Audi’s new Q3 Sportback goes against the tide
The Audi Q3 Sportback is a useful insight into the complexities of the modern car industry and the myriad niche desires that have to be catered for. It’s also a finely-crafted car that neatly distills Audi’s design and tech ethos into a (relatively) mass market product. The company has used the ‘Sportback’ name since 2009 when it debuted on a concept car. Since then, it’s gone on to signal models that blend practicality with purpose, whether they’re extrapolated from saloons or SUVs. The Q3 Sportback is one of the latter, with a swoopy rear window and more pronounced haunches that turn it into a slightly more streamlined version of the existing Q3. Both cars are compact SUVs, tapping into a niche that has proved especially popular with urban and suburban upscalers looking to move on from a hatchback.
The flipside to this new niche is obvious. It’s said that accelerated SUV uptake is unbalancing the scales of progress; even though cars are apparently getting more efficient, overall emissions are up because bigger cars are increasingly popular than small ones. In comparison to some of its siblings, the Q3 Sportback isn’t especially oversized, but that’s only by the skewed standards of the modern era. Audi is positioning it as a mini-me version of the much bigger Q8 Sportback, pitching it as a medium segment car with maximum attitude. Much of that attitude is exuded by the aggressive detailing; the grille, in particular, is almost hysterically over-wrought, a mash-up of plastic, chromed plastic, and vast dimensions. Branding has descended in parody.
Nevertheless, the Sportback still manages to tick almost all the expected Audi boxes. There’s quattro all-wheel drive, a ‘virtual cockpit’ consisting of two screens for instruments and info (this one is a touch screen, naturally), as well as a three-year subscription to Audi’s portfolio of ‘connect’ services, which include traffic info and the constantly updated mapping of Google Earth. Bang & Olufsen supply the audio, as they have done on upscale Audis for many years, while a clever mild hybrid system (not tested) does its best to claw back the inherent inefficiencies of scale and weight. With this in mind, the big-engined 45 TFSI model is probably overkill for most applications.
It’s tempting to think the Q3 Sportback’s ulterior motive is to further blur the boundaries between Audi’s all-electric SUVs and their conventional siblings. If given the choice between this machine and the upcoming Audi e-tron Sportback, one quickly realises that the latter car makes more and more sense in the modern world. In addition, a new version of the regular A3 was recently showcased (after its unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show had to be abandoned), indicating a possible shift in design towards a very slightly softer design language. Twenty years ago, Audi’s fresh design focus led the premium car market. These days, however, the firm’s penchant for edgy aggression seems to be going against the tide. §