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The new Audi Q3 is practical and fun to drive.

The second generation of Audi’s Q3 compact SUV is a bit bigger, a bit more powerful and much better composed on a twisting road – which is why I’m twisting and turning the wheel like crazy on this Italian mountain road.

This is ski territory and there really shouldn’t be a road here, but there is. The new Q3’s drive mode is set to “Dynamic” and I’m hitting the brakes, steering through the curve and powering out of the turn through hairpin after hairpin. It helps that all four wheels are digging in. It also helps that the Q3 isn’t much bigger than it is. This is a narrow road and approaching cars keep passing at speed with just a hair’s breadth to spare.

Nobody does small, athletic vehicles like the Europeans, and that’s because of narrow roads such as these. So do we really want such a vehicle in Canada?

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Sure we do. Our city streets may not be made of cobblestone, nor clogged by cars double-parked in every direction, but they’re tight nonetheless. Canada’s an afterthought for the Audi designers, though. The real reason this SUV is a little bigger is to fit it more precisely in size between the smaller Q2, which is not sold in North America because it’s just too small for us, and the larger Q5.

“The Q3 is building the bridge between the Q2 and Q5,” says its exterior designer, Matthias Fink. “Once we have the dimension, which is halfway between those two, then we have to work out the proportions. For me, the proportion is more important than the size, because it’s what you see. The Q3 is really a functional car, but it looks really compact and sporty and robust.”

Of course he’ll say that – he designed it and is understandably biased. But as I power through these Italian roads on the Q3’s new MQB platform, I think he might be on to something.

Tech specs:

  • Base price: TBA ($36,000 estimated)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/Quattro AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): N/A
  • Alternatives: BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, Mercedes-Benz GLA

Looks

This sassy-looking SUV is more of a crossover than a rugged off-roader.

This is a sassy-looking little SUV, though it’s really more of a crossover than a rugged off-roader. New, stronger lines better define the octagonal grille, hood and taillights, which will quickly be lost when the Q3 sits in salt-crusted traffic on the Don Valley. Even so, the Q3 stands out among the competition without being polarizing. My two testers were painted in Pulse Orange and Turbo Blue, which will definitely help locate the car in the mall parking lot.

Everything is stretched: an extra 97 millimetres in length and eight millimetres in width, with a wheelbase 77 millimetres longer. The total height is squished down by 5 millimetres. These are the proportions all-important to the designer, which help make the car look much sportier than its first generation.

Interior

The Q3 has leather as standard in its spacious interior.

There’s more space inside, with the controls directed toward the driver. Just one central display screen (standard at 8.8 inches, upgradeable to 10.1 inches) now handles much of the information, although climate control is adjusted with actual knobs on the dash, not virtual sliders. There’s another screen between the digital gauges and you can opt for the larger virtual cockpit that fills the area behind the wheel with information, including a navigation map. We’ll get two different trim levels in Canada, but both will have leather as standard, with snazzy Alcantara suede surfaces as an option on the seats and fascia. Ambient lighting can be set to any of 30 different colours.

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Performance

Europeans get five different engine choices, but we only get two, both 2.0-litre gas engines; the more powerful creates 230 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft of torque, and the other creates 190 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque (less powerful than the current 200-hp engine). I drove only the 230-hp version, good for zero to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.3 seconds, apparently. Stomp on the gas to overtake something and it takes a moment to gather itself, then accelerates progressively. It’s much more satisfying to keep the engine on the boil.

Steering was very light, and although it stiffened with the Dynamic engine mode and with speed, it never quite offered the feedback I expected.

My tester had a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission, but we’ll get an eight-speed automatic in Canada. The six-speed manual transmissions, and the diesel engines, also stay in Europe, along with the sportier suspensions.

Technology

The Q3 is loaded with driver’s assistance features and is fully connected, as you’d expect with any new-generation vehicle these days. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. The optional Virtual Cockpit is worth the price of admission alone.

Cargo

The Q3 holds 530 litres, or as much as 1,525 litres with the seats folded flat.

There’s more space thanks to the longer wheelbase; cargo area behind the rear seats is up from 473 litres in the 2018 model to a roomier 530 litres, or as much as 1,525 litres with the seats folded flat. The luggage compartment has a clever dual floor that can be either flat or lowered by a few centimetres to create a lip against the rear door – helpful for holding everything in place.

The verdict: 8.0

Improved in every way, the new Q3 is practical and fun to drive. What’s not to like? Perhaps the price – we don’t know yet how much it will cost, but chances are it won’t be much more than the $38,400 MSRP of the base 2018 Quattro-equipped model. Front-wheel drive will not be available in Canada. It would be a much better vehicle if we had the sportier choices of European buyers, who can opt for improved suspensions and a better transmission, but Audi would likely offer these if it thought there’s a market here.

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The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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