“Don’t make any sudden moves,” the beekeeper says as he slides a frame out of the white wooden box. Despite the smoke, which is supposed to calm the some 30,000 residents inside, there is a flurry of activity as he passes the frame, covered with hundreds of Italian honeybees, from his hands to mine. Although I’m fully covered, I fight the urge to flinch—or run—as I feel the vibrations of dozens of pairs of tiny wings hovering near my ears and mouth. I hold the buzzing slab steady, smile for a photo, and carefully return it to its caretaker. In this moment, I’m overcome with an incredible sense of awe and personal satisfaction. I faced a swarm of bees—and survived.
Audi has brought us to this honey farm near Nashville, Tenn., during a test drive of the redesigned Q3, a small crossover aimed straight at those go-getting, adventure loving, bee-fraternizing types. But despite the rebellious marketing image, the 2019 Audi Q3 (starting at $34,700) has all of the practical, reliable German-ness that makes it a formidable competitor to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class and the BMW X2.
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The new Q3 is longer, wider and taller, which means more space for people and things. The new design has a more upright, athletic stance and borrows many cues from the larger Q8, including the wide, octagonal singleframe front grille with vertical bars. A sharp, undulating shoulder line starts from the headlight and sweeps up over the rear quarter panels, highlighting the subtle bulges or “blisters” above the fenders, hinting at the Q3’s standard all-wheel drive in an homage to Audi’s Quattro race cars of the past. Audi is doing cool things with lighting design these days, and the Q3 benefits from those advances, with slim LED headlamps and standard LED tail lights that echo the shape of the daylight running lights in front. Our test cars look particularly feisty in Pulse Orange, a burnished metallic pumpkin and Turbo Blue, an electric shade that is exclusive to the upgraded “S line” package.
Under the hood is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes 228 hp and 258 ft lbs of torque, specs that are on par with the BMW xDrive28i and 20 horses more than the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. It’s enough power to escape the stop-and-go traffic in downtown Nashville and cruise the highways and country roads that lead to our honey-making friends. A range of drive modes adjusts steering feel, throttle response, and shift points, and the 8-speed automatic transmission operates smoothly throughout.
The Quattro all-wheel drive—which is standard for the first time on the model—constantly adjusts the front-to-rear torque split to keep the Q3 planted and in control. Compared with its BMW rival, the Q3 might not feel as sporty and direct, but it’s more comfortable overall and the cabin is much quieter, allowing us to enjoy the optional Bang & Olufsen 15-speaker sound system with minimal road noise. Standard safety features on the mid-range Premium Plus model include side assist, lane departure warning, and a cross-traffic assist function that will apply the brakes if an obstacle crosses the vehicle’s path. The top-level Prestige trim adds adaptive cruise control, park steering assist and a top-view camera.
Inside, a scaled-down version of Audi’s MMI interface comes standard; we suggest the upgraded “virtual cockpit” that includes a configurable instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch display that supports handwriting recognition directly on the screen (but no head-up display, alas). Also optional is Apple CarPlay, which can be accessed wirelessly—and without the subscription fee that BMW charges.
The interior design has touches of personality without looking overdone, with accents done in aluminum or matte wood. For those who prefer not to be so subtle, a sport interior package adds swaths of bright orange Alcantara across the instrument panel and side arm rests, as well as sport seats and steering wheel shift paddles. Rear seats are comfortable for petite and tall drivers alike and are split 40/20/40 for flexibility; there’s also an under-floor storage compartment in the cargo area.
With good looks, capable driving dynamics and plenty of technology features, the 2019 Audi Q3 is a compelling choice in an increasingly crowded pool of options. And it makes for a stylish getaway if you ever find yourself in trouble with the residents at a Tennessee honey farm.