When it comes to exploiting niches in the automotive market, few do it better than the German Big Three, particularly Audi. The Ingolstadt firm has perfected the art of creating subtle nuances of existing model lines to catch any buyer otherwise prone to slipping through the net and into the clutches of its rivals. The Audi Q3 Sportback is a prime example; a potential go-to for those needing something a bit bigger than the rakish little Q2 but with a dash more visual pizazz than the otherwise excellent Q3. Yet, in a market where the coupé-tailed crossover is beginning to gain some serious traction, is Audi’s newcomer merely an exercise in mild re-engineering to turn heads, or a genuine niche-busting breath of fresh air?
Finished in our test unit’s striking Turbo Blue metallic hue, the Sportback is handsome in that typically angular-faceted, fuss-free Audi way, only really drawing attention when it turns its Q8-inspired tail and steeply raked C-pillar to the crowd.
Inside, there’s little to separate the Sportback from its standard Audi Q3 sibling; that’s to say the interior – although rather dark in its S line trim – is solid and suitably upmarket with only the optional 12,3-inch TFT instrument panel and MMI infotainment screens standing out on the facia’s otherwise conservative canvas. In addition to being well insulated against mechanical and road noise, the cabin is also pleasingly packaged. The Sportback manages to largely sidestep the spatial concessions the adoption of a coupé-esque roofline often entails. Its cabin and boot space measurements are close to those of the related Q3 35TFSI we tested back in 2019 and this Sportback’s 116 mm legroom deficit can be largely attributed to its chunkier sports seats.
Being spun off the same MQB modular platform as the Q3, and with the Sportback’s model-specific sports suspension setup being the only notable difference between their underpinnings, the driving experience in the Sportback is fluid and composed. Despite the stiffened springs and our test unit’s optional 19-inch rims shod with 50-profile rubber, the Sportback rides urban bumps and ruts with aplomb. The compact Audi tenets of well-weighted steering, plentiful grip with a whiff of understeer during hard cornering and taut body control are all present and correct in the Sportback; however, even with the parameter-tailoring Drive Select in place, it would be a stretch to describe the driving experience as anything more than calm and accomplished. As an everyday driver it’ll likely never set a foot wrong, although the powertrain’s limitations mean that even in its range-topping guise, the Sportback is certainly no entertainer.
Power is provided by a version of the Volkswagen Group’s long-serving EA888 2,0-litre turbopetrol engine that’s been detuned from 140 kW on the European market to 132 kW here, ostensibly in view of our relatively low-grade unleaded fuel. Although it is a smooth performer and serves up a respectable 320 N.m, it wants for the sort of punch the Sportback’s appearance suggests.
The powerplant’s lack of urgency was disappointing, especially in light of this model being equipped with Audi’s quattro AWD system. Indeed, the Sportback exhibited an unexpected amount of FWD-like tyre scrabble when tasked with putting its power down cleanly for our 0-100 km/h acceleration tests. Combined with the 200 kg weight penalty it carries over its FWD 35TFSI stablemate and a transmission that occasionally showed some of the off-the-line tardiness we’ve occasionally encountered in Audi dual-clutch units in the past, and the 9,06-second launch time we posted sits disappointingly adrift of the firm’s 7,8-second claim.
Thankfully, the Sportback’s uprated braking system, comprising 16-inch discs all round, contributed to an excellent stopping time of just 2,9 seconds during our 10-stop 100-0 km/h braking exercise.
While the performance wasn’t what we’d describe as eye-widening, the Sportback’s value proposition left a few eyebrows cocked. For a car sitting north of the R700 000 mark, standard specification is surprisingly modest. Without too much box-ticking on the configurator, our test unit wore around R140 000-worth of optional extras; the bulk of which could be traced to the infotainment system and some largely cosmetic extras. The R35 180 Technology Package – which includes touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, digital instrument cluster and ambient lighting – and perhaps a sightlier set of 19-inch alloy wheels at R14 900 (we’ve seen examples on the stock 18s with 55-profile tyres and they look rather dour by comparison) would be our optional extras of choice.