Audi is a premium brand. Given the year that was 2020, Audi’s sales figures have contracted as is the case with every other premium manufacturer. As things go, it’s in the volume sales where premium brands suffer most – think A1, A3, Q3, Q5 – these are the cars that Audi needs to sell in the high numbers and when economy bites, the sales numbers at this level do so too.
This is why the need to bolster product line-ups at this level is very important. The Q3 Sportback is one such example of product line innovation. It’s a new model addition to the Q3 range and it cuts a silhouette never before seen on a Q3. It’s a shape we’re somewhat familiar with, albeit in larger alternatives for the most part, but it’s one that we know gets people excited.
The car in question is the flagship, non-RS Q3 Sportback, the 40 TFSI. Quattro is standard on this and you’ll spot those Quattro flairs around the wheel arches. You’ll also get an S-line spec Q3 Sportback as standard here. Other traits set it apart from the Q3: a strong honeycomb grille design up front, the sloping roofline of course but look at the creases on the flanks, and then the use of black along the entire lowest sections of the car starting with the front lip, side skirts and over the wheel arches and then lastly at the rear bumper. It’s another element that creates 3 distinct sections of the car – the body work, the glass and the blacked out bottom level. Our car is finished in a R2 620 solid paint option called Pulse Orange. The wheels are 19-inchers Graphite Grey 20-spoke alloys that come as part of the Sport Package – more on that later but they’re typical quattro Audi designs.
Matrix LED headlamps and rear combination lamps finish the exterior and add the bespoke Audi lighting expectations to the Q3 Sportback – a R7 560 option.
So where does the Q3 Sportback play? In an ever-growing niche category. Think BMW X2 perhaps or the Range Rover Evoque or even the stylish Volvo XC40 – they’re all baying for the same type of buyer.
The Q3 Sportback looks good, certainly more striking than the Q3 and with the specifications of the premium buying experience, you can tailor it to really suit you. There are some striking colours too, from the more traditional hues through to this Pulse Orange or the popular Turbo Blue. A panoramic glass sunroof and a black styling package are the only other options if you’re into these, coming in at R20 000 and R7 880 respectively.
Plush well-tailored sports seats await as you climb aboard. It’s pure Audi in here, with minimalist design in the way of cabin architecture. I drove the Audi Q3 Sportback back-to-back with another small Japanese competitor, and the difference in seat comfort and design is notable. After spending 8 hours in the seat on a long MP journey I was grateful to be perched in the Audi on this trip, even with the Sports seats optioned as part of the S-line interior pack. They’re soft and comfy yet supportive and solid.
The rest of the interior adopts the new cabin architecture lifted stock from the Q3 really. It boasts the digital experience that Audi has championed. The test car was fitted with the Technology Package, which combines the Audi Virtual Cockpit,, MMI Navigation, Ambient lighting and some aluminium elements. It’s the digital cockpit that features a 10,1-inch housed in the upper central part of dashboard and then the fully digital driver’s information display. The infotainment and displays are customisable as far as your own preferences go. I am a big fan of the driver’s information display and the customisation options therein. In one interface you’re able to have a host of information on display including your navigation/mapped route. The Audi Q3 Sportback’s MMI interface is fitted with Apple CarPlay functionality and the joy for me is to have the central screen connected to CarPlay while the driver display sports the map layout. It’s this multi-functionality that I like and that’s just me. You can customise it as you like, though it is part of a R35 000 option.
The Audi Q3 Sportback comes with two USB ports at the front – USB-A and USB-C but also fitted with the Audi Phone Box, you can also have inductive charging for your phone.
The biggest question for me was whether the Q3 Sportback gives up some of the space that one can enjoy in the Q3. This is a normal sacrifice in the jump from SUV to Coupe-SUV. In a word. Yes. You do lose some rear headroom. In a car with 3 people in the rear, the tallest if anything over 1,8-metres wouldn’t have the best 8 hours of their life. It’s not terrible at all but there’s definitely a compromise over a Q3. And then in terms of boot space, the Q3 Sportback compromises about 100-litres over its Q3 sibling and that is something substantial especially at this size of car. The Q3 makes sense for families opting for some space, so be aware that the Sportback variant has a bit less.
A bit underwhelming really. I wasn’t expecting a firecracker but it just doesn’t feel as the numbers and aesthetic may suggest. The Q3 Sportback 40 TFSI is fitted with a 2.0-litre turbocharged motor with a 7-speed auto transmission. Yes, it drives all four wheel too but the problem is mainly in a lacklustre drive. Pedal travel feels long and there is lag in getting up to speed and lag in the transmission figuring out the need from your right foot.
If you’re on a national route and travelling the open road, the Q3 is competent and comfortable and does a fine job. It’s when you’re busier, there’s more traffic and more need for variations in power, whether overtaking, navigating lanes that go from dual to single and vice versa every few kilometres – this is when the drivetrain isn’t as sweet. I found the best way to drive was to select ‘dynamic’ from the drive select menu.
Power is quoted at 132kW with 320Nm of torque and the 0 – 100km/h dash of 7.8-seconds is good for a car of this weight and size, but it feels a slightly laboured process, certainly moreso than I expected.
The quattro system is a confidence booster of course, but it’s let down by what is a very light steering feel. This is great for parking lots and slow manourvres but over gravel roads, where we spent a significant amount of time during our test, the light steering makes for a less confident drive. It’s those small corrections over corrugated sections or through badly pocked roads especially with corners thrown in, where you feel it. The quattro system as well as the plethora of safety assistance systems keep everything in check but as a driver, the feel is important too.
Overall, the ride is pleasant on good bits of tarmac, comfy and well insulated but erring on the harder side with those 19-inchers when you get off the tarmac onto something a little less smooth. It’s the compromise of looks over comfort I suppose but it’s really nothing too bad, just noticeable enough to make it a point to consider on the options.
Premium brands mean premium options abound. It’s no different here. The test car I drove was optioned with R175 150 worth of extra equipment. According to Audi, its customers option their car to a value of 25% over the list price as an average, so that’s about right for the equipment the test car was fitted with. This is standard across the big lux brands, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Porsche and Land Rover.
And that really is the question – does the Sportback strike enough of a differentiation to warrant a look or a jump from other brands? It has novelty in its favour but that’s a short-lived quality that Audi would look to capitalise on early.
The Q3 Sportback may be that car that Audi’s own customers choose to move into from something smaller or something lower to the ground, such is our love for SUVs. You may want to consider the 35 TFSI as an option – it doesn’t come with quattro but may be better on fuel figures if that’s important to you. I would say the 2.0-litre isn’t that much of a bigger jump as far as power goes so you may want to look at that.
The Audi Q3 Sportback will turn heads no doubt but that may not be enough. It’s set itself apart in appearance but not so much in performance which would have been good. You do lose some practicality on the whole but this is an entirely subjective thing so for some, it’s sleeker profile is more important than more space.
The petrol-powered 40 TFSI is just a tad bit underwhelming for what is a highly competent and exciting premium product. Diesel would have been ideal – but that’s not going to happen. Unfortunately.