Audi e-tron Sportback review

The Audi e-tron electric SUV now has a coupe-style 'Sportback' variant – but is it worth paying more for?

Audi e-tron Sportback S
£79,900 - £88,700
Electric

Pros

  • Classy interior
  • Excellent refinement
  • S model's sharp handling

Cons

  • Expensive to buy
  • Jaguar I-Pace better to drive
  • Not as practical as standard SUV
Car type Range Wallbox charge time Rapid charge time
Electric 227-277 miles 13hrs 45mins (0-100%, 7.4kW) 27mins (10-80%, 140kW)

The Audi e-tron Sportback is a more stylish version of the standard Audi e-tron premium electric SUV. To many, it’ll be the visually more attractive option, but at 4.9 metres nose-to-tail, it’s just as long, if ever so slightly narrower. From the front, the Sportback looks identical to its standard SUV sibling. But at the rear it’s a different story; the roofline dips away sooner, while the revised beltline gives it a small lip spoiler and a taller back end.

It certainly has presence. Audi pitches the conventional e-tron as a kind of electric Audi Q7, while this Sportback version perhaps has more in common with the petrol or diesel-powered Audi Q8. The art of the e-tron Sportback’s design is that you don’t notice quite how big it is.

Audi has removed two centimetres of headroom from the rear seats and 45 litres of storage space from the boot. Still, the Sportback will swallow 615 litres of luggage in total – or 1,655 litres with the rear seats folded flat. Make no mistake, this is still a practical family car.

Our first taste of the e-tron Sportback was in 55 quattro form (pictured below) – the mid-range offering in a three-strong line-up. Below it sits the entry-level Sportback 50 quattro (not offered in the UK at the moment), while above it is the Sportback S – the company’s first electric 'S' performance model.

The less powerful Sportback 50 features a 71kWh battery and a 216-mile electric range, while the 55 quattro has a larger 95kWh set-up – good for a claimed driving range of 277 miles; up from the 271 miles claimed by the squarer standard e-tron 55. The Sportback S, meanwhile, will only manage 227 miles, due to its more powerful triple-motor setup.

Performance isn’t lacking. With 402bhp, the 55 shoots from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds and will keep going to 124mph flat out. Equivalent figures for the 496bhp S are 4.5 seconds to go from 0-62mph and a maximum speed of 130mph. Spend much time at top speed, however, and your range will drop like a stone.

In the 55, the permanent quattro all-wheel-drive system is enabled by a pair of electric motors – one on each axle – while the S uses a three-motor setup, with two of the 55's front-motor axles at its rear, and an adapted version of the 55's rear-axle motor at its front.

Both versions offer excellent grip in slippery conditions, but the triple-motor setup in the Sportback S makes it quite a different prospect to the dual-motor 55. Of course, acceleration feels even stronger (although still not quite up to Tesla levels), but it's the way the S cleverly distributes all that power across its two axles that's most impressive.

Most of the time, just the two motors on the rear axle are at work, but when you press the accelerator hard, the front motor comes into play too, giving you maximum power output. The car can also vary the amount of power being sent to each wheel in order to boost both grip and stability while turning. The end result is an astonishing amount of grip when taking corners at speed, making even the twistiest route a 'point-and-shoot' experience.

Extensive suspension improvements and sharper steering compared to the Sportback 55 also contribute to the sense of agility in the S. Audi has done everything possible to disguise the car's considerable weight, but matters are also helped by the fact that most of that weight is very low down in the car: 700kg of the 2,600kg total is accounted for by the floor-mounted batteries, for example.

And yet for all this grip and performance, you hear nothing inside. The way Audi insulates its cars’ occupants from the outside world has always been impressive, but the engineers appear to have stepped things up a notch with the e-tron and e-tron Sportback. It’s genuinely one of the quietest cars we’ve ever had the pleasure of travelling in. The steering is direct, and the car manages to display impressive body control through bends. The ride is excellent on 20-inch wheels – although UK cars get 21-inch items as standard.

Quality is exemplary, too. Nothing rattles, nothing shakes and the fully digital dashboard looks and feels first-rate. Audi has stuffed its first electric car with technology; like the conventional e-tron, our Sportback test model featured Audi’s optional digital door mirrors. As we found previously, however, they’re a bit of a gimmick and take persistent brain recalibration before they feel in any way normal.

Going back to the range figures, you’re unlikely to get near the claimed numbers, apart from in near-perfect conditions. On the motorway, the e-tron Sportback hunkers down automatically to improve aerodynamics – but there’s no avoiding the fact that this car is nudging 2,500kg. We’d wager 230-240 miles on a charge is more realistic from the 55 in normal driving perhaps slightly more if you spend most of your time in stop-start traffic.

Still, Audi claims the e-tron’s charging system is more efficient than its competitors’ and as the 55 and S model have the same 95kWh battery and identical charging speed, their top-up times are the same: nearly 14 hours to 100% from a wallbox and just under half an hour to 80% if you can find a 150kW public rapid charger.

The Sportback’s biggest negative, aside from slightly compromised practicality, is likely to be its price. As of July 2020, the Sportback is only available with the more powerful 55 and S drivetrains and in the lavish S line and Launch Edition trim levels. That puts the entry point for e-tron Sportback ownership exactly £20,000 above the e-tron 50 Technik, which is the cheapest version of the regular e-tron that you can buy.

Overall, the Audi e-tron Sportback takes all the best bits about the standard model – namely quality, technology and refinement, and wraps them up in a cool, coupe-styled body. It’s more expensive to buy, but that alone doesn’t make it a less accomplished family SUV.