Driving at a social distance

Driving has become one of my soothing tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am well aware of the social isolation we all experience, working alone in my home office in suburban Detroit. But there is still a huge difference between working at home and taking shelter in place. Every now and then, the walls start closing, and I have to get out. When you get a special new crossover like the 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI quattro down the trail, the temptation to escape is greater than usual.

My wife works in public schools, so she was here at home this month as well. We hid in our own corners of the house, each one accompanied by a dog to keep us company. I always invite her to go for a ride with me – she is very smart about cars, often noticing things from the passenger seat which I miss as a driver.

Right away, we were both impressed with the new exterior of the Q3, which has just entered its second generation of production. The Q3 is now a bit larger than before, and crispier than before, giving it a more mature, executive feel that ties in well with the rest of the Audi lineup. Our test car wears a striking coat of Turbo Blue paint, a bold choice that works well.

The virtual cockpit has been a marvel since it was introduced in Audi’s flagship models several years ago, and it’s no less impressive now that it’s moved up to the compact Q3. From a simple tachometer and speedometer layout to a live Google Maps satellite view, the virtual cockpit is customizable and flexible. It works in coordination with MMI and voice control for infotainment and IT. The new MMI now includes a capacitive touchscreen. This means that you get tactile feedback when using the touch screen, as it appears to retract before your finger when you change settings or make selections. Executing functions and changing settings is very intuitive, especially for smartphone users (isn’t that about everyone now?). You can also trace letters and numbers with your fingers on the screen in certain situations, providing another easy way to interact with the system. I spent several hours in the corridor exploring the system, putting it through its paces and getting used to its operation – a very rewarding distraction. I also spent time listening to Bang & Olufsen’s premium 3D surround sound system with 680 watts of amplification and 15 speakers.

What about actually driving? Yes, I did that too. The Q3 uses a small turbocharged four-cylinder (2.0-liter) engine that produces 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which Audi says can get it from 0 to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which sounds right. It uses a quick-change eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. The suspension is five independent links front and rear. Audi doesn’t make much of it, but the Q3 handles well, with a low center of gravity and a direct steering feel. The quattro system enhances cornering in all road conditions. Sturdy build quality and ample sound-extinguishing control make for quiet driving on the highway, and an overall big ride quality for such a small crossover.

My wife and I were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed spending time in Q3, and how much we found to like it on the inside over time.

This compact luxury crossover segment has become jam-packed with great options in the past few years, attracting more owners of smaller sedans and SUVs than expected as automakers roll out cutting-edge features across lineups. Compare the Q3 with BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50, Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC40, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and more.

Starting at $34,700 ($44.745 as tested), the 2020 Audi Q3 has what it takes to compete in the major leagues — and it’s a great way to get out of the house without violating any social distancing guidelines.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: