How much difference does a bit of design flair make? Audi’s new coupe-SUV Q3 Sportback is a compelling case viewed in the company of its more conventional wagon sibling.
More than just a tapered roofline, the Sportback is a longer, lower and wider twin, but it’s really the fresh lines, curves and proportions that make for striking style transformation.
In effectively mid-spec 40 TFSI Quattro S line form – nestled between the entry front-drive ‘35’ and high-performance RS versions – our test subject targets buyers after big impact and nice features on a palatable mid-$60,000 budget.
In short, the ’40 S line’ is Audi’s idea of the utilitarian small car you ought to lust after. It brims with much of the goodness you want in an upmarket urban runabout and augments it with a veneer of sportiness and pace – well rounded, without the ear-pinning excess of the manic RS that, at around $90,000, wants for an almost 50 per cent price premium.
Its name is long-winded, but if you’re a lost in jargon our subject is Audi’s small SUV (Q3) coupe (Sportback) in ‘regular 132kW’ 2.0-litre (40) turbo petrol (TFSI) all-wheel-drive (quattro) with an extra dose of sport accoutrement (S line). Overseas markets including New Zealand also get a more powerful ‘45’ version, though Aussies shouldn’t hold their breath too long for that one…
Still, from its classic ur-quattro-inspired body creases to the honey-I-shrunk-the-Q8 tech-laden cabin, the Aussie-release 40 S line certainly embodies its role in sharply-dressed presentation.
The 40 TFSI S line starts from $61,900 before on-road costs. That’s a cool $12,000 pricier than the entry ‘35’ version and $5450 more than the fancier 35 Launch Edition, both turbo 1.4 powered and front-wheel driven.
The more seductively styled Sportback body format is a $2400 step over the 40 S line wagon.
By comparison, BMW wants a fair bit more – a tenner under $70,000 – for its all-paw coupe-esque BMW X2 M35i xDrive. The upcoming GLA250 AWD is, at $66,500 before on-road costs, closer if slightly pricier than the Audi.
Volkswagen’s T-Roc deserves a mention, too, as many shopping for German premiums tend to glance Wolfsburg’s way, where you can find its more powerful (140kW) offering for far less investment (around $43,000).
Our test car fits the sole big-ticket package, the $3900 Premium plus, that adds Bang & Olufsen 3D sound, a blackout exterior grille/trim/mirror colour pack, Matrix LED headlights, dynamic front indicators, a not-quite-panoramic sunroof and 30-colour LED interior mood lighting to the already fulsome standard equipment list.
Further, the Smurf… I mean Turbo Blue paint costs $600 and full-body colour coating adds a further $450, edging the outlay up to $66,850 before on roads.
The 40 S line variant piles on the standard goodies, as any small car wanting $62,000 sans options should.
Outside, 20-inch wheels, electric heated/folding mirrors, full LED lighting, adaptive headlight functionality, dynamic rear indicators, rain sensing wipers, front and rear sensors and an electric tailgate with gesture control are par for the course. Of course, the standard S line adds sportier exterior styling tweaks.
Inside, the 40 S line gets keyless go, 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, 10.1-inch MMI navigation plus touchscreen infotainment, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, inductive phone charging, DAB+, four USB outlets, a flat-bottom wheel, fully electric sports seats with leather-appointed trim, two-zone climate control, rear seat tilt and slide, a frameless auto-dimming mirror, and a space saver spare.
There’s a host of nice addenda in the details, such as Alcantara dash and door trim elements, as well as aluminium brightwork, including the loading sill protector in the boot.
Smarts wise, techy features such a 360-degree camera (with a forward-view parking camera), kerb-side parking assistance, adaptive cruise control, and hill descent control are inclusive.
Adding the Premium plus package to 40 S line really results in a want-for-little package and you have to nitpick to find omissions beyond the fact that it doesn’t fit adaptive damper smarts.
Though Audi Q3 wagons and Sportbacks have distinctively different bodywork, all versions of both – with the exception of RS models – have received a common 2019-stamped five-star ANCAP rating.
The breed scored 95 per cent adult occupant and 88 per cent child occupant scores, while vulnerable road user protection and safety assistance were assessed as 76 and 85 per cent respectively.
All-speed autonomous emergency braking and a brace of lane support systems form the crux of the active surety, though while Q3 fits ‘brace for impact’ front pre-sense functionality it doesn’t feature the rear collision preparation feature found in the Q8.
The super-clever exterior lighting and elaborate multi-view camera arrangement both enhance driver awareness rather than (simply) providing safety nets at the onset of trouble. And we found the safety net gear – AEB, lane keeping – intuitively calibrated and unobtrusive in real-world assessment.
The Q3 fits front, front-side and curtain airbags, as well as ISOFIX child seat mount points outboard in row two.
For my money, the 40 S line has two clear highlights. The first is how it looks on the outside: more svelte in profile and more angular and muscular at any viewing angle than the Q3 wagon, the lift in appearance the Sportback form brings is well worth the modest $2400 premium.
The second highlight is interior presentation. The combination of exterior or interior panache is both the Q3 Sportback’s big drawcard and it’ll undoubtedly be the dealmaker for some buyers.
It is an elaborately-styled cabin space, a sort of sportier and slightly stripped-back format compared to that of the opulent Q8. Its myriad surface angles, including touchscreen and controls, are oriented towards the driver, a bit of a theme pinched from R8 and TT. There’s not much SUV-ness about the interior vibe at all.
Style and Substance
Audi's approach to interior design is wonderfully styled and executed, making you feel like you're driving something special
It does feel special, a nice balance of restraint and fussiness in the right places. A lot of the pleasing stylistic features are in the details: the angular door levers, the ornate grab handles and novel door bin design, or the neat array of driver controls above the phone tray in the centre stack.
There’s inspired use of materials and textures, such as the Alcantara dash trim atop a satin garnish plate with a small ‘quattro’ badge that lights up the same colour as the subtle LED mood strips in the doors. This is Audi design letting its hair down and it works a treat.
The front seats are excellent, with four-way electric lumbar adjustment and under-thigh extension to taste. Add the flat-bottom paddle shift wheel and thoughtful ergonomics and it has more of a sporty ambience of a driver’s machine than that of an SUV. Up front, at least, it’s top marks.
Both the Virtual Cockpit instrumentation and touchscreen infotainment are pin sharp, with pleasing skin designs – including Google sourced navigation imagery – and slick functionality.
You don’t get the neat haptic touch effect with the 10.1-inch central screen found on higher-end Audis, but that’s a minor quibble. Wireless CarPlay generally works well, but if there’s a proper annoyance it’s the dicking about between the Apple and proprietary MMI operating systems getting Bluetooth audio to stream.
Row two is much cosier than up front. There’s not much clearance in any direction for adults and the ambience is measurably more claustrophobic, despite some effort to carve room into the ceiling and front seat backs. The rear seat back tilt and base slide doesn’t liberate much extra room, either.
That said, the seats themselves are comfy and supportive, and rear occupants get a 12-volt and dual USB outlets as well as air vents.
Boot volume is 530 litres, same as the Audi Q3 wagon, with a useable ‘square’ one-by-one-metre floor set high above the space saver spare wheel. Stowing the rear seat back liberates 1400L, which loses out to the regular Q3 by 125L – but unless you’re loading in a wardrobe or something similarly bulky that’ll foul the sloping tailgate the Sportback format is ostensibly no less practical.
Power comes from the familiar ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four used across the Volkswagen Group family, in some models (such as TTS) in a far healthier state of tune (210kW/380Nm) than that of the Q3 40’s 132kW and 320Nm. That’s also 30kW down on the Q3 45 TFSI in showrooms across The Ditch…
But hey, viewed glass half full, 320Nm is healthy measure for a small SUV and clocks on nice and early, at just 1400rpm. And it’s a nice low-rpm surge that generally makes for a responsive and drivable engine. Also, peak power arrives at just 3900rpm, still in the peak torque window, and holds steady until six grand.
