Audi's e-tron Sportback is the brand's large Coupe-SUV. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
What's possibly the least environmentally sensible vehicle genre on the market? That for sporting large coupe-styled luxury SUVs would have to be right up there, cars like the BMW X6, the Mercedes GLE Coupe and the Audi Q8. Could a car of this sort ever be really socially responsible? With its e-tron Sportback model, Audi thinks it can be.
This car, as its name suggests, is a fastback version of the brand's regular e-tron, the company's large full-electric EV which battles segment rivals like Jaguar's I-PACE and the Mercedes EQC. The ordinary e-tron is an impressive feat of technology but can sometimes feel a little flat-footed in this company. The e-tron Sportback doesn't just look more dynamic: Audi's moved to make sure that it drives that way too.
Electric cars may have come on quite a lot since you last looked. Two electric motors are now de rigeur on larger luxury models like this one and, uniquely, faster versions of this Audi can now even offer three. We'll get to that, after we've briefed you on the core offering here for the twin-motor 'e-tron Sportback 50' and 'e-tron Sportback 55' models most customers for this model line will be looking at. Both share pretty much exactly the same engineering as the existing, boxier e-tron SUV we first tried back in 2019. Which means that, as with that body shape, there are two battery options, the base '50' variant using a 71kWh powerpack and the more popular '55' derivative that, like all other e-tron Sportbacks, features the bigger 95kWh battery we've got here.
Either way, with these two models, your battery of choice powers two electronically linked asynchronous motors, one on each axle. This in turn creates an electrified interpretation of Audi's quattro all drive system, though in low demand situations the car will be rear-driven thanks to a decoupling system that disconnects the front drive motor when it isn't needed. As you might expect, the electric motor output you get depends on the variant you choose. The entry-level '50 quattro' model offers 313PS and has a best possible 215 mile rated range; the '55 quattro' variant has 360PS (or up to 408PS if you select an 'S' overboost mode) and its bigger battery improves the range figure to a (still rather modest) best possible figure of 281 miles.
The other variant available in the range is the top e-tron S Sportback performance version, the world's first electric vehicle to use three drive motors. The larger electric motor that on a conventional e-tron Sportback sits at the rear has here been moved to the front, freeing up space for twin smaller motors to sit on the back axle, allowing torque vectoring and fully variable torque distribution between the rear wheels for considerably enhanced - and really rather astonishing - levels of cornering agility. Extra motive power in this S model means a higher output of course - up to 435PS with 808Nm of torque; or, with the 'S' mode engaged for overtaking, 503PS, with a thumping 973Nm of torque. Enough to simply hurl this Audi at the horizon; 62mph from rest is recorded at 4.5s: driving more sedately, the S variant's WLTP-rated driving range figure is 236 miles.
Unlike its rivals from Jaguar and Mercedes, Audi fits air suspension as standard to all e-tron Sportbacks and it imperiously deals with speed humps and potholes, plus it can lower itself to give the car greater stability at speed.
Design and Build
Like the standard e-tron SUV, this Sportback version is a substantial thing, measuring in 4,901mm long, 1,935mm wide and 1,616mm tall. To give you some perspective, that makes it 85mm shorter, 60mm narrower and 89mm lower than Audi's conventional offering in this segment, the Q8. The difference over an ordinary e-tron is obvious; a coupe-like rear roofline cut from the A7 Sportback sweeps back 20mm lower into a liftback-style tailgate. But of course the underpinnings are shared with a normal e-tron SUV. Which means that this car doesn't use the MEB or PPE platforms that the Volkswagen Group specifically developed for EVs produced by its brands. Instead, there's an electrified version of the ordinary MLB platform found in the company's conventional large models.
Inside up front, the e-tron Sportback (unsurprisingly) shares everything with a normal e-tron. So there's a dual touchscreen layout in the centre stack and you get the option of virtual wing mirrors that operate in your normal wing mirror sightline with tiny screens. There are differences in the back of course, where the lowered roofline obviously affects headroom but a couple of adults could live with it. Boot capacity falls to 615-litres, 45-litres less than the e-tron but folding the rear bench frees up 1,655-litres. In addition, as with that car, you get an extra little carriage compartment at the front where the engine would normally be, though it's mostly taken up by the charging leads. You could put a laptop or a small bag there though.
Market and Model
There's a wide range of pricing for this e-tron Sportback. At the time of this test in Summer 2021, customers were looking at anything from just over £62,000 for an entry-level variant with the smallest '50'-series battery, to around £104,000 for the plushest version of the top e-tron S Sportback model. Think in terms of an £1,800 premium over the standard SUV e-tron body shape. As with that body style, there are four trim levels for conventional models - 'Technik', 'Sport', 'S line', 'Black Edition' and 'Vorsprung'.
If you're looking at the standard twin motor variant of this Audi, then ideally, you'd probably want to upgrade from the standard 71kWh battery of the entry-level '50 quattro' version to the larger 95kWh battery of the '55 quattro' variant with its extended range; the price premium to do that is £10,800. If you want to go further and get the more powerful three-motor 'S' version of this model, (which also uses the 95kWh battery), then the premium to do that would be just under £9,000 - assuming you're upgrading from a typical mid-range 'S line'-spec e-tron Sportback 55 quattro to the standard e-tron S Sportback quattro derivative we tried, which at the time of this test cost around £89,000. 'S' variants come only in this standard form or, for £15,000 more, in plusher 'Vorsprung' guise.
Cost of Ownership
Electric cars are going to be able to go considerably further once someone designs a battery that doesn't weigh them down like a brick. This model's 95kWh lithium-ion lump may be current state of the art but it tips the scales at 700kgs - which means it accounts for nearly a third of the weight of the whole car, this model tipping the scales at around 2.5-tonnes. Anyway, let's get to the info you'll need here. Those battery cells can be charged using a 150kW fast charger to 80% of capacity in just 30 minutes - but good luck finding one of those unless you're at an Audi dealer. For charging at home, you'll need an 11kW charger, which can replenish the battery in 8.9 hours.
The claimed WLTP operating range for the e-tron 55 quattro model with its 95kWh battery pack is rated at up to 281 miles, which is a useful increase on best possible 215 mile figure of the e-tron 50 quattro variant with its 71kWh battery. It's up to 236 miles for the 95kWh three-motor e-tron S variant.
How close you'll get to the quoted range figure will have a lot to do with you proficient you get with using Audi's energy regeneration control system, which allows you to tailor the car's retardation depending on driving circumstances and road conditions. There's everything from a free-wheeling mode with no retardation at all to maximum regeneration that when set, really pulls you up (by 0.3g) when you come off the accelerator. When you're driving your E-tron with the latter feature set, you'll hardly ever have to use the brakes at all.
Arguably, this Sportback e-tron variant is the car the standard e-tron model ought to be. A large luxury EV that's more than just a statement of technology. But one instead with extra pavement presence and an added dose of engagement. The compromises required over the ordinary car in terms of rear seat passenger space and luggage capacity shouldn't be too taxing for most likely owners to make. And this Sportback variant also showcases some useful changes to e-tron tech that Audi's made since this sub-brand's original launch.
Ultimately, as with the ordinary e-tron SUV, you'll have to really like the Audi brand to really want one of these. But if you appreciate Ingolstadt's cool, understated, considered approach to luxury motoring, then here a future that's very Vorsprung durch Elektrisch beckons.