Elegant, but overweight.
Philosophers from Plato to Kant have pondered what makes a thing beautiful. It was Cicero who said “There are two kinds of beauty: in one lies grace, in the other lies dignity”. The 2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback, the company's latest electric car, might appeal to these great thinkers. It’s elegant, efficient and expressive.
What Kind Of Sportback Has Audi Built This Time?
Audi, confusingly, has two types of Sportback. There’s the A1 and A3, which are more commonly called “hatchbacks”, and the Q3, A5, and A7, which we’d call a “liftback”. Despite the sleeker shape, this E-Tron is the same size as the standard model, measuring up at just over 16 feet in length and riding on a 115.4-inch wheelbase. But the lower roof height takes half an inch out of the E-Tron’s height. The size similarities are surprising, because the Sportback shape makes the E-Tron look significantly longer and more elegant. This is the chic version, in other words.
The lower roofline doesn’t mean many concessions in terms of space. We fit comfortably on the generous rear bench, with plenty of headroom. According to Audi, second-row headspace is down just three-quarters of an inch compared to the standard (and suitably roomy) E-Tron. Cargo space is down a bit, dropping from 23.3 cubic feet to 21.7, but this also includes the 2.1-cube cargo hold where a combustion engine would normally live. Fold down the second-row seats and the cargo volume expands to 58.8 cubic feet, accessible via a foot-activated tailgate.
Everything else is familiar from the normal E-Tron, including the display-heavy cockpit. The driver controls the infotainment, communications, navigation and EV-specific settings on the upper 12.1-inch touchscreen. The lower display, which measures 8.6 inches, is for entering text and operating the comfort functions and air conditioning.
The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is also standard in the Audi E-Tron Sportback. Drivers can easily reconfigure the high-res display using the View button on the steering wheel. The E-Tron though, adds an additional page of data that puts the power meter front and center. On request, a head-up display projects important information onto the windshield, although this isn’t a cheap option in the European market, at 1,390 euros ($1,512 at today's rates). U.S. pricing isn’t out yet, but the head-up display is standard on the standard E-Tron’s range-topping Prestige trim – it’s safe to assume the same will be true when the Sportback arrives.
And How Does It Drive?
It's no Porsche Taycan, but the E-Tron Sportback is surprisingly well-balanced, though, given its 5,400-pound heft. And in the case of the 55 Quattro (the only version coming to the U.S.) the E-Tron is quite fast. A total of 408 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque, the E-Tron Sportback can zip to 62 in a reasonable 5.7 seconds. That’s not impressive in the grand scheme of EVs, but it’s adequate for a vehicle this heavy. And anyway, the inevitable E-Tron Sportback S should improve straight-line performance significantly.
So why might you order the Sportback over the standard car? Aside from its design, the center of gravity is well below that of a conventional SUV (which is also true of the normal E-Tron). All the heavy stuff sits low in the E-Tron, while the front-to-rear weight distribution is nearly even. In other words, the Sportback negotiates corners confidently, even if it doesn’t approach Mazda MX-5 levels of agility. It’s a fine vehicle for the long haul.
There are seven driving modes, which result in a wide spread between comfortable cruising and sporty, stable handling. The air suspension and its adaptive dampers contribute greatly to this versatile character. At higher speeds, the Audi squats down to improve air flow around the car and improve its range. There’s up to three inches of adjustability in the suspension, overall.
Range And Price Arguments
According to Audi, the E-Tron Sportback can cover up to 277 miles on the WLTP cycle, which represents a 10-km increase over the standard model thanks to the Sportback’s more aerodynamic shape.
For long-distance journeys, the E-Tron Sportback can charge at up to 150 kilowatts on a DC charger, which is quick enough to bring the battery from five to 80 percent in about 30 minutes. Charging at a level two station means 11-kW charge speeds.
The E-Tron Sportback hits European dealers later this spring, although with the coronavirus crisis, that date could be fluid. Prices start at 71,350 euro ($77,640) for the base E-Tron 50, while the 55 rings up at 83,150 ($90,481), or 2,250 euros ($2,448) more than the standard E-Tron.
As a complete package, the E-Tron looks well thought out, while the Sportback variant makes for a more harmonious appearance. But it’s weightiness impacts its performance, agility, and range, and that’s a tough thing to forgive in the field of EVs.
Editor's Note: This first drive comes from Motor1.com's German edition and was translated from German. Equipment, pricing, and performance information may not reflect the car that will go on sale in the U.S. All currency conversions were correct at time of publication.