Already known for building vehicles of seemingly every dimension, from the subcompact A1 to the three-row Q7 crossover SUV, Audi has found yet another vehicular niche. The 2012 Audi Q3 fits into the newish, compact luxury crossover segment populated thus far by BMW's recently launched X1, which will serve as the Q3's chief foil. The Q3 was previewed by Audi's Cross Coupe Quattro concept at the 2007 Shanghai auto show, and now the production version returns to Shanghai for its official bow.
At 172.8 inches long and 72 inches wide, the Q3 is roughly the same size as Volkswagen's Tiguan, but the Audi is sportier and more coupe-like, with a gently sloping roofline and a steeply raked hatch. The handsome design is essentially a shrunken version of Audi's Q5 and Q7 crossovers. Employing aluminum for the hood and rear hatch helps keep the Q3's curb weight to about 3300 pounds.
A large, black mesh grille adorned with Audi's four-ringed badge defines the nose, which is surrounded by a thin line of chrome trim. The headlights are reminiscent of those on the A4 and A5, and the optional xenon headlamps add a C-shaped collection of LED running lights. Audi calls the body creases just below the car's beltline the "tornado line," which helps define the Q3's flared front fenders.
The Q3 sports a similar tailgate design to the larger Q5 and Q7, with a subtle roof spoiler and wedge-shaped taillight assemblies that include optional LED treatments. The high stance affords 6.7-inches of ground clearance -- not enough for serious off-roading, but plenty for a suburb-bound crossover.
The interior follows typical Audi standards, with a smart assortment of dark plastics, accent pieces, and switchgear arranged throughout the cabin along the lines of the new A1 subcompact. The Q3 offers an impressive array of optional toys for its size, including LED ambient lighting, adaptive headlights, adaptive cruise control, a panoramic glass roof, heated seats, keyless entry and ignition, and a variety of sound systems, topping out at the MMI navigation system with Bluetooth. All Q3s can be specified with Audi Drive Select, which lets drivers choose from multiple settings for the steering, engine, and transmission response. It also includes a new efficiency mode, which tweaks air-conditioner and cruise-control operation to maximize fuel savings.
In Europe, three engines will be available at launch, all of them displacing 2.0 liters and combining turbocharging with direct injection. Two gasoline variants offer 170 or 211 horsepower, while the turbodiesel unit produces 177 horsepower; a 140-horsepower diesel will debut later. Audi says the 140-horse engine can return up to 45 mpg on U.S. testing in front-wheel-drive Q3s; the 211-horsepower model can reach 62 mph in a claimed 6.9 seconds. All of the engines have stop-start functionality to help reduce fuel consumption.
The gasoline engines and the more powerful diesel come with Audi's signature quattro all-wheel drive, while only the weaker diesel gets front drive. The 140-horsepower diesel and 170-horsepower gasoline engines are available with a six-speed manual, while the beefier engines get Audi's seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission standard.
Safety gadgets abound. Side Assist alerts drivers to vehicles in their blind spot, and Active Lane Assist can steer the vehicle if it wanders out of its lane. There's also a hill-holder feature. An available system reads speed-limit signs and displays them in the instrument cluster. For the truly lazy, the optional Park Assist will steer the Q3 into a parking space without scraping nearby objects.
The 2012 Audi Q3 will arrive in European dealerships this June. There are no confirmed plans to bring the luxury crossover to North America, but Audi has been loudly hinting that the Q3 will eventually make it to the U.S. Audi will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how the BMW X1 fares before it decides what to do.