2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback first drive evaluation: Slipstream SUV serenity

Make no bones about it: Audi’s all-electric E-Tron SUV might have obtained excessive marks from skilled auto reviewers and new homeowners alike, however it hasn’t moved the automaker’s gross sales needle within the US. In all of pre-pandemic 2019, the Audi offered fewer than 5,400 E-Trons right here — lower than a mean month of Q5 gross sales. It is amidst this irritating backdrop that the 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback mannequin whirs into sellers, its racier slope-back roofline hoping to catch each eyes and gross sales.

Primarily based on visuals alone, the E-Tron Sportback has undergone the now industry-standard four-door-coupification course of extra efficiently than most luxurious crossover SUVs — EV or not. From the windshield header ahead, the Sportback seems the identical as its extra conventional two-box sibling and certainly, it has almost the identical peak. Nonetheless, owing to its dramatically plunging rearward greenhouse and frameless home windows that clear up its roofline, the Sportback seems concurrently decrease and arguably extra fashionable, including in a splash of athleticism. The Sportback is not simply slipperier to the attention, it enjoys a 0.28 coefficient of drag, 0.02 higher than its boxier relation.

Audi E-Tron Sportback First Version is one slick electrical SUV
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Vary and charging specs are solely a part of the story

On the efficiency entrance, the Sportback is all however an identical to the usual E-Tron, however quite a few incremental enhancements throughout each physique kinds improve attraction. Among the many adjustments, Audi upped the out there battery capability barely, growing the customer-accessible portion of this 95.3-kilowatt-hour pack to 86.5 kWh — almost Three greater than first-year E-Tron fashions. This interprets to 218 miles of vary and EPA estimates of 76 MPGe metropolis, 78 freeway and 77 mixed. (The remainder of the pack is held in reserve to protect longevity.)

When it comes time to juice up, the Sportback helps Degree 3 150-kW fast charging, which might jolt the battery from 0% to 80% in round 30 minutes. Extra widespread Degree 2 chargers (like these most EV homeowners set up) can replenish a whole pack in round 10.5 hours. Every E-Tron additionally comes with 1,000 kWh of complimentary charging by way of the Electrify America community.

Talking of filling up, the Sportback is on the market with twin cost ports, one on every entrance fender. Particularly for metropolis dwellers who dwell in condos or residences with tight entry to cost factors, this uncommon bonus function might be a significant quality-of-life enhancer.

This Plasma Blue E-Tron Sportback First Version is certainly one of 200 coming to our shores.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

To be clear, the Sportback’s aforementioned vary figures are unremarkable — a base, Tesla Mannequin X Lengthy Vary Plus has a 351-mile claimed vary, however beginning at round $80,000, it is almost $10,000 pricier than a 2021 E-Tron Sportback (extra on pricing in a minute). In fact, whereas smaller than the Audi, the Mannequin Y Efficiency is available in at 291 miles for a lot much less cash (round $60Okay) and there is a slower, less-expensive Lengthy Vary spec with 316.

In my expertise, nonetheless, with each this Sportback and with earlier E-Tron testers, Audi EVs obtain their vary estimates with relative ease, nearly no matter driving habits or ambient situations. Conversely, Tesla’s acknowledged ranges often really feel like best-case situations. As with all issues, your mileage might differ, however the real-world vary gulf between these rivals is probably going far smaller for many drivers than these autos’ window stickers would recommend.

Efficiency past the numbers

I begin with these efficiency comparisons if solely to get them out of the best way. For higher or worse, it appears not possible to evaluation a brand new premium EV of any stripe with out acknowledging how they numerically stack as much as choices from Elon and Mates. That stated, I am likewise right here to suggest an alternate view, which I feel delivers a fuller image of luxurious electrical life typically, and this E-Tron Sportback particularly.

You’ve got seemingly discovered that each one EV opinions from the common-or-garden Nissan Leaf to the Porsche Taycan wax rhapsodic concerning the instantaneous torque and silent operating inherent in battery-powered autos. Particularly for these popping out of a conference internal-combustion-engined (ICE) mannequin, that is actually a legitimate first impression and it is completely the case with this E-Tron Sportback. And whereas that notion speaks to the innate serenity of electrical energy, this Audi takes that sense of wellbeing to the next degree, each in the best way this SUV goes down the street and the best way its cabin and tech make you are feeling.

