Adding electric power to an already hefty SUV has its own complexities. However, Audi has decided to add sportiness to the equation for its latest plug-in model.
The e-tron Sportback is a sleeker, coupe-like version of the standard e-tron sports utility vehicle with a premium price starting from just under £70,000.
A lithium-ion battery and two electric motors – one on each axle – combine to provide a sprint time to 62mph of just 5.7 seconds and a range of up to 241 miles, on paper, that is.
But what’s it like to live with day-to-day and use for chorse such as loading the boot with a university student’s gear? Daily Mail motoring editor, Ray Massey, took the the wheel of the luxury electric vehicle to find out…
Can a car really be an SUV, electric AND sporty? We test drove the new Audi e-tron Sportback coupe on UK roads to find out
I permitted myself just a gentle moment of smugness as I rolled into one of the UK’s most anti-car cities – Brighton – and parked up just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of the local Green Party.
For I had arrived in the lively south-coast seaside resort in a smart new pure electric zero-emissions Audi e-tron Sportback to help a recently graduated student clear his flat in the city and load up the last of his belongings for the trip home.
It was a very smooth trip down from the outer fringes of London to the Sussex riviera in the Coupe-inspired 4X4 which looks sleeker and sportier than the standard Audi e-tron on which it is based.
And, despite it’s lower and sleeker roofline, with the rear seats folded down this five-seater five-foor hatchback it coped exceptionally well when crammed with the detritus of three years’ study.
It’s sleek styling got a lot of attention, even in trendy Brighton. And explaining it was all-electric got a big seal of approval too.
The Sportback is the more svelte version of the existing e-tron electric SUV, which is Audi’s first attempt at a fully-fledged electric 4X4
No mirror, signal, manoeuvre: The party piece for the e-tron is the optional cameras to replace the wing mirrors. The view from behind is then beamed onto the screen on the door panels
That attention may also in part have been because it does not have standard reflective wing mirrors.
Instead, two eye-catching Star Trek style camera housings look back at the road behind and transmit the images into screens set the corners between the dashboard and the front doors – the ‘armpits’ of the car if you like. Those ‘virtual door mirrors’ are a £1,200 optional extra, too.
I did miss leaning out to get that extra bit of vision you get from normal mirrors, and instinctively kept doing it. But there is a very useful blind spot warning to compensate.
And the cameras really come into their own at night and in foul weather, including one of the downpours I had to endure. The mirrors’ screen image remained pin sharp and I presume enhanced to give a clear view of what was behind.
Despite its enormous size and over 3-tonnes of laden weight, the e-tron Sportback is rapid off the line and handles admirably
What’s it like to drive?
I’d already been dune-busting in the deserts of Abu Dhabi in the standard e-Tron SUV, and even had a thrilling night-time drive through Hollywood in the bolder new Fastback version, testing out special hi-tech digital matrix LED headlights that create a carpet of light and can even project a pattern onto the road ahead – when it was first unveiled at the Los Angeles Motor Show last November.
But that now seems like an eternity ago, during a time when you didn’t think twice about a hand shake or a friendly welcome hug.
But this was my first experience behind the wheel in the UK at its formal Covid-compliant launch in this country, followed by a week of real-world driving.
Will it fit in my garage?
Audi e-tron Sportback 55 quattro S-Line
Price as driven with extras: £89,470
Range price: £79,900 to £95,100
Width: 1,935mm (exc mirrors)
Gross weight: 3,150kg
Motor: Two electric motors, one on each axle.
Drive type: quattro permanent all-wheel drive
Transmission: single speed
Range: up to 241 miles
0 to 62mph: 6.6 seconds (5.7 seconds in ‘boost’)
Top speed: 124mph
Co2 emissions: Zero / 0g/km
Charging time: 80 per cent in 30 minutes on DC fast charge (full charge in 14 hours on a 7kW domestic wallbox)
Luggage capacity: 615 litres (1,665 litres with back seats folded)
First things first. Apart from pressing the ignition button to silently fire-up the electric motor, you very quickly overlook the fact this is an electric car.
As you’d expect from any Audi product – battery-powered or not – it’s very smooth and, when you need it, reassuringly fast.
Putting the adaptable driving mode into ‘S’ for Sport, it sprints effortlessly and instantaneously but holds the road as well as any internal combustion engined product from the German car maker’s range, even those donning the ‘RS’ logos.
