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Deep Dive: Audi Q1 and Junior Crossovers: Small and Even Smaller

Space below the Q3? You bet. Room for two? Why not?

"We believe that small crossovers are the next big thing, so we want to tap this market before our rivals do," says a senior manager from Audi. We hear that and think, "Haven't you already done that with the Q3? Might you tap the market even further if you build the TTQ? What else could you possibly do?" Another small crossover, the Q1, as well as an itsy-bitsy, entry-level two-door crossover — tentatively dubbed Junior.

The Q1 (shown above in our illustration) will in essence be a re-bodied, short-wheelbase Q3 to take on the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, and two-door Range Rover Evoque. The Audi Q1 will share its footprint with the A3 hatchback, but its running gear, chassis, electronic platform, and basic architecture will bear a very close resemblance to the Q3, which will grow dimensionally in its lifetime to make more room for the Q1. In an attempt to capture a more youthful appearance, the Q1 will fuse themes of crossover, Sportback, and Avant and will be finished with contrasting sideblades covering the C-pillars, big wheels, and sporty appearance packages. Inside, the instrument panel will be tilted toward the driver, and there will be simplified multimedia controls, a multifunctional head-up display, a slimmer center console, and a top-notch infotainment system.

As a member of Volkswagen's MQB family, the Audi Q1 could easily be offered with three-cylinder engines, a plug-in hybrid powertrain, or an all-electric setup — but it won´t be. The engine lineup instead is expected to be made up of five different four-cylinders: a 140-hp, 1.4-liter turbo; a 180-hp, 1.8-liter turbo; a 230-hp, 2.0-liter turbo; and two 2.0-liter diesels. Output will range from 150 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque to 190 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. There will also be a brawny SQ1, powered by a compression-ignition, twin-turbo four-cylinder good for 230 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque. Also in the cards but not yet approved is the RS Q1 featuring the 310-hp turbocharged four-cylinder from the TTS.

In 2016, once production of the Audi Q5 has been transferred from Ingolstadt to Mexico, the German parent plant will start building the Q1 at a rate of around 70,000 units a year on the same assembly line as the A3. Starting at less than $30,000, the Audi Q1 will go on sale in Europe in early 2016, but the U.S. won´t get it before 2018, after the larger, second-gen Q3 debuts.

Audi Junior

A couple of years after that, we should see the Junior. In a sensible world, it would wear the Q1 badge, the Q1 would wear a Q2 badge, the Q3 would stay the same, and the TTQ would come to market as Q4. But because the rights to a couple of those names are clenched in the fists of Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne, nemesis to Volkswagen Group's chairman Ferdinand Piech, Audi must find suitable substitutes, which is why this ultra-small crossover might be called Junior. (Remember the DKW Junior? Of course you don't. The last of the three-cylinder bonsai sedans, the Junior rolled off of Auto Union's line in 1963, five years before DKW bit the dust and Audi gobbled it up.)

"We still have a bit of time on our hands," says a senior manager from Ingolstadt. "But in the end, it's the product that matters, not the label stuck on it." Starting at less than $23,000, the Junior is at this moment only planned as two-door model, and one of the very few sources who are familiar with the project claims that early proposals mix TTQ styling elements with overtones of the Steppenwolf concept. A two-door is a much harder sell, but Audi needs to protect the Q1 and the even more profitable Q3. A friend from the board of directors says: "By positioning the car as a sporty two-door coupe, we don't exclude the option to add two doors at a later stage if the market really requires them. What matters more is to define the character of the crossover, which would have to be even younger and more daring than the Q1."

Items on the wish list for the entry-level Audi Junior include a selection of fancy driver aids, best-in-class build quality, and the kind of interior appeal one has come to associate with Audi. The Junior will get Quattro all-wheel drive and Audi's S tronic dual-clutch transmission. If built, the Junior would likely be available with two three-cylinder engines (115-hp, turbocharged 1.0-liter and a 110-hp diesel) and three four-cylinders (140- and 180-hp gas engines and a 150-hp diesel). A more powerful S variant is a possibility but not a priority.

Here, with the Junior, we see how Audi is trying to edge out its rivals. BMW has nothing smaller than the XCite in its pipeline, and Mercedes-Benz has nothing smaller than the A-Class in its plans. Audi's right that small crossovers are the next big thing, but is there really space for a few new models below the Q3? Clearly, Audi thinks so, even if its competition doesn't.