While large coupe-inspired SUVs tend to look a tad clumsy and over-styled, the more compact dimensions of the Audi Q3, for example, are arguably more conducive to a more cohesive design, replete with an elegantly sloping roofline and sportscar-like detailing. Cars.co.za contributor Ian McLaren recently sampled the new Q3 Sportback...
Launched in 2019 as the successor to a hugely popular model, the 2nd-generation Audi Q3 followed the trend by being both longer and wider than its predecessor. It also offered improved levels of versatility and, by making the most of its fresh VW Group MQB platform, the new model would also be both more wieldy and stiffer than before, introducing newfound levels of poise and useability – particularly within the urban environment.
The Sportback variant of the Ingolstadt-based firm's premium family car, which was planned at the outset for "Model MQB27A2", follows in the tracks of the Q8. Is it simply a cynical restyling exercise (to squeeze more out of the MQB platform), or does it have substance to back up its style?
Where it fits in
The sloping rear of the Q3 Sportback looks better proportioned on the smaller Q car.
With the Q4 badge reserved for a future EV, Audi's decision to use the familiar Sportback name on the Q3’s sloped-roof sibling was predictable. Less obvious would have been the Ingolstadt-based brand's move to develop bespoke body panels (throughout) for this style-focused derivative.
Longer (16 mm) and marginally narrower than the Q3, the most obvious design change for the Sportback is a 49-mm lower roofline that tapers more dramatically from the C-pillars to the tail-light clusters. A lowered beltline, meanwhile, bisects the door handles and bridges the wheel arches, which Audi re-sculpted to give the newcomer a more dramatic kerb presence. Roof rails, meanwhile, have been consigned to the options list.
Offered exclusively with an S line exterior package, which includes a honeycomb-mesh grille and various chrome-look highlights, the Q3 Sportback derivatives ride on 18-inch alloy wheels. An optional Black Styling Package substitutes chrome for matte-black finishes, such as on the grille.
Incidentally, a new Dew Silver exterior colour is exclusive to the Sportback portfolio.
No dual screens in here like the Q7 and Q8 have, the Q3 SB has a simpler dual knob setup for climate control.
Carried over unchanged from the Q3, the Sportback’s interior offers a wealth of modern technologies packaged in a well-insulated, nice-to-touch cabin. Unlike the dual setup in its big brother Q8, the single 8.8-inch hi-res touchscreen display offers crisp and intuitive access to the vehicle’s infotainment and drivetrain systems. Climate control functions enjoy a more “old school” look and feel via traditional rotary knobs and switches.
The Technology Package upgrade increases the size of the central display (to 12.3-inches) and introduces a configurable digital instrument cluster.
While the search for plastics of the harder variety isn’t particularly challenging in the modern Q3’s interior, most touchpoints manage to deliver on this German brand’s premium promise.
Coupé suggests compromised packaging?
Rear legroom is acceptable but the roofline will cause issues for passenger above 180 cm.
The most obvious sacrifice to be considered before opting for a derivative with such a deliberately sloped roofline (compared with its SUV sibling) is the compromise in rear-passenger comfort. Having said that, with the Q3 and Q3 Sportback models having an identical wheelbase length, and the latter fitted as standard with a fore-aft adjustable (through 130 mm) rear bench, it’s only ceiling height (and, therefore, headroom) that’s diminished in the sleeker of the 2 packages. What's more, specifying an optional panoramic sunroof (in either of the variants) pinches even more headroom.
Granted, if you regularly need to transport tall adults in the rear it's a bit of a squeeze, but the aforementioned sliding 2nd row, in combination with the backrest’s 40:20:40 split and the load bay's adjustable floor height, means there’s little lost in terms of versatility in the Q3 Sportback...
Only 2 derivatives on offer?
Adding the 40 TFSI turbopetrol to the range gives the Q3 SB more performance to go with its sleeker design.
Audi South Africa offers the Q3 Sportback with a choice of either a 110 kW/250 Nm 1.4-litre (35 TFSI) or a 2.0-litre (40 TFSI) 4-cylinder turbopetrol engine. The former sends its torque to the front wheels via a 6-speed S tronic transmission and has a claimed fuel consumption of 7.3 L/100 km.
Mated with a 7-speed dual-clutch ‘box, the 40 TFSI's motor is augmented with quattro all-wheel drive (as standard). Boasting 132 kW and 320 Nm of torque, the 2.0-litre motor is claimed to propel the Q3 Sportback from 0 to 100 kph in 7.8 seconds and consume, on average, 8.3 L/100 km.
Look to the first quarter of 2021 for the flagship RS Q3 Sportback to arrive in South Africa.
What’s it like to drive?
A firmer default ride quality (on a standard sports suspension) and a narrower view out of the rear are the most obvious differences between the Sportback and its “standard” sibling. That’s a good thing, though, because few buyers are likely to opt for the more stylish of these 2 body shapes in the hopes of finding extra dynamism... That said, the Q3 package makes the most of its relatively compact dimensions and refined underpinnings to deliver an impressively pliant ride quality in most driving conditions, allied with above-average poise when tasked to corner at loftier speeds.
Not strictly required in our market, the 40 TFSI’s variable all-wheel-drive system nevertheless offers piece-of-mind in adverse driving conditions.
The Q3 has been a popular choice over the years, but we'll have to see if the Sportback follows suit.
Keen to maintain momentum in the premium family car segment – and dip into the growing boutique-SUV niche – Audi has again demonstrated its ability to apply premium interior packaging and craftsmanship to models based on proven VW Group products (in this case, the VW Tiguan).
While the standard Q3 faces stiff competition in the market from the likes of the Volvo XC40, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA, the fashion-forward new Q3 Sportback variant plays to Audi’s strengths when it comes to offering a heightened sense of style and sophistication in this segment, with little in the way of compromise when it comes to packaging or versatility. While Audi South Africa foresees a sales split of 1:3 in favour of the standard Q3, perhaps, in this case, there’s an argument for a coupe-styled SUV to prove more popular than its conventional sibling.