You only have to do a quick Google search to find out why there aren’t many Audi Q3s out there in the urban landscape these days.
Audi’s smallish SUV first arrived on the scene as far back as 2011, and apart from a mild update in 2014, it still holds first-generation status up against a slew of more contemporary luxury models.
But, all that’s about to change, when an all-new Q3 lobs into local showrooms in November looking all the more ready to take on A-list contenders like BMW’s X1, Volvo’s big-selling XC40, Jaguar’s E-Pace, along with Lexus’s contender, the NX.
Many would say it can’t come soon enough in a world where premium automotive brands believe they need to cover off every conceivable niche play in a bid to get the jump on rivals, regardless of the numbers. In comes a sportier segment based on those same small but ever so practical SUVs, designed to appeal to similar SUV-loving buyers craving more style and more performance in their slightly raised chariot.
Audi’s entry into what is becoming another hotly contested segment is, yep, you guessed it, the all-new 2020 Audi Q3 Sportback, arriving down-under in April 2020. Consider this a heads-up for those that may want to reconsider over the standard Q3.
Think of it as a scaled-down version of the exciting Audi Q8, and you’ve pretty much got the picture. But, like all these coupe-like spin-offs, expect to pay a reasonable premium as you would for a coupe over a sedan version, as per Q8 v Q7. It’s simply the price you pay for the privilege of sleek styling thanks to the sharply raked roof line that almost always characterises these models.
The Q3 Sportback is no different in this regard. In fact, it’s by far the best execution yet of this relatively new-found design direction in this segment. But, even better is this new Audi gives up absolutely zero interior volume to its larger Q3 sister. Moreover, the cargo space in the boot (530L) is the same when the second-row seats are in place, and only loses some room when the seats are folded flat, but it’s not much and nothing to panic about.
It feels more spacious than it probably looks, and that’s no illusion because rear-seat leg space is pretty good, with room enough under the seat to slide bulky basketball shoes under.
Marc Lichte, Head of Audi Design, is clearly on a mission to better differentiate between the brand’s models in response to general criticism from mainly the public that all Audis look the same. It’s a fair point, too, but Lichte is a bona-fide petrol head with a passion for older Porsche 911s and great design, and we’re already seeing the results.
The Q8, Q2, upcoming Q3, A8, RS7 and now Q3 Sportback put an end to that ‘same, same’ notion entirely. In fact, it’s the latest Q-models that have elevated the famous four-ringed German marque better than any other, with edgier, more masculine designs that may well herald a resurgence of the brand best known for its quattro all-wheel-drive systems and superb cabin quality, with cutting-edge tech like Matrix LED headlights and Amazon voice service via Alexa offered.
First impressions bode well for the Q3 Sportback. Visually, it’s very attractive, from the all-black single-frame grille in gloss black (including blacked-out four rings) stretching back through a tapered roof line and all-new rear light assembly, for what is a longer, flatter stance all round. It’s sharper with more aggressive character lines all round, yet with smoother, more rounded edges that enhance its looks and prestige billing.
There’s little if anything I’d want to change here. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered – a longer, lower and altogether more exciting version of the Q3. But, we’re not talking much here: 16mm longer, 29mm lower and amazingly 6mm narrower than its upcoming Q3 stablemate, even though the opposite looks to be the case, visually, at least. Though, the wheelbase is shared by both versions (2680mm).
Gone are the 50 shades of grey, too, replaced by some cool colours like Turbo Blue, Pulse Orange, Dew Silver and Myth Black – each with matching interiors that complement the exterior paint with contrasting interior accents in soft-to-the-touch Alcantara. Especially tasteful is the Myth Black with vibrant blue highlights.
Add to this Audi’s primo cabin quality and a host of the latest and greatest tech, and you’ve got what many will find a very appealing package. Australian-delivered versions are likely to include plenty of standard kit according to Audi PR boss, Shaun Cleary. That should mean the visually enhancing 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit customisable instrument display, as well as a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment screen angled towards the driver.
It’s not just that either – it’s the standout materials and quality of the finishes that make the Q3 Sportback an ideal place to be, even after 500km in the driver’s seat. It’s difficult to know exactly what will be optional and what features will be included in the standard package, but either way you’ll want the Sports seats that we had in our 35 TFSI we sampled first up.
It’s a clean, minimalist design inside, with only three or four knobs to speak of in the entire cabin, but even those are beautifully knurled and nice to the touch. Again, the Alcantara trim looks and feels superb. There’s some new stuff, too, like the subtle reptilian-look aluminium inlays that are especially tasty.
Audi Australia is still working on which Q3 Sportback variants to take from a range that includes turbo petrol and diesel engines in a couple of tunes, encompassing the 1.5 35 TFSI, 2.0 40 TFSI, 2.0 45 TFSI quattro, 2.0 35 TDI, 2.0 35 TDI quattro and 2.0 40 TDI quattro, which is said to be unlikely.
We sampled both the 35 TFSI front-wheel drive and the 45 TFSI quattro back to back. The entry-level 35 TFSI is more interesting than its 1.5-litre turbo-four might suggest. While it produces an adequate 110kW and 250Nm of torque through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, it also benefits from a mild-hybrid system that uses a 48V on-board electrical system (a first for the segment).
Apart from claims of reducing fuel consumption by a marginal 0.4 litres per 100km, it also uses a belt alternator starter that’s connected to the crankshaft and can recover up to 12kW of power during deceleration, which then feeds into the lithium-ion battery.
One noticeable benefit is the super-quick engine restarts with the start/stop system, to the point where you never actually think about it because it’s so unbelievably quick. Audi also claims performance gains when accelerating from standstill up to 20km/h via bumping torque by up to 50Nm for 10 seconds and power by 9kW. To be honest, it’s hard to feel the difference. We actually thought the mid-range punch felt really strong and figured hybrid power had assisted.
Even so, with two adults and luggage on board, the 35 TFSI pulls surprisingly well under load. There’s a decent engine note, too. Mind you, it’s no firecracker, but still manages to be fun to drive either on the Autobahn or German B-roads, with plenty of corners and paddle-shifter work after dialling up Sport via the Drive Select button.
For sure, the Q3 Sportback is built on an excellent chassis offering taut body control with very little roll to speak of, even when you really start to lean on it. And this while riding on 19-inch alloy wheels, and offering good bump compliance on the rare occasion you come across some broken road in Germany.
Standard fitment includes Sport suspension, though our vehicle was equipped with adaptive dampers using magnetic fluid as well as variable-ratio steering – meaning it tightens up as the steering angle increases. And there was plenty of that on the test roads, which also highlighted decent feedback through the steering wheel.
We also had a quick spell in the more powerful 45 TFSI quattro, and as you might have guessed, it’s loads quicker from anywhere throughout the rev range thanks to its larger displacement and extra grunt (169kW and 350Nm). It feels like a proper hot hatch compared with its more restrained 35 TFSI sister, and claims 6.5 seconds for the 0–100km/h sprint thanks to its significantly wider torque band.
Standard safety systems include Audi Active Lane Assist, Side Assist, Audi Pre-sense Basic and Pre-sense Front, with plenty of options to choose from like Adaptive Cruise Assist that works with Adaptive Cruise Control, Traffic Jam Assist, Active Lane Assist, Parking Plus, High-beam Assist and Emergency Assist.
Plenty more time behind the wheel on local roads is needed for proper evaluation of Audi’s new Q3 Sportback, but I suspect it will have no trouble in attracting a strong following for those looking to spice up their small SUV.
Look no further because this is likely to gain plenty of admirers, and with more than a few good reasons, but choose carefully after you have a steer of each and every model offered.