The Q3 Sportback is a more sporting take on Audi's compact SUV; we try it out with the range-topping petrol engine under the bonnet

You’ll know by now what happens when a manufacturer tacks a suffix like ‘Sportback’ on to the tailgate of one of its SUVs, so the Audi Q3 Sportback, Audi 's latest range extension, won't be a great shock.

There’s a shift that occurs; one that sees focus move ever so slightly away from functionality (which is surely what an SUV is all about, even a compact one) and towards a more abstract concept altogether: the aesthetic. 

Credit to Audi, the Q3 Sportback’s styling is rather well executed - by the standards of the class, at least.

So you get some sporty new design traits that are intended to make the car look even more athletic than it really is. The Audi Q3 Sportback, for instance, has a lower shoulder line and slightly swollen arches for a more muscular, assertive look. There’s also an octagonal grille so large it’d probably work as a regulation UFC arena. And finally, there’s the trademark roofline that slopes away towards the top of the rear light housing in a fashion not unlike that of an overbred Alsatian’s spine. 

Usually the resulting product isn’t a particularly pretty one. But credit to Audi, the Q3 Sportback’s styling is rather well executed - by the standards of the class, at least. Still, it’s tricky to shake the feeling that it’s yet another car designed to answer a question nobody was really asking in the first place. 

Audi will, of course, tell you otherwise, and no doubt has plenty of market research to back its claims up. And to be fair, at least it’s a shade more interesting to behold than yet another derivative, identikit compact SUV.

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Much like the regular Q3, the Sportback’s cabin is finished with an appealing blend of tasteful materials. Soft-touch moulded plastics cover the dash top, while sophisticated gloss black and chrome elements draw the eye and lend the Audi a well-deserved upmarket ambience. The 10.1in MMI touch infotainment screen and optional 12.3in Virtual Cockpit (you get a 10.25in digital display as standard) are impressively slick, too.

You sit a little too bent-legged at the pedals, but otherwise adjustability up front is fine. So, too, is passenger space, though the same compliment doesn’t extend to the second row. Leg room back here is okay at best, but that coupe roofline means head room is really pretty mean. Boot space, meanwhile, stands at 530 litres, which isn’t bad at all.

How does the Q3 Sportback perform on the road?

Our test car made use of the current range-topping 227bhp four-cylinder petrol, which is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box to direct drive to all four-wheels. Straight line performance is commendable enough, if not quite as brisk as its 6.5sec 0-62mph suggests it might be. But it’s not a lack of pace that’s the Q3’s biggest issue. 

Throttle response is incredibly lethargic, and there’s a frustrating hesitancy about the transmission, too. You really need to hammer the throttle to get it to kick down and this hampers its ease of use. Acceleration is otherwise smooth, though the engine does become breathless and raspy at the top end and is a bit uncouth in its vocality as well. 

Encouragingly, on standard-issue sport suspension the Q3 Sportback rode with enough pliancy on glass-smooth German roads to be comfortable, but fitting the optional adaptive dampers will likely be a wise move when it arrives in the UK. Set up as such, there’s a welcome level of additional buoyancy to the car's ride that doesn’t overly compromise body control through faster corners. Sure, there’s a touch more body roll, but select Dynamic mode and it firms up nicely. An accurate, yet mute steering rack means it never feels particularly engaging, mind.

How does the Q3 Sportback stack up to its rivals?

Those who find the Q3 Sportback appealing will likely care more about stable, secure handling than any ability to thrill or excite, and it gives you plenty of the former. A Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé would be where those in search of the latter are most likely to turn.

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What might be tougher to swallow, however, is the price: in S-Line trim our Audi Q3 45 TFSI model starts at £40,875 - and that’s before options. Still, it does at least make something of a fashion statement. But that’s not quite enough to see it overcome its powertrain deficiencies to secure a glowing endorsement here.

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Audi Q3 Sportback First drives