First Drive: Audi’s sleek Q3 Sportback packs style without compromise
What is it?
With the SUV market seeing ever-more niche segments spouted within, it’s no surprise that the coupe-esque crossover market is beginning to boom.
BMW was first to the game with its X6, while Mercedes joined in with a number of variants of its own cars. Audi has been noticeably absent from this seemingly lucrative market until fairly recently, though that changed with its A8 and now this — the Q3 Sportback.
This compact machine is effectively a Q3 that signed up for a gym membership and managed to keep a routine with its workout, looking leaner, sleeker and more aggressive than before.
Though mechanically near-enough identical to the regular Q3, the Sportback has seen a fairly comprehensive overhaul to its bodywork. It’s been cut down 6mm and 29mm in width and height respectively, while growing in length by 16mm.
Changes elsewhere are fairly minimal though, with the only major introduction being Amazon’s Alexa assistant integrated into the firm’s MMI infotainment system. This allows for control of both the vehicle’s media functions and Alexa-enabled devices elsewhere.
What’s under the bonnet?
Our Audi Q3 Sportback ’45 TFSI’ test car is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 227bhp and 350Nm of torque, with that sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic gearbox. The result is a claimed 0-60mph time of 6.3 seconds, with a 144mph top speed possible. In terms of efficiency, Audi says it can return 31.4-31.7mpg on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions weighing in at 174g/km.
The way the engine goes about its business is fairly unassuming. It doesn’t feel as punchy as the numbers would suggest, though it’s no real slouch either, remaining pretty quiet and refined at a cruise.
However, the package is let down by an exceptionally poor gearbox that’s too slow to respond to throttle input in comfort driving mode. It means manoeuvres require more time to judge than seems reasonable, while switching to dynamic mode sees it hold on to gears for unnecessarily long periods of time.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s far from the last word in driver engagement, though the chassis of the Audi Q3 Sportback is reasonably interesting to the driver thanks to a strong sense of control in the car, largely because of the adaptive damper system fitted to our test machine. Standard springs do result in a little more body roll, though it doesn’t hinder the car too much.
Judging how overall comfort on smooth roads around the Black Forest translates to rougher UK asphalt is difficult, though the early signs are of a car that’s well-refined in all driving scenarios. Well-judged steering and a respectable turning circle mean it’s easy to navigate towns with too.
How does it look?
Undoubtedly the largest selling point of the Q3 Sportback over its boxier stablemate is its styling, and we think the sharper and more aggressive look is one that’s bound to tempt buyers.
Its more imposing front end certainly has a presence on the road, while the sloping rear could easily fool a few people into thinking this car hides more performance than it really offers.
This said, our Edition 1 test car was finished in black paint, with badges in the same colour that we found didn’t complement the car — though we’d put that down to personal preference.
What’s it like inside?
There’s very little inside to differentiate the Q3 Sportback from its regular sibling — or any Audi made in recent years, really.
This isn’t a bad thing, though. An abundance of premium materials is present, with the fit-and-finish of the cabin at a very high standard. There’s very little to be found in the way of cheaper feel items.
Practicality hasn’t been compromised with the introduction of the sloping design, either. Headroom in the rear is still at a good level, while boot space comes in at 530 litres — identical to the regular car.
What’s the spec like?
Full pricing hasn’t been finalised for the Q3 Sportback just yet, so we can’t make a final judgement on value for money, though Audi UK expects things to kick off around £32,240.
Standard exterior additions across the range includes 18-inch alloy wheels, electrically-folding door mirrors and LED head and rear lights, while inside the car Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system replaces traditional dials and gauges and is flanked by a 10.1-inch infotainment display. Assistance technology thrown into the package includes cruise control and Audi’s pre-sense safety package.
For our range-topping Edition 1 package, Audi throws in 20-inch matte black wheels, Matrix LED headlights, a black styling pack, Virtual Cockpit Plus (taking the display up to 12.3-inch), front sports seats, an extended ambient lighting package and Audi Beam — which projects the firm’s logo onto the floor when exiting the vehicle. Edition 1 is expected to be available from £38,235.
Bringing a sleeker look to the Audi Q3 has proven a good move with the Sportback, with no drawbacks on the practicality front yet all the benefits of a better-looking car.
It’s an overall decent package, with a good and easy driving experience with bags of tech — albeit a car that’s never going to set the pulse racing while behind the wheels.
It is, however, let down by a powertrain that’s uninspiring despite boasting fairly big numbers for a car of this size, and a gearbox that’s bordering on dreadful in terms of response in all but Dynamic mode.