The 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback breaks both new and familiar ground. German brands have been taking conventional two-box crossovers and trimming them down to craft more evocative and interesting shapes for years now, but the E-Tron Sportback is the first electric crossover to adopt the automotive mullet.
This not-so-novel approach has yielded familiar results. The E-Tron Sportback is more pleasant to look at, a bit less practical, and otherwise drives similarly to its conventionally styled sibling. Its bigger issue is that the market for EVs is far different now, and the E-Tron will need more than good looks to compete against both newer competitors like the BMW iX and Ford Mustang Mach-E GT and old rivals like the Tesla Model X.
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|Quick Stats||2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback Prestige|
|Output:||402 Horsepower / 490 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||5.5 Seconds|
The regular Audi E-Tron is a handsome car, with good proportions and a pleasant face. The Sportback treatment elevates the exterior design, though, with the fastback roofline and short rear deck creating a far more attractive profile. The E-Tron is a relatively large, heavy vehicle, and yet the new roofline dramatically reduces the visual mass, making this EV look smaller than it is. It wasn't until we parked the Audi next to the Polestar 2 we were testing concurrently (and which you can read all about here) that we realized how large this Audi really is.
The roofline looks broadly similar ahead of the B-pillar, but plunges down rather aggressively rear of there. It's less like the stubby fastback you see on the Audi Q5/SQ5 Sportback or Porsche Cayenne Coupe, and more like the traditional Sportback body found on the A5 or A7 family. Either approach would have improved the E-Tron's profile, but the sleeker design serves this larger vehicle well. Considering the E-Tron was always a bit shorter vertically than more traditional CUVs, the Sportback treatment makes it look more like a slightly lifted sedan.
Despite the flashier exterior, the E-Tron Sportback's cabin is identical to its conventional sibling. In other words, it's beautiful. While there remains a bit too much piano black, the application of it, combined with the use of leather, aluminum accents, and matte woods offsets the substantial amount of plastic.
The designs themselves are pleasing, too. The throttle-like shifter feels like it came from the bridge of the starship Enterprise, as do the twin displays on the center stack and the digital cluster. The four-spoke steering wheel is lovely too, and feels very natural to hold. Yoke-like wheels like this and their two-spoke counterparts are catching on in luxury applications and we couldn't be happier to see something beyond the usually arrangement at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Audi e-tron
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
- Cargo Volume: 27.2 / 54.5 Cubic Feet
The E-Tron's 12-way front chairs are excellent, offering impressive support and ample bolsters without sacrificing ease of entry. We especially like the optional Valcona leather, which feels well worth the Prestige pack's $13,200 price tag. Sightlines are fantastic forward and laterally, but that fastback shape is tougher to see out the back of. The seating position here is quite good, with the high center console and well-padded arm rests providing support while gripping the steering wheel. Heating is standard, and while ventilation and massage functions are optional, we'd recommend them all the same. Now, onto that backseat.
The fastback roofline does cost 1.1 inches of headroom, so the Sportback is probably a poor idea if for regularly toting around NBA players. But for regular-sized humans, it's not oppressively tight. In fact, the E-Tron Sportback gives up less headspace over its counterpart than the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, which sacrifices 2.6 inches of headroom to the standard body. And you'll still find the same amount of legroom here – the E-Tron Sportback is mostly as good at handling four people as the regular model. Even cargo space is respectfully similar, with 27.2 cubes with the second row in place and 54.5 with it stowed compared to 28.5 and 56.5.
As expected with a luxury-branded EV, the E-Tron Sportback is impressively quiet, exhibiting excellent control of wind noise and virtually no tire roar from the 265/45/21 Continental rubber. And despite those relatively skinny sidewalls, the ride is smooth and pleasant, even over rougher roads. In general, the E-Tron Sportback does a excellent job of isolating its cabin from the outside world.
Gallery: 2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback Edition One First Drive Review
- Center Display: 10.1-inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 12.3-inch
- Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto: Yes
Audi's has been nailing in-car tech since before the first E-Tron rolled out, so it's little surprise the Sportback is so clever. The MMI infotainment system is quick and clever, and while its minimalist aesthetic might not be as exciting or feature-rich as something like MBUX, among EVs this is darn near as good as it gets.
The E-Tron carries two sizable touchscreens on its center stack – a 10.1-inch upper display is the primary interface for the MMI system, while an 8.6-inch display below is home to all the climate controls, seat settings, and quick-access items. It's also where you can enter destinations for the navigation via native handwriting recognition. This system works quite well and is a welcome reprieve from spinning a knob and selecting letters or numbers – rotary phones went out of fashion for a reason.
The third in-cabin display is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which is home to Audi Virtual Cockpit. We've sang this systems praises on many occasions, so we'll spare you further praise here.
What we will highlight are the things the E-Tron offers that aren't available in the United States due to our antiquated federal motor vehicle safety standards. The full breadth of Matrix LED light technology, which is transformative at making night-time driving safer, remains unavailable here.
