This week we took the all-new 2015 Audi Q3 2.0T Quattro compact crossover SUV on-road through Oak Creek Canyon and off-road above Sedona, AZ to see if it can be both a touring and back-roads SUV.

While new to the United States and Canada this year, the Audi Q3 in its current form began production as a 2012 model for other global markets. Therefore while fresh, its design language is a few years older than say the current 2015 A3 sedan.

Based on the same platform architecture as the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Q3 has a decidedly SUV stance with visible significant ground clearance. Standard are Xenon headlights and LED tail lamps. Ours was optioned with the larger 19” wheels.

Instead of taking black plastic clad off-road design direction, the Q3 has body colored fender flares and lower body trims. Thus, the Q3 leans more upscale and sophisticated in its look, leaving the hiking boot style to its lesser market peers. As we’ll find out however, it didn’t give up hiking boot capability.

Inside, the Q3 gives you what Audi is most known for, a high quality interior with top notch design, fit and materials in every direction. Standard trim includes leather seating surfaces and genuine patterned aluminum. Polished wood trim is available however.

A standard panoramic sunroof is a nice touch especially up here on our road trip where tall trees and cliffs above are made part of the your environment. Standard climate control is simply laid out as are the center stack controls.

Our Q3 had the Audi MMI Navigation Plus package which has its main controls on the center stack just below the screen. Its controls were easy to use, its menus most intuitively laid out – though there is a moderate learning curve at first.

While the infotainment system is well full featured for connectivity and information a number of little things were missing. These include a back-up camera and a USB port for connectivity or charging.

Under the hood is the brand’s 2.0 liter TFSI four-cylinder engine with 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. Power is delivered through a standard six-speed TipTronic automatic transmission and in ours
through the optional Quattro all-wheel drive system.

Torque throughout the rev-range was fat with little turbo-lag to spoil the experience heading up the mountain road. The TipTronic automatic transmission was good to downshift easily and smoothly, a good match in this vehicle.

This power-train is rated at 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. Note that last number because in our week with the Q3, we achieved 26 mpg combined – well more than promised even with our mountainous driving.

On Highway 89A, the Q3’s driving dynamics were sublime, refined and pure. The road’s smooth pavement and banked tight curves really made it feel good up here. Steering is crisp and precise giving excellent turn in responses. Body roll is barely more than in an A3 sedan.

My biggest takeaway so far on the drive is that even though this is the entry-level Audi crossover, it offers up the same level of quality feel, handling joy, and German solidness you spend up for which you would expect even in their top models. You can’t say this for all German brands.

Coming out of the tight winds of Oak Creek Canyon and into Sedona, wide vistas open up letting you see for the first time the signature red rock cliffs that define this place. These colorful cliffs tower over and surround the city.

The main street through Sedona is lined with art galleries, gift shops, cafes and eclectic boutiques for the tourists. The city is home to many artist colonies, luxury resorts and offers the vacationer many opportunities to get out and see it all.

Sedona is about much more than this though, offering comfortable year-round living for thousands of full and part time residents at the foot of these red rock mountains. And it’s back into these mountains where Sedona’s treasures are really found.

On Schnebly Hill Road just outside of Sedona, the pavement ends and it gets rocky very fast. It’s the only way to get up into these red mountains to see them up close. While not a true off-roading trail, it’s well to rough and rutted for passenger cars.

Here you need ground clearance, a good eye for sharp rocks and holes, and the traction of all-wheel drive when it’s wet. In such, the Audi Q3 proved a willing partner even on the hairiest of sections. In the end, it got us to that place where the rocks are red at sunset.

Overall, the 2015 Audi Q3 achieved 4.5 out of 5 star for our test and goes on our I’d Buy It List for this year.