Performance, like output count, is decent if far from heady, clocking in at 7.8 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. Drive is via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and, of course, quattro all-paw traction.
Consumption is advertised as 8.3L/100kms combined and given our test car hovered around nine neat for largely urban testing it seems a fairly genuine claim.
Overall, the Q3 40 S line’s on-road demeanor is polished and nicely refined, with perhaps a touch more sporty zest than the modest engine stats otherwise suggest. If just a touch…
It’s a well-sorted powertrain. The engine’s torque-swelling delivery and the slick, intuitive self-shifting gearbox are harmonious and there’s satisfying flexibility and crisp response around town. This turbo-four-and-dual-clutch breed has a patchy history drivability-wise, but this Audi Q3 40 TFSI’s combination is one of the better-sorted versions I’ve tried over the years.
In Comfort or Auto drive mode there’s still immediacy to the throttle that’s often lacking in such calibrations. Dynamic ups the heat a bit but is still dignified enough to be actually quite usable for daily driving, though obviously there’s only so much aggression this mildly-tuned engine can muster outright.
There’s no Jekyll-Hyde here. In Comfort or Auto drive modes, throttle response is good and it’s brisk enough and perfectly suitable for general driving. Dynamic doesn’t bring more friskiness, just slightly heightened responses, but it’s dignified enough in behaviour for daily driving. Bury the right foot and it’ll muster up a decent clip without much in reserve.
That’s a bit of shame because when it comes to road-holding grip and chassis poise, it feels as if you could throw much more output at Q3 Sportback’s handling package.
There’s some argument any small car sat on 20s asking nigh on $70,000 should have adaptive suspension damping fitted. The Q3 Sportback doesn’t. So the ride from the clearly sports-focused chassis tune is firm, though not overly firm and there’s enough compliance in the dampers to round out most road acne.
Funny thing is, the symbol for Audi drive select modes in the MMI infotainment is clearly that of suspension strut, but enter the menu and the only adjustments available are for powertrain and steering…
Audi’s electrically-assisted steering feel is often a like it or loathe it topic amongst petrol heads. And while it’s generally of low importance to SUV, it should matter in something looking this sharp with a chunky steering wheel with a bottom that flat. Like so much of the marque’s machinery, the Q3 40 S line’s steering has good clarity and is quite direct, though there’s an absence of feedback when loading up the front end in a corner.
Visibility is decent and it’s a breeze to park, if mainly due to the excellent 360-degree camera system that offers seven selectable views, including front and rear cross-traffic views, an overhead view and even a guided front camera perspective.
If there’s one overwhelming impression in the drive, the positive is that the 40 S line is no SUV on stilts. There are shades of sports car and hot hatch in the driving experience mix and nothing too dull or ponderous about its manner. A decent enough match, then, for the machine’s sharp looks.
Audi’s usual three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty applies to the 40 S line from first registration or customer delivery, whichever comes first.
The basic servicing plan is $1610 for 36 months and a 45,000km cap, or $2630 for 60 months and a 75,000km cap, with intervals at 12 months or 15,000km.
The 40 TFSI S line in Sportback form is an emotionally charged twist to the otherwise pragmatic Audi Q3 SUV premise. That it comes together nicely beneath the seductive skin makes it a very likeable package indeed.
It covers the design, style and tech angles with aplomb and backs it up with a solid enough drive, but if you need to tick that performance box as well you might have to look elsewhere. But you’ll also inevitably be trading off some of the elements that make Q3 Sportback 40 TFSI S line attractive.
While it wouldn’t be our first pick for family-friendliness or pace for price, Audi’s coupe-SUV newcomer in this spec is a very likeable and well-rounded machine that’s distinctive, characterful and amply feel-good in the areas a good many buyers want.