Audi Q3 Sportback Road Trip | Update 2: Handling
The best thing about a trip down to the Western Cape is that you are never that far away from a selection of excellent driving road across which you can truly get a feel for a car's dynamic abilities.
Now while there are many routes to exploit in this regard, Franschhoek Pass is by far my favourite. Partly because I know it really well (important when you're giving it a bit of stick) but mostly because it serves up everything you need for an engaging drive. Tight hairpins. Long, constant-radius sweepers. High-speed squiggles. They're all present and they're all surrounded by some of the most enthralling views this side of the south of France. So it was only fitting that the Audi and I paid it a little visit.
As most of “Blackbird's” use had so far been limited to languid highway cruises and the odd inner-city jaunt I was interested to see how it coped with this demanding pass of the gods. So after exiting the tourist-filled town of Franschhoek I switched its Audi Drive Select system into Dynamic mode and started my ascent. As mentioned in my first post the Q3 Sportback 40 TFSI Quattro employs the firm's ubiquitous 2.0-litre (EA888) turbocharged four-cylinder motor that's been used in everything from the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Audi TTS right through to the Porsche Macan. Consequently, power outputs vary wildly but here it delivers a relatively mild 132kW and 320Nm worth or torque.
Enough? Out on the open expanse of the N1 overtaking trucks it felt like it, yes, however with my foot flat going up the pass it felt barely adequate. Granted, “Blackbird” was packed to the max with holiday luggage but I just couldn't shake the feeling that it needed some more top-end power. In overseas markets you get the 45 TFSI that churns out 169kW. Perhaps this is the model Audi SA should have brought in instead of the 40 TFSI?
For Lord knows the chassis can cope with the added muscle. While not as overtly sporty as the BMW X2 the Q3 Sportback handles pretty well for what it is. Body roll is kept to an impressive minimum and as such you feel encouraged to push it hard through the twisty sections. When you do you'll find a glut of mechanical grip thanks to the Quattro all-wheel drive system working in unison with those large 19-inch alloy wheels shod with surprisingly capable 235/50 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tyres. It's a partnership that breeds driver confidence and sees you attack corners with more pace than you'd initially think possible. Get too carried away, however, and the front end will soon start washing away with progressive understeer that's easy to get in line by backing off your throttle input.
While traction is top notch the electronic power-assisted steering could definitely do with some more feel — as is the case in most modern Audi products I've sampled of late. Despite being pleasingly direct (especially in Dynamic mode) is doesn't broadcast successfully the relationship of the front tyres with the asphalt. This is particularly noticeable on initial turn-in when the steering rack starts loading up. During normal driving this won't be too much of an issue but when you're pressing on it becomes annoyingly disconcerting. Especially on roads as technical as Franschhoek Pass.
Braking performance? Well to be honest I wasn't holding up much hope for the lengthy descent down towards the Theewaterskloof Dam. Partly because the outside temperature was hovering about the 35-degree mark but mostly because, as I mentioned before, the Audi had a full and very heavy complement of luggage distributed between its boot and rear seats. This, factored in with some long straights and many hard-braking areas, meant that I lived in constant fear of a steadily wilting middle pedal. Amazingly, however, the Audi's anchors coped extremely well given the conditions. For while not completely fade free they managed to hold their own right up until the pass came to an end.