As is typical for EVs, there’s not a lot to have a look at below the hood. Elevate that plastic lid and you will find the cost wire.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

The Sportback’s two-motor powertrain routes 355 horsepower and 414 pound-feet of torque to all 4 wheels by default, rising to a brief 402 hp and 490 lb-ft in Increase Mode. The latter setting is sufficient to whoosh this 5,750-pound softroader to 60 mph in a drama-free 5.5 seconds. That is moderately fast, however once more, not headline- or Instagram-worthy stuff by as we speak’s EV requirements. What makes the Sportback spectacular is the totally placid method wherein this efficiency is conjured. Sure, it is quiet. Sure, it is linear. And sure, it feels endlessly repeatable with out obvious degradation in efficiency throughout arduous driving.

Whereas it feels uncharacteristically new-age-ish (and considerably nebulous) of me to say, the tactile high quality of the E-Tron’s cabin supplies and the precision of their meeting contributes to that aura of slipstream serenity. There is not any doubt about it, the match and end of the E-Tron Sportback’s inside is worlds extra luxurious and of noticeably larger high quality than one thing just like the Jaguar I-Tempo, not to mention something Tesla has ever made. The final new Tesla Fashions X and Y that I drove dazzled with their accelerative urgency, however their high-performance spells have been momentary damaged by stunning quantities of wind noise and the occasional mysterious creak or graunch from past the firewall and rear hatch space. By comparability, even with frameless home windows, the Sportback is among the quietest autos I’ve ever pushed.

The E-Tron’s different efficiency attributes are tuned harmoniously, too. The usual adaptive air suspension is remarkably compliant over better Detroit’s indifferently maintained roads, even driving atop this instance’s upsized 21-inch tires. With the Drive Choose controller set to its firmest detent, the E-Tron’s trip is greater than livable and cornering perspective is flat, doubtlessly aided by the weighty battery pack slung low within the chassis. I favor conserving the steering set to Sport for a heftier really feel when charging down a winding street, however regardless of the setting, the steering is exact however numb.

Like different fashionable Audi fashions, the E-Tron Sportback feels tech wealthy and really effectively assembled.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow
A phrase on omissions and creeps

A observe concerning the braking: Audi labored significantly diligently to mix the EV powertrain’s regenerative braking with conventional friction binders and the outcomes do nothing to erode the Sportback’s air of general effortlessness. Not like some EVs, they’re straightforward to modulate due to constant really feel.

Nonetheless, there’s one key factor the brakes do not do almost in addition to many different EVs: one-pedal driving. Whereas Audi labored in a user-selectable setting with stronger regenerative braking than early E-Trons, it is not near being sufficient to allow one-pedal driving. In keeping with firm officers, Audi engineers intentionally selected to restrict lift-off regen within the title of most effectivity. Admirable as which may be, a lot of EV drivers inform Roadshow they rapidly fall in love with single-pedal driving and never providing a driver-selectable setting to accommodate this widespread buyer desire looks like greater than a minor exclusion — it feels each shortsighted and needlessly overbearing.

Equally, it is also odd that Audi’s coders have not made a forward-creep setting out there. Handbook-transmission automobiles apart, almost each fashionable automobile rolls ahead slowly from a cease when the brake pedal is launched, as when pulling away from a cease signal or inching ahead in a left-hand flip lane. Not the E-Tron. You need to nudge the accelerator. You get used to this, after all, but when the objective is to make transitioning from a conventional ICE mannequin as straightforward as attainable, that is an omission.

The E-Tron comes with normal 360-degree, top-down digicam protection for straightforward parking.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow
Inside and infotainment tech

The cabin actually feels a bit extra intimate and racier, however that is principally when trying within the rearview mirror or if you happen to’re seated within the second row. TL;DR: Loads of leg, knee and toe room, however headroom is a bit tight for these over 5 ft, 9 inches and the home windows do not roll down very far.

