Mini crossovers are, like, sooooo hot right now. This season’s colours are mini, crossover and luxury.

Mini crossovers are, like, sooooo hot right now. This season’s colours are mini, crossover and luxury. Get your 2015 garage-style upgrade here. It seems lately like the automotive world is as fickle as the fashion world. And right now in Canada there is nothing hotter than a small, luxury crossover.

Enter the 2015 Audi Q3. The little Audi cute-ute has been sold elsewhere since 2011 but is a recent addition to Canada’s lineup. An update is due later this year and a second generation is due in 2018, so we’re joining the Q3 soiree midway through the cycle.

While sold as a diesel elsewhere, the Q3 is sold here in 2.0TFSI trim only, which means it’s a 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder. The Q3 is a natural competitor for the GLA and the X1, but it has one other interesting side effect – it might appease some of those who mourn the loss of an A3 hatch. The A3 is now relegated to three-box configuration in Canada (the e-Tron is another story) and the Q3 is not so oversized that it is outside their reach.

That’s just a topping on this cake, though. Mini-crossovers (not to be confused with Mini crossovers) are the fastest-growing segment in Canada. They’re huge and Audi knows that this one will attract customers. Ease-of-entry, ground clearance – for the snow, you see, a confidence-inspiring high driving position and hatchback utility all combine here.

The small footprint is ideal for city dwellers and the 1,670 kg curb weight is small enough to keep the 200 hp/207 lb-ft 2.0L four cylinder feeling zippy. The 473 L cargo area is a ways shy of say an Encore at 530 L – but that’s a function of the sleek and curvy backside. With the rear seats flat there is 1,365 L available – a lot closer to the Encore’s maximum of 1,371.

The Encore is cute, but the Q3 is downright adorable.

I have family with a Q5, they were enamoured by the lines of the funky little Q3 – so much so they’d be willing to forego the extra room of the Q5. From the driver’s seat the smaller passenger volume is not particularly noticeable.

My wife, who avoids frivolous adjectives like they’re the plague, called it “pretty”. All the controls are mounted up on the dash, which while more awkward ergonomically, frees up space between the seats and gives the cabin an airy feel. The backseat is cramped for legroom but I found headroom adequate. There are tires taller than me though, so your results may vary.

With the HMI control knob mounted in the centre stack and not down on the centre console a lot of the usability and ergonomic excellence is removed from Audi’s infotainment system. The steering wheel controls mean basic audio functions are still well taken care of, but inputting navigation commands and scrolling through the menus is all of a sudden far more difficult and attention consuming. It’s bizarre how the natural rest position of your arm when using console-mounted Audi systems improves the user experience.

I found it much less intuitive in this configuration and that illuminated some of the shortfalls that I’ve forgiven Audi for in the past. The HMI screen itself for example, in audio mode, is a lot less informative than BMW’s iDrive or Chrysler’s Uconnect. It doesn’t show track information for Sirius stations until you’ve rested on the station for several seconds [an eternity in Jacob-time –Ed.], you can’t scroll channels by current track title/artist, and the display is starting to look dated and unsophisticated. It’s a minor complaint for most people but one I’m sure Audi will be addressing in the next generation, though only the display (and not the ergonomics) is improved in the updated 2016 model we tested just a short time ago.

Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is in place here, though you can get the Q3 in FWD if you want. Which you don’t. Because winter. The Q3 feels like a car, which in this day and age of unibody cute utes isn’t surprising. The electric-assisted rack and pinion steering is light and easy with a firm centre but it takes too many turns of the wheel to maneuver in parking lots. I felt like I was polishing Mr. Miyagi’s car collection every time I drove out of our underground parking lot – wax on, wax off.

Out on the road the steering is well balanced. It doesn’t get busy on the highway, even in heavy winds and the rack ratio feels right for the flow of Toronto’s on ramps and bends.

The ride, too, is well balanced. Damped enough to keep your spine intact, communicative enough to keep you in the loop and forgiving enough to soak up bumps without affecting handling. Body roll was appropriately contained for a car whose mission is ease-of-use and comfort and yet the overall package was still enjoyable to drive. Audi has done a good job of managing the line between a pleasant, mainstream ride and a vague, uninspiring one.

Some of the credit for that can be laid at the feet of the 2.0L turbo. The Q3 darts forward eagerly from lights and has enough to make short work of your average freeway merge lane. From highway speeds the Q3 begins to run out of grunt – so plan your overtakes accordingly, but in the city you’ll find it more than adequate. A shame we won’t be getting the same 220 hp/258 lb-ft of torque tune as the A3 sedan and top European model.

In the city it’s good for 11.8 L/100 km of Premium according to the EPA and will use 8.4 L/100 km on the highway for a combined score of 10.2. I ended the week on 11 even. That’s a fair bit worse than 7.6 L/100 km I achieved in the Chevrolet Trax – which is a similar size but packs a much smaller and less potent 1.4L turbo engine.

The six-speed auto is smooth and unobtrusive. Like a good waiter, you’ll rarely notice it. There are paddles for manual shifting but they’re like the hot intern at the office – full of promise and potential, but better left to your imagination.

Our tester was the Technik Quattro trim starting at $40,900 – $4,100 more than the FWD Progressiv model. For that money you get all-wheel drive, blind-spot detection, parking aid plus with rearview camera, proximity keyless entry and start, power tailgate and a Bang & Olufsen sound upgrade.

The $1,600 Sport package added sport seats with extendable thigh support while the Navigation Package at $1,950 included MMI Navigation Plus, seven-inch colour display screen and 4.2-inch TFT in the instrument cluster.

Adaptive headlights ($300), Cobalt Blue paint ($890) and 20-inch wheels ($800) rounded out the package and bought our fully loaded tester to a $48,635 as-tested price including $2,095 freight and PDI.

That’s a lot of dosh to dish out for a rig that’s most useful to small urban families and might be an alarming number for the casual browser, but it does fit nicely in underground condo and office carparks. There aren’t many cars with as well-finished interior – both in terms of material and fit and finish (upon which the 2016 update improves, assures me Senior Editor Yarkony), and there is a certain brand panache that some will think is worth paying for. Aesthetically the Q3 hits all the right notes. It’s a more interesting visual statement than the larger and more sedate Q5, with playful curves that are set off beautifully by Audi’s signature lighting treatments. The visual balance of the Q3 is a measure better than that of the Q5. All of this is even more impressive when you consider the design is now four years old.

As we’ve mentioned, the Q3 is also more practical than its brethren for those who park in underground parking lots, venturing out into the cold only to sit in peak hour traffic while they trundle off to work – or to scythe their way through that traffic to deposit their children at school for the day.

The mix of size, utility and safety afforded by a subcompact cute ute clearly resonates with Canadian consumers. With added luxury and prestige courtesy of the four big circles on the grill, Audi’s Q3 is a potential game changer.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
BMW X1
Buick Encore
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Lexus NX
Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

Specifications

Model Tested 2015 Audi Q3 Technik   Destination Fee $2,095
Base Price $40,900   Price as Tested $48,635
A/C Tax $100  
Optional Equipment
Cobalt Blue paint $890, adaptive headlights $300, 20-inch five-arm titanium rotor wheels $800, Navigation Package $1,950, Sport Package $1,600