While this tech can offer high-beam levels of light without blinding oncoming traffic, its party tricks extend beyond that courtesy, highlighting lane markers and illuminating upcoming corners. The E-Tron carries the Matrix LED hardware, but until the federal government gets off its ass and modernizes its safety standards, all we get in the US is a fun light show on startup and shutdown.
- Motors: Dual Asynchronous
- Output: 402 Horsepower / 490 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Single-Speed Automatic
When it comes to electric crossovers, our rating system prioritizes range and performance. And that's two areas where the E-Tron just falls short. With its twin electric motors delivering a maximum of 402 horsepower and 490 pound-feet (and even then only during overboost situations), this EV takes a leisurely 5.5 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour.
You already know a Tesla will blow that figure out of the water, but the E-Tron Sportback is also noticeably slower than a dual-motor Ford Mustang Mach-E, and it's only two-tenths of a second quicker than the upcoming Volkswagen ID.4 AWD. You can snag either of those cars for far less than the E-Tron's $70,195 starting price.
Despite the lack of outright pace, the E-Tron Sportback still does the EV thing of providing immediate low-end torque. This car jumps off the line (although not as eagerly as the competition) and will be near its cruising speed while other cars are still accelerating. That ability contributes to a nippy character in urban driving, where owners can deploy sudden bursts of speed with a simple tap of the foot.
The E-Tron Sportback is a modest handler, with adequate control over body motions in corners. The steering is predictable and direct, with adequate weighting, but little in the way of feedback. This car leans solidly on the luxury end of the handling spectrum. And unlike some other EVs, it's rather light on regeneration. There is one-pedal driving, to an extent, but you need to activate it via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles every time you start up – even then, the level of regen is far below what other modern EVs offer. Simply put, we'd like more.
- Driver Assistance Level: Level 2 (Hands-On)
- NHTSA Overall Rating: Five Stars
- IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick Plus
The E-Tron Sportback has a solid safety suite as standard, with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, lane-departure warning, and front and rear parking sensors as standard. The $13,200 Prestige pack ups the ante considerably, though, with full-speed adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping assist, traffic-sign recognition, and a 360-degree camera.
Audi integrated all of this into the driving experience perfectly and the performance is flawless in the real world. Automatic steering inputs feel natural and the computers seemingly know that cruise control sacrifices range, so they respond gently with acceleration when a space opens up. The Matrix LED headlights are a pricey $3,000 option, but their ability to illuminate the road is nearly unmatched – that investment will be especially prudent if Audi is ever able to offer the full breadth of software for them.
- Range: 218 Miles
- Max Recharge Rate: 150-Kilowatt DC
- Fuel Economy: 76 / 78 / 77 MPGe
As we said, range is a big factor in our EV scoring, and with 218 miles per charge and a max refill rate of 150 kilowatts, the E-Tron Sportback is a middling offering. It can't match the 270-kW charge speed available in its Porsche cousins, nor can Audi approach the Tesla Model X's 225-kW rate.
In the real world, we saw a computer-indicated consumption of 2.5 miles per kilowatt hour over an 85-mile test mixed test route. That's a particularly egregious level of consumption considering our 49-mph average speed and a pleasant 75-degree air temperature. The EPA rates the E-Tron Sportback at 76 mpge in the city, 78 on the highway, and 77 combined. That's well below the 86 combined figure for a Tesla Model X Performance or the 90 combined of the Mustang Mach-E with the extended-range battery.
Charge speeds on our Grizzl-E Classic charger were adequate – we'd plug in at night and awake to a fully juiced EV. Scheduling charge times to avoid peak rates was a hassle though, and like so many automakers, we hope Audi will look at making this easier for users to navigate in the feature.
- Starting Price: $69,100 + $1,095 Destination
- Trim Base Price: $70,195
- As-Tested Price: $90,640
Price is another big problem for the E-Tron. While its $70,195 starting price (including a $1,095 destination charge) is pretty fair for a luxury EV, what you get for that money – disappointing performance and modest range – isn't. Add on our tester's $13,200 Prestige pack, $3,000 Matrix LED headlights, $2,500 Black Optic appearance pack, and a couple other three-digit options, and you'll find an as-tested price that demands a stiff drink: $90,640, before the $7,500 federal income-tax credit.
That is about $10,000 less than the Tesla Model X Long Range, but that vehicle offers 360 miles of range along with a 3.8-second sprint to 60. Also keep an eye on the BMW iX, which promises 516 horsepower, a 4.6-second run to 60, and 300 miles of range with prices starting at $83,200. And of course, there are the raft of electric crossovers from mainstream brands – the VW ID.4 can humble the E-Tron's range while Mustang Mach-E can go further and at a much brisker clip.
All told, the E-Tron Sportback feels like a rather poor value. We like the look and the technology, and it's good to see an EV take a style-first approach, but Audi needs more range and performance at a better price to stand out in this burgeoning segment.
E-Tron Sportback Competitors:
- BMW iX: Not Rated
- Ford Mustang Mach-E: 9.1/10
- Jaguar I-Pace: Not Rated
- Tesla Model X: Not Rated
- Volkswagen ID.4 AWD: Not Rated
Gallery: 2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback Edition One First Drive Review
2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback