First Drive: 2016 Audi Q3

"Can a crossover be cute and masculine at the same time?"

This is the question I kept asking myself about the 2016 Audi Q3, the smallest—and newest—CUV in the German automaker's North American lineup.

Full disclosure: I, not unlike Brad Diamond, am beginning to feel a little jaded when it comes to crossovers and sport utilities.

I understand their surging popularity and, in some cases, their ability to buoy sinking sportscar brands (I'm looking at you, Porsche), but these cutesy little crossovers are really starting to overwhelm me.

As Brad did with the redesigned Nissan Murano, I put whatever biases I had aside when I picked up the redesigned Q3, forgetting the crossover moniker altogether and instead looking at it like a pudgy hatchback.

Because when you strip this thing down to its mechanical knickers that's all it really is; a slightly taller, slightly wider version of the Audi A3 Sportback, which is built on the same PQ35 platform that underpins everything from the latest generation of the Volkswagen Beetle to the Tiguan.

So if the A3, and particularly the Sportback version that is making its triumphant return to Canadian dealerships after a yearlong hiatus, and the Q3 are so similar then why does Audi sell both?

Well for starters, there is room in the market for a pair of entry-level Audis; and, while I, Mr. Hatchback, can't believe I'm saying this, there is a certain level of practicality to the Q3 versus the A3.

Cargo room grows, albeit slightly, in the crossover compared to the five-door hatch, with 470 litres behind the rear seats and 1,375 litres with them folded flat, while the Sportback makes do with 380 litres behind the seats and 1,220 litres when they're down.

The other thing the Q3 brings to the table that can't be had in the diesel-only 2016 A3 Sportback, and what is quite frankly a game-changer, is Audi's Sport Package.

An $1,800 option on the Q3 Quattro Technik, the Sport Package adds Audi drive select, which offers the choice of Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes, paddle shifters, sport seats up front, and S line sport suspension, which is stiffer and lower than the stock setup.

Add in the 20-inch titanium-coloured wheels shod in 255/35R Pirelli P Zero rubber, and the characteristics of the Q3 change completely, with a more aggressive look and feel that is not available on Sportbacks destined for Canada.

All Q3s in Canada come powered by a 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque, an efficient-if-not-sluggish engine choice for the 3,500-lb. crossover.

Turbo lag is evident, though the Q3 does offer enough giddyup for commuting duty, and the six-speed Tiptronic really adds some pep in Sport mode.

The saving grace, of course, is the power band, which sees maximum torque delivered at an extremely low 1,700 rpm, keeping the Q3 from falling totally flat on its face under acceleration.

When it comes to the looks, well, make your own judgments, but I for one appreciate the exterior aesthetics, particularly the Technik trim and its S line bumpers and LED head- and taillights.

It's still cute, but Audi's new design language translates well to the Q3, with the widemouth grille and TT-esque headlights bringing enough masculinity to the table to let it walk the line comfortably.

And, when compared to other premium compact crossovers on the market, including competition from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti shortly, Audi's entry is one of the best-looking of the bunch.

The Q3 also fares well against its rivals at the pumps, turning in fuel consumption numbers in line with the 9 L/100 KM average provided by Audi, though it does run on premium gas, meaning those with a lead foot will pay as the city average creeps above the 12 L/100 KM mark when pushing it about town.

I'm still a hatchback kind of guy, but the new Q3 is the closest any crossover has come to convincing me otherwise.

Base price: $34,300

As tested: $49,845 (freight included)

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