So far as cargo quantity goes, it is largely unaffected by the coupification course of. The Sportback gives 27.2 cubic ft of house behind the rear seats, or 54.5 with them folded (decreases of 1.Three and a pair of.Zero versus the usual E-Tron, respectively).

Past that, the Sportback’s insides are pure fashionable Audi, which is to say impeccably assembled, tastefully embellished and rocking a formidable tech hand. Due to a trio of huge shows, one for the Digital Cockpit gauge cluster and two for the touchscreen MMI infotainment system, when the facility is off, the E-Tron Sportback’s cabin look is nearly eerily minimalist, significantly when rendered in darker colours like this one. That does not imply it is boring inside, although. By comparability, the Mannequin Y’s pared-back dashboard and single show might nail the minimalist yoga-studio-on-wheels aesthetic, however due to its considerably cheaper supplies and sometimes irritating controls, Fremont’s most interesting would not ship the identical sense of serenity and solidity because the Sportback. 

You are taking the Tesla. Namaste on this Audi, good friend.

Second-row house is kind of good, although these taller than 5 ft, 9 inches might wish to slouch a bit.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow
E-Tron Sportback mannequin years and pricing

Earlier, I discussed that the E-Tron Sportback sits between the Tesla Mannequin Y and X in value and certainly, it does. That stated, additional clarification is critical. Attributable to COVID-19-related manufacturing and delivery hiccups, each 2020 and 2021 model-year Sportbacks are trickling into sellers kind of concurrently and in contrast to Staff Elon, all E-Trons stay eligible for the complete $7,500 federal tax credit score.

A really quick 2020 model-year run consists of two fashions: A midrange Premium Plus spec that embrace options like adaptive cruise management, 360-degree digicam suite and 16-speaker Bang and Olufsen 3D audio for $78,445 (together with $1,045 for supply). The opposite selection is an all-boxes-checked 2020 Version One like the instance seen in these photographs. It provides the Status Bundle, which incorporates options just like the aforementioned twin cost ports, head-up show, massaging contour entrance seats, full leather-based (together with sprint, armrests and heart console) and even an air ionizer/perfume dispenser. Simply 200 Version One fashions can be offered within the US and you’ll spot them on the road by their particular Plasma Blue metallic paint and the 21-inch bi-color wheels shrouding orange brake calipers. Value? A heady $89,540 with vacation spot.

Apparently, for the 2021 mannequin 12 months, Audi considerably retooled the E-Tron Sportback’s mannequin line, enabling a a lot decrease beginning value. A brand new entry-level Premium trim begins at $70,145 delivered and it is moderately effectively outfitted, together with normal options like four-zone local weather management and 20-inch alloys. Mid-trim Premium Plus fashions add ventilated 12-way energy seats, matrix LED headlamps, B&O audio, wi-fi charging and a driver-assistance package deal, amongst different options for $79,045 delivered. Go entire hog on a Status to internet almost all the options from the Version One and also you’re $83,345 in your driveway earlier than any federal, state and native tax incentives.

Modestly slicker than its extra upright E-Tron sibling, Audi is hoping this Sportback can jumpstart their EV gross sales.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

It is price noting {that a} base Sportback is $3,700 costlier than an everyday E-Tron, a technique that is in-line with the {industry}’s “four-door coupe” SUV pricing pattern: Identical automobile + totally different type – usable house = extra money. Whereas this worth calculus perplexes your writer, customers have been supporting such a math for the reason that 2008 BMW X6, so extra energy — and earnings — to ’em.

General, the brand new E-Tron Sportback combines spectacular luxurious with a fluid, unflappable really feel. What this SUV would not actually muster, nonetheless, is an expertise that is materially a lot totally different than the usual E-Tron. The concept the Sportback is sportier is essentially an phantasm and it might’ve been fascinating to see what may’ve resulted had Audi elected to provide this mannequin its personal driving character. Regardless, if you happen to’re in search of luxurious, high quality and serenity now, the E-Tron Sportback delivers like few autos — electrical or in any other case. 

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