Instantaneous performance

Comfortable ride quality

Interior quality

Lazy handling

Limited charging network


audi e-tron sportback first drive review

You know how nearly all luxury carmakers have sleeker, couple-like versions of their SUV models? That trend is going pretty strong, so much so that it has now been stretched beyond traditional petrol and diesel SUVs to include EVs like the Audi e-tron Sportback. It’s a win-win situation because it gives Audi access to buyers in two slightly different demographics at not so very different price points. The relatively low-slung e-tron Sportback, for instance, costs just Rs 2 lakh over the standard e-tron and in return gets you styling that’s more akin to an exotic car. What about the rest though? Is it just as impressive as the regular e-tron? Let’s find out.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

Engine? There’s no such thing here. The e-tron Sportback’s lifeblood comes in the form of a 95kWh battery that’s mounted beneath the passenger shell. It feeds two electric motors (one per axle) which jointly deliver up to 300kw of power that translates to 408bhp/664Nm. Now, logic dictates that Audi would have been better off using a single large motor but this dual-motor setup not only helps achieve a better weight distribution but more importantly, allows the brand to facilitate its quattro all-wheel drive system into this electric SUV. Under normal conditions, the e-tron uses its rear electric motor to drive itself and it’s only when the driver’s right foot demands more power than it can supply, the all-wheel drive redistributes torque to the front axle.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

The e-tron Sportback has a theoretical range of over 400km on a full charge. Of course that depends on several factors such as driving style and traffic conditions. According to Audi, the car’s regeneration system accounts for up to 30 per cent of the total range. Basically, every time the driver hits the brakes or gets off the accelerator, the e-tron regenerates power back into the battery. In both cases, the electric motors function as a generator and convert the kinetic energy of the e-tron into electric energy to leverage more charge into the battery. What’s interesting here is that the driver can adjust the extent of re-gen using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. In the highest re-gen setting, the e-tron will decelerate and come to a stop rapidly as soon as you get off the accelerator. Ideally, then, one can drive the e-tron in traffic using just the accelerator pedal which is a little bizarre. In our range test which included driving the car under varied traffic conditions across Navi Mumbai and on the Mumbai Pune expressway, we were able to cover 370km with the battery percentage coming down to 7 per cent from a full charge. So it is possible for users to comfortably achieve 380km of range on a full charge and that’s not bad at all.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

As for the EV driving experience, you begin by pushing the start/stop button and that’s it. No engine to crank nothing. It takes some getting used to the fact that there is zero noise and vibration before you slot the gear lever in Drive and set off. This is also where the fun part begins because in typical EV fashion, the e-tron reacts like a resolute athlete as soon as you push the throttle pedal, accelerating strongly compared to all other vehicles around you. With over 400bhp and 664Nm of instantaneous torque under your right foot, the e-tron is rapid and is easily capable of pinning you back in your seat under full-bore acceleration. Speaking of which, we managed to strap our timing gear and the results were quite impressive. 0-60kmph takes just 2.88 seconds and you will need all of 5.35 seconds to hit 100kmph from standstill. The e-tron Sportback is phenomenally quick in-gear, too, taking just 3.53 seconds for the 40-100kmph run.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

The e-tron Sportback’s start-up and get-go process might be alien to some but there is nothing outlandish about the way this electric SUV rides and handles. Dynamically the e-tron feels quintessential Audi – everything from the steering feel to the body control is akin to that of a Q7. Sure, it cannot shift its mass around quite as fluidly as other full-size SUVs but for everyday driving, it’s not bad at all. This is largely down to the e-tron’s adaptive air suspension which does a great job of delivering an appropriately cushy ride in Comfort and safe, planted handling in Dynamic.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

Now because this is a Sportback, a term that Audi has coined for their four-door coupe body style, the e-tron has a lower drag coefficient (0.25cd) compared to the standard model’s 0.27cd and that’s largely because of the downward sloping roofline. This has also resulted in a slightly lower centre of gravity although there is no real world difference in handling and body control. The adaptive suspension also allows the driver to raise the ride height on the move. This not only reduces the chances of underbody scraping but more crucially, also keeps the battery pack safe. As for the ride quality, the e-tron is just like any petrol/diesel luxury SUV when it comes to smothering the harshness in bumps and pot holes. There is no underlying stiffness to its ride and for something that weighs over 2.5 tonne, there isn’t much side to side movement over undulations either.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

Like all flagship Audi models, the interior look and appeal is headlined by the two large touchscreen displays – one for the infotainment system and the lower secondary unit houses the climate controls. Admittedly, the screens look brilliant, especially at night, but they are also big-time fingerprint magnets. The rest of the cabin is typically Audi which means everything you touch or operate has a quality feel to it, right down to the wiper/indicator stalks and controls for the wing mirrors. The e-tron Sportback sits between the Q5 and the Q7 so it’s not like you are going to feel short-changed for space.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

The car’s dimensions, in fact, are quite large which translates to an airy, comfortable cabin. The front seats are big and supportive and because the e-tron is so wide, the seats are set at a good distance apart. Again, legroom and shoulder room at the back are plentiful and the rear bench is also equally supportive with good cushioning all around. What’s not so good is the obvious flaw that comes with any car with a heavily sloped roofline at the back and that’s headroom. Despite the scooped-out roof lining, it might get a little claustrophobic for tall occupants but in the overall scheme of things, the Sportback’s rear seat accommodation isn’t a deal breaker in any way. The other tradeoff for having a steeply raked rear glass is the reduced amount of boot space and in this case, the boot capacity has come down to 616 litres from the standard e-tron’s 660 litres.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review
audi e-tron sportback first drive review

The India-spec e-tron range gets panoramic sunroof, Matrix LED headlamps, soft-closing doors, Audi’s virtual cockpit (digital instrument cluster), ambient lighting, wireless charging, 16-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system, four-zone climate control and a heads-up display. In some markets the e-tron also gets virtual mirrors which are basically cameras instead of door mirrors projecting the visuals across dedicated screens on the front doors. The e-tron also comes with an optional 22kW AC charger though what’s really handy is that Audi has put charging points on both sides of the e-tron.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

There’s an AC/DC port on the driver’s side and an AC port on the other side to make charging that much easier when you simply want to plug it either way to your household AC provision. When connected to the compact mobile charging system that comes standard with the car, the battery can be charged to 80 per cent in four and a half hours. Meanwhile, an 11kW AC home charger can fully charge the e-tron in eight and a half hours.

audi e-tron sportback first drive review

The e-tron Sportback makes for a convincing buy, whether you are looking for a luxury SUV with some flair or a straight-up electric vehicle. It’s quicker than most SUVs in its class and it feels and drives like a conventional luxury vehicle which is probably the most impressive thing about it. Add in the comfortable road manners, solid build quality and a real world range of over 350kms and it makes for a compelling electric car to live with. This Sportback version costs just Rs 2 lakh more than the standard e-tron and makes a stronger case for itself but only if you are willing to sacrifice a bit of headroom and boot space for the added flair and road presence.

Pictures by Kapil Angane


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