hate the fact that it’s called “Premium.” The Premium is the base, no fog lamps, no navigation, smaller wheels model — so why is it called “Premium?”
For a “Premium” car, the interior is flat-out disgusting. In fact, it wouldn’t be acceptable in a $18,000 car, much less one that starts at $32,900 USD. The knobs and switches feel much more Volkswagen than Audi — and that’s being kind, considering the interior of the last VW I reviewed (the Golf AllTrack) was miles better than this. While nobody in Miami would opt for the combination of black leather interior and a panoramic sunroof in a daily driver, in my rental, it made the seating areas a “No Shorts” zone, as the leather quickly became hot enough in the middle of the day to scorch the thighs of unsuspecting passengers.
Then there was the fact I couldn’t connect my phone to the infotainment system via USB — the port was specifically marked “charging only.” In my seven years of driving over 40 different cars per year, that was a first. Luckily, connecting via Bluetooth was seamless and easy — just kidding. It was a seven-step catastrophe that the Q3 made me repeat every time I started the car, forcing me to pair my device multiple times per day.
This wouldn’t have been quite as annoying if the infotainment wasn’t a relic from the turn of the century. Of course it’s not a touchscreen, because those are available in Ford Fiestas. No, it requires a bizarre combination of knobs and buttons to use, and none of the menus make any sense whatsoever. And once you’ve managed to get your device to actually pair for the third time that morning, it treats you to an audio assault resembling nothing so much as children beating pots and pans together, as the stereo system is unlistenable.
Okay, did you make it through all the silly complaints about the interior? Good. Because here’s the good part: the car is an absolute hoot to drive.
If you can look past the terrible interior and the absent fog lights (on a $32,900 car!) and the overall poverty-spec level accoutrements of the car ($32,900!!), you realize that the Q3 is essentially a lifted Golf. And this is a very, very good thing.
The suspension is sorted well enough to make driving in Miami borderline tolerable, even with the horrible roads, relentless traffic, and army of uninsured Altima pilots surrounding you. It somehow manages to be soft enough for daily comfort but stiff enough to make taking the occasional on-ramp at speed mildly exhilarating. The base 18-inch wheels and tire combination look somewhat small and, again, poverty-spec in photos, but in daily usage they combine to provide excellent grip and lateral stability. This led to all sorts of inappropriate hooning on my part and some rather curious looks from passersby, most of whom weren’t expecting to see a middle-aged fan in Oakleys giggling his head off behind the wheel.
The 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four motor isn’t a powerhouse per se, but it’s sufficiently motivated to make the Q3 seem like you could be relatively competitive in a local autocross, should it come to that. I was mildly surprised to see that the manufacturer’s 0-60 test number was just a hair under 8 seconds — the little Audi feels much more lively than the data suggests. Highway noise and vibrations were tolerable, at best, but maybe that’s because the Q3 seems happiest when it’s revving high and dancing into open spots between cars, darting into spaces that its more portly brethren wouldn’t and couldn’t manage.
As a result, when driving the Q3 I often found myself saying out loud, to nobody in particular, “Man, I like this car.” It’s qualitatively fun to drive, it fits into just about any parking space you want it to, and it even satisfies the badge whore within.
But there’s one thing that’s entirely wrong about the Audi Q3 Premium (well, other than being called “Premium”) — the price. There’s no way in hell this thing is worth $32,900. It just isn’t. In fact, I’d have a hard time paying anything over $25k for it. The interior isn’t worth it. The motor, while suitably spry, needs another 70-80 hp to justify that price tag. The paint is of similar quality to any subcompact on the market. It doesn’t even have fog lamps. All of this is forgivable in a Golf, or even a GTI. None of it is forgivable in a car that clocks in at right around the average vehicle transaction price in America. If you’re gonna charge average money, you gotta include average content, even if you do put the four rings on the grille.
In the end, the Audi Q3 is pretty much the opposite of most of the people who buy it — a good heart, but just too cheap on the outside to make it worth the money.
[Images: © Mark “Bark M.” Baruth]