By Andrew Lambrecht, editor of The Current Review (https://thecurrentreview.com)
Whether it’s the muscular, yet elegant styling, or the highly-refined driving experience, the Audi e-tron Sportback proves itself as one of the best new luxury electric SUVs.
As a new variant for the 2021 model year, the e-tron Sportback features a sleek design, delivered in a very similar form to its 2017 concept. Compared to the regular e-tron, the Sportback costs a bit more and has a sloped roofline, which provides slightly better efficiency. Most Audi dealerships sell an amalgam of both variants, just like Audi Charlotte, my local Audi center who kindly provided the review model. Audi Charlotte is located in Matthews, North Carolina, and they have several new e-trons along with some interesting used hybrids, like a 90K mile Volvo XC90 plug-in, so it’s definitely worth checking out their site. This e-tron, in particular, featured all standard equipment, aside from the optional $595 Glacier White Metallic exterior paint. However, just because it wasn’t fully optioned does not mean it felt underequipped. All e-trons feature a 402hp dual-motor setup, adaptive air suspension, leather interior, 20″ rims, and a liquid-cooled 95kWh battery pack.
For all intents and purposes, let’s use $70,195 as the base price, including the $1,095 destination fee. The e-tron Sportback costs $3,200 over the regular e-tron. Regardless, all e-tron models feature three trim levels designated as “Premium,” “Premium Plus,” and “Prestige.” The Sportback prices are $70,195, $79,095, and $83,395, respectively. If every additional option, including the tow package, is equipped on the “Prestige” model, the price just breaches the $90,000 mark. However, if you’re highly conservative when optioning the car, the e-tron Sportback’s “theoretical” price sits just under $63,000, factoring in the $7,500 EV federal tax credit.
Audi nailed the sloped-roof design, especially when compared to the Mercedes GLC or GLE Coupe. Accompanying the fresh style are new standard 20″ rims, which look much more fitting in a car of this price rather than the prior model year. The other change includes the optional $1,250 Black Optic Package, which is essentially a fancy name for “chrome delete.” The Black Optic Package gives the e-tron a much more aggressive look, which lets passersby say to themselves, “wow – that’s not just a regular e-tron, that’s an e-tron with the $1,250 Black Optic Package; that driver must know style!”
Your expectations should be high for a car with a $70K starting price, and the e-tron delivers. Arguably, the e-tron provides one of the most excellent interiors of any ‘current’ electric car. The e-tron easily ranks in my top three EV interior list alongside the XC40 Recharge and the Porsche Taycan. Once entering the e-tron, you’ll notice leather and soft-touch material coats nearly every surface within reach. Heated front seats come as standard, but you’d need to upgrade to the “Premium Plus” trim to get ventilated ones. Moreover, if you’ve taken a fancy to massaging seats, then you’d sit at $83,395 with the Prestige trim. Along with massaging seats, the Prestige features soft close doors, Valcona leather, LED ambient lighting, and Audi’s “air fragrance package,” which includes two scents: summer and winter. According to an Audi e-tron forum, when replacing the $53.73 fragrance cartridges, there’s a visible warning on the container stating “avoid breathing” – very reassuring! Since $53.73 is a bit pricey, you can always purchase Audi’s original Italian spicy-scented gecko for $9.90.
Whether or not you opt for the extras, even the base e-tron’s interior layout and materials are quite impressive. There are three main screens, two of which are touchscreen, and the other one acts as the driver’s display. The two touchscreens are highly-responsive and feature embedded haptic motors that generate kinesthetic feedback, so you know you’ve actually clicked on something (similar to Apple’s Haptic Touch feedback). While driving this car, I found myself raising and lowering the temperature by a degree just because it felt nice to press. Moreover, every interior button, knob, and dial felt satisfying to interact with. The prime example of this is the finely-crafted drive selector, which presents a metallic finish and carries a considerable avoirdupois.
While driving, the e-tron’s well-calibrated air suspension is most noticeable, absorbing most of the road’s imperfections. Complementing the air suspension is the steering, which feels light, giving the e-tron a similar demeanor to most other luxury cars. Despite the light steering, the e-tron handles quite well on the skidpad – .85g, according to Car and Driver. Even though .85 g’s may not seem all too impressive, keep in mind the e-tron is an SUV weighing nearly 6,000 lbs. I was incredibly surprised to see how planted the Sportback was, especially around tight corners. After rounding a tight curve and applying near-max power midway through, there was little body roll and zero traction loss.
While the powertrain figures certainly aren’t on par with similarly-priced Teslas, it provides enough power to wow passengers and tow up to 4,000 lbs. Unlike most other EVs, Audi chose a different route by making the maximum power unavailable unless in “Boost Mode.” When driving normally, 355 hp and 414 lb-ft of torque are at the driver’s disposal, and when Boost is engaged, these numbers jump to 402 and 490, respectively. Zero to sixty takes 5.5 seconds with launch control and 6 seconds without.
Launching the e-tron is actually quite simple. All you need to do is find a safe, open space and set the car to “Dynamic” mode. Once in Dynamic mode, firmly depress the brake with your left foot and then do the same with your right foot on the accelerator pedal. Then, let go of the brake pedal and feel the surge of 490 ft lbs of torque. In Launch Mode, the e-tron felt exceptionally quick with enough power to feel “fun,” but a Tesla Model Y Standard Range for nearly half the price accelerates faster without any launch control (5.3 seconds).
For the 2021 model year, Audi unlocked a little more of the usable battery capacity from 83.6kWh to 86.5kWh, increasing the range from 202 miles to 222 miles. Interestingly, the e-tron has a relatively large charge buffer, unlike Tesla vehicles. Subsequently, the e-tron will normally charge to “100%,” but that “100%” is 91% in actuality. How I see it, since this vehicle’s target audience is previous Audi SUV owners, rather than electric car enthusiasts, the objective of this concept was to cause as little confusion as possible to EV newcomers.
Like the previous model years, the e-tron is capable of 150kW fast charging, which can provide a 0-80% charge in just 30 minutes. While this sounds impressive in theory, 150kW chargers are relatively uncommon at the moment. In Charlotte, there are 13 chargers capable of 50kW and only one capable of 150kW. When charging at 50kW, the 0-80% time will slow all the way down to around an hour and a half. While this certainly is a drawback, especially when compared to Tesla’s Supercharging network, most e-trons aren’t used on long trips, thus rarely requiring public charging. For in-town driving, 222
miles more than enough for several commutes without charging. Perhaps Audi Corporate could lend me a press e-tron for a few days (or weeks) to document public charging and range (just a thought).
In its second model year, Audi’s first mass-produced EV has proven that legacy automakers can make great electric cars. Not only does the e-tron provide excellent driving dynamics, but it is priced in line with most other luxury European SUVs. Furthermore, since it’s electric, the e-tron requires far less maintenance than its gasoline counterparts. While I only test drove the e-tron, I cannot accurately expound upon the reliability. However, the four-year / 50,000-mile basic warranty along with the federally-mandated eight-year battery warranty should help you make a decision. Regardless, the 2021 e-tron Sportback is a great all-around SUV, and its interior and ride quality is unlike that of any other mainstream EV.