Audi SA has added another character to its growing portfolio of products, this time with the new Audi Q3 Sportback. The Q3 Sportback is essentially a compact coupé-SUV version of the popular Q3 and tags onto the Q3 range as a differentiated offering.
It is still a niche segment of the market, but as we’ve seen in many SUV portfolios, that word niche may be dropping off our motoring vocab when referring to these cars very soon. All premium German manufacturers already play in this space as does Toyota. As far as the sales numbers go, there is a definite increase in the take-up of the coupé-SUV as buyers opt for style over practicality as far as possible. This genre offers a balance of both, with the high-riding and voluminous cabin still being offered yet within a sleeker frame. In South Africa, Audi has noted a 10% year-on-year growth within this segment specifically comparing the CUV to the traditional SUV. Following the introduction of the Q2 and the Q8, the Q3 Sportback will most likely continue the upward trend. Mind you, the Q5 Sportback is also standing in the wings, so the portfolio is set to surge even further.
The Q3 Sportback Design
You won’t miss the Sportback version against its Q3 sibling. The designs are significant enough to keep them differentiated. The Sportback variant features a honeycomb octagonal grille as a strong marker for the rest of the sporty design. The sloping roofline is unmistakable, as are the wheel arch bulges at each corner with a pronounced crease below the beltline. A strong contrasting design trait is the use of black panels on the lowest parts of the car from the bumper right around the sides to the rear. There are two 18-inch wheel options and three 19-inch wheel options as well as a wide range of standout colours. I expect a number of Q3 Sportbacks to be purchased in the vivid Turbo Blue and Pulse Orange (the latter pictured here) colours.
Audi Interiors and Technology need no introduction
The new Q3 Sportback features Audi’s latest interior architecture. It is a clutter-free space, largely a digital experience woven into a fresh and dynamic design. There are many options to customise the experience into a fully digitised one, with Audi’s famous Digital Cockpit that combines two high quality screens, one on the dashboard and one as the driver information display. These interfaces are seamless in their use and integration to your smartphone, as well as how they animate and change into different displays as part of what your profile and preference is. Climate control as well as some driving functions are located below the central touchscreen for ease of use. I like this, particularly for high-use functions like climate control. There is a frustration that can come from absolutely everything being incorporated into the touchscreen interface.
Audi SA has chosen to offer the Q3 Sportback in S-line trim as standard. This means that leather Sport seats are incorporated as standard with the S-line badge embossed into the seat. The seats are well bolstered and comfortable enough for any eventuality in which the Q3 Sportback may find itself. The rear bench offers comfortable legroom, the headroom slightly compromised due to the sloping roofline. As my co-driver could attest, if you’re slightly taller than average height, you're better off in the front quarters.
As far as compromises go in this coupe design, this is about it. The boot space with all the seats in place is exactly the same as the Q3. Of course, overall cabin space is reduced so with the seats down, the Sportback gives away about 125-litres overall.
The Driving Experience
I got behind the wheel of what is now, the flagship of the range. It’s the Audi Q3 Sportback 40 TFSI boasting a 2-litre turbo charged petrol powerplant with 132kW and 320Nm. This is attached to a slick-shifting S-tronic 7-speed transmission and together power is delivered to all four wheels via the quattro all-wheel drive system. The other option in the range is the smaller, 1,4TFSI unit that puts out 120kW and 250Nm of torque. There are no diesels in the range at this stage and the likelihood of Audi SA ever bringing any diesels is fairly slim, due to our poor diesel quality. The only additional engine likely to be added to the range next year is the hotted-up version that will do work in the RSQ3.
Back to the 40TFSI. As the flagship in the range, the driving experience in many respects is considerably competent. I found the ride quality particularly impressive in its ability to soak up undulations in a comfortable way. I threw it at bumps, ruts and poorly maintained roads in an effort to see how unsettled it can get, or how it responds to brisk avoidance inputs and the car behaves in a composed and confident manner. The quattro system too is at home here, delivering easy driving over both tar and loose gravel surfaces.
The drivetrain in this particular case is not as strong as I’d expected. While the gear shifts are smooth and seamless and the car is excellently composed in almost all normal driving scenarios, the engine feels a tad lackluster when pressing on. The car I drove was equipped with the Audi Drive Select feature that allows a variety of driving modes, yet even in its most excitable setting, the engine didn’t elicit what I deemed to be a powerful enough response. It is perhaps due to lengthened gear ratios or quite possibly just being down on power for what is an all-wheel drive and therefore slightly heavier vehicle.
In terms of driving technology, Audi’s plethora of driving assistance features is available. From parking assistance to adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance, the options are there. In terms of safety, the Q3 Sportback is equipped with Pre-Sense basic, which primes the cabin and car for an imminent collision by closing windows, tensioning seatbelts and popping on the hazards.
Whilst the Q3 Sportback is not built to tackle 4x4 courses as such, it will be quite happy on gravel roads and tracks that aren’t too deep. Hill Descent Control is also a standard fitment to reduce the stress of braking on sharp declines if you do get into some of that lifestyle of driving.
Getting to the Numbers
Audi SA has been one of the manufacturers that has been hardest hit in 2020 especially concerning product introductions and updates. Many of these were planned for much earlier in 2020, including the subject of this article.
That said, Audi SA has launched a strong comeback strategy to deliver a host of new and exciting products over the course of the next few months. The facelifted Q7 is already in the country, and the arrival of a raft of new sports cars is earmarked for the first quarter of 2021.
In a premium market that will suffer a contraction in this fiscal year, Audi needs new product to gain some ground and the Q3 Sportback is definitely something that will win some of that for them. As South Africans, we’re attracted by great design and the SUV craze. This Q3 Sportback in a more compact and more affordable package is sure to attract a number of new customers, some of which will buy down into the Q3 from within the stable, and some new customers who love the idea of the SUV-coupe and want to drive something this size.
The Audi Q3 Sportback 35 TFSI S-line starts from R693 000 and the quattro 40 TFSI S-line that I drove at launch starts from R737 000.