I particularly liked the large palm-sized drive control lever which takes a moment’s getting used to but which I otherwise found very intuitive.
Powered by two electric motor (one on each axle totalling a 300kW) with quattro all-wheel drive and a single speed transmission, the Sportback whooshes from rest to 62mph in 6.6 seconds, reducing that to 5.7 seconds if you use the ‘Boost’ mode.
This is activated by shifting the gear lever into Sport and fully depressing the accelerator pedal – similar to launch control in other cars.
Where legal, such as German autobahns, it will reach a top speed of 124mph.
Most of the time the e-tron Sportback uses just its rear electric motor, with the front motor kicking in when needed for extra grip or stability. Sensors detect understeer or oversteer to engage the front wheels, which happened more than once during my more ‘committed’ drive (though without the student and their kit in the boot).
To help stability and agility, especially when cornering, through corners, ride height can be varied by up to 76 millimetres to help the Sportback sit lower when travelling faster.
The S-line version drives on 21-inch alloy wheels while the top of the range ‘Vorsprung’ gets 22 inch versions.
What’s it like for day-to-day chores?
With a couple of long and complex journeys planned, I was a little anxious about range.
The e-tron Sportback on full charge has a claimed range of up to 240miles. That may seem a lot but if you have a 120 miles each way return journey – with a diversion along the way – it could leave you sweating a bit. I was certainly a little concerned as I unplugged the charger on my driveway ahead of the scheduled trip down south.
Managing available range also depends on driving style and heaviness on the accelerator pedal.
However, I found that the e-tron was able to regenerate well en route, leaving me with more available range energy than the various trips – on motorways, A-roads, country lanes and through busy town centres – should have consumed.
Effectively, I extended my range as I drove.
The e-tron Sportback on full charge has a claimed range of up to 240 miles. We did a 120-mile each-way journey to put that claim to the test
Audi reckons that on average the Sportback a can achieve up to 30 per cent of its range through this ‘recuperation’.
And that the high-voltage battery is charged by the electric motors, acting as generators, in around 90 per cent of everyday driving situations.
For example, when braking from 62mph, the Sportback can recuperate more than 70 per cent of its output.
The plug-in charging system itself is particularly clever, too.
There are charging points on both sides of the car, near the front, rather than at the rear which is often the case.
Press a flush-to-the-flanks button and a panel opens up and out and slides then down to reveal the plug-in points.
It’s very clever. I charged my car from home in the driveway a couple of times overnight and was left with well over 200 miles of range each time.
Audi says a full charge is achievable in 14 hours on a 7kW domestic wallbox with an 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes on DC fast charger.
Out on the road, a new e-tron Charging Service provides subscribers with one electronic ‘RFID’ payment card accepted at charge points operated by 18 suppliers across the UK and Europe.
There is a choice of two fixed price charging tariffs. And UK retail and fleet customers who place an order before December 31st will receive a free 12-month subscription equivalent to 1,000 miles-worth of electricity.
As with any Audi, you need to spec the car wisely. Hitting the options list hard will see the total price soar
Specs and pricing explained
There are three versions of the e-tron Sportback 55 (95kW) at launch starting with the S-line (from £79,900), Launch Edition (£85,900) and Vorsprung (£95,100).
A lower-powered and cheaper Sportback 50 version (71kW) version is to follow later this year.
My S-Line was pumped up with lots of extras which took the final price up to £89,470.
Apart from the virtual door mirrors, the rest of the nearly £10k of extras included a comfort and sound pack (£1,895), a panoramic glass sunroof (£1,475), a ‘tour pack’ (£1,950), four-zone deluxe automatic climate control (£825), acoustic glazing side windows (£525), and a host of other tweaks.
The e-tron does not qualify for the tax-payer funded £3,000 government plug-in grant as this is now capped at £50,000.
The UK government already committing to outlawing the sale of all new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035 – or even earlier – allowing only pure electric or other zero emissions vehicles to be sold new. I’ll wager they’ll struggle with that ‘aspiration’ because I doubt the system will cope.
But at least with the pure electric Audi e-tron Sportback I know there will be cars capable of the odd long-distance journeys we demand of our internal combustion engined motors today. Though the price might have to come down quite a bit for most people to be able to afford one.