The groundwork for the smoothest possible transition to electric driving for Audi customers has been laid very successfully by the e-tron with its unmistakable SUV silhouette and easily fathomable functionality - now the stage is set for bolder and even more distinctive variations on the theme, beginning with the new e-tron Sportback, which is now arriving with its first UK owners.
With its coupé-inspired roofline and performance-oriented specification the new five-door Sportback cuts an even more purposeful figure than its counterpart, notable as Europe’s best-selling premium electric SUV, but its focus on refinement, efficiency and the application of advanced technology with optimal simplicity is no less acute. The even more expressive e-tron will fittingly make its UK debut as a 55 quattro with a 95kWh battery, peak electrical output of 300kW and range capability of up to 241 miles, but a new lead-in 50 quattro version with capacity and output slightly reduced to 71kWh and 230kW is also announced this week and will become available to order in the autumn.
“The original e-tron was cleverly conceived because it delivered transformative technology to Audi customers in a familiar, friendly form that they could easily get on board with” said Director of Audi UK Andrew Doyle.
“Now the SUV has proved that electrified Audi models with all their environmental and efficiency benefits can be comfortably accommodated in everyday life in return for very little compromise versus their ICE counterparts, the time is right for the Sportback to offer a slightly bolder take on the concept.”
As befits an e-tron that looks more inclined towards uptempo travel the new Sportback combines its coupé-derived references with a more performance-oriented specification structure that begins at S line level. As elsewhere in the Audi range, S line specification lends a more dynamic air through exclusive front and rear styling treatments, privacy glass and larger alloy wheels – in this case with a 21-inch diameter. Matrix LED headlamps with front and rear dynamic indicators are standard, as is sport suspension based on the adaptive air set-up that is standard for all e-tron models. Inside, electrically adjustable and S-embossed front sport seats are upholstered in supple Valcona leather, and leather-effect Twin leather extends their indulgently soft feel to the upper section of the dashboard, the door armrests and the lower portion of the centre console.
With a wheelbase of 2,928 millimetres, the Audi e-tron Sportback has ample space for five occupants. The tapering roof line reduces rear headroom by just 20 millimetres versus the e-tron SUV, and when passengers are occupying the rear seats a total of 615 litres of luggage space is available if the 60-litre stowage compartment under the bonnet is also factored into the equation. When the rear seats are vacant and the backrests are folded, luggage capacity increases to 1,665 litres.
This technology centrepiece for Audi is naturally also bristling with infotainment features, including the Audi Virtual Cockpit, the touch-screen MMI Touch system with its dual monitors, wireless smartphone integration via the Audi Smartphone Interface and Audi Phone Box wireless handset charging. Needless to say the e-tron Sportback is also online thanks to the Audi Connect module, bringing numerous internet-derived features on board and upgrading navigation mapping with the help of Google Earth.
The powerful third generation MIB 3 modular infotainment platform presides over all the digital functions. Its enhanced processing capability enables the MMI Navigation system to access speech recognition software in the cloud during its formulation of responses to spoken commands for even more accurate comprehension and feedback, and also places everything from phone book contacts and radio stations to climate control settings under vocal control.
On the rung above the S line model in the e-tron Sportback specification structure sits the Launch Edition, identifiable by way of its black styling applications for the Singleframe, window trim strips and front and rear bumpers, by its exclusive 21-inch alloy wheels from Audi Sport and by its unusually slim virtual door mirrors housing cameras that project images of the e-tron’s surroundings onto OLED displays in the cabin. A full-length panoramic sunroof sheds considerably more light on the interior, which also benefits from upgrades such as powered steering wheel adjustment and the more sophisticated virtual cockpit plus with additional ‘e-tron’ and ‘sport’ screens providing even more comprehensive driver information.
Significant expansion of the e-tron driver assistance package is also part and parcel of the Launch Edition specification. Above and beyond the S line model with its cruise control, lane departure warning and rear camera-enhanced parking system, the Launch Edition is supported by a 360-degree camera in the delivery of everything from adaptive cruise assist and the predictive efficiency assistant advocating the most charge-conscious driving style to monitoring of turning at junctions, blindspots, reversing out of parking spaces and even exit from the car when parked.
The art of luxury travel is mastered even more adeptly by the e-tron Sportback Vorsprung, which heads the range and alludes to that fact visually through 22-inch matt titanium alloy wheels framing orange brake calipers. Its doors click shut virtually silently thanks to powered door closure, its steering wheel heats chilled hands on demand and its 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system carries a tune with incredible richness and clarity as occupants sink into upgraded diamond-stitched super sport seats.
The first examples of the e-tron Sportback to reach the UK are 55 quattro models, meaning that they combine a 95kWh battery fitted as a wide flat block beneath the passenger cell with two asynchronous electric motors – one per axle – giving a combined output of 265 kW and 561 Nm (413.8 lb-ft) of torque. In the autumn, a 50 quattro model will slot into the range below this, its two motors fed by a smaller 71kWh battery and capable of a slightly reduced 230kW output.
Locally emission-free and in virtual silence, the motors literally waste absolutely no time in launching the e-tron Sportback 55 quattro towards the horizon, taking it to 62mph in just 6.6 seconds and onward to a top speed of 124mph. However, they can do better still - by shifting the gear lever into the S position and fully depressing the accelerator pedal, the driver can access boost mode, liberating the full 300 kW of output and 664 Nm (489.7 lb-ft) of torque for eight-second phases, enough to pare back the 0-62mph acceleration time to 5.7 seconds.
In most driving situations, the Audi e-tron Sportback relies exclusively on its rear electric motor in the interest of efficiency, but on occasions when driver demand exceeds its ability to supply the front unit is instantly and seamlessly activated. This also happens predictively when traction breaks in poor conditions or when sensors detect understeer or oversteer during more committed driving. The system’s continual regulation of torque distribution between both axles and its ability to act within fractions of a second replicates the familiar benefits of quattro all-wheel-drive for the age of electrification.
Weight distribution of almost 50:50 between the axles thanks to the low and centralised installation of the heaviest drive components creates ideal operating conditions for the standard five-link suspension with air springs and controlled dampers.
Its sport settings are evident as the e-tron Sportback flows with composure and agility through corners, and its ability to vary ride height by up to 76 millimetres means that the SUV Coupé can sit low to favour the centre of gravity and noticeably improve airflow for the best possible range potential, but can also adjust its trim for optimal cruising comfort and absorbency. The driver can influence the settings of the adaptive air suspension, and several other components, via the standard Audi drive select dynamic handling system, which offers a choice of seven profiles.
Fully charged e-tron Sportback models equipped to S line and Launch Edition specification are capable of a WLTP-certified range of up to 241 miles, while Vorsprung versions need replenishment after a maximum of 237 miles. The recuperation system that is standard for all models helps to make these figures as realistically achievable as possible by offering three levels of energy recuperation available both in coasting mode when the driver releases the right-hand pedal as well as during braking.
During deceleration actions of up to 0.3 g, in other words around 90 per cent of everyday driving situations, the high-voltage battery is charged by the electric motors, which act as generators in these situations. When braking from 62mph, the Audi e-tron Sportback can recuperate a maximum of 300 Nm (221.3 lb-ft) and 220 kW, which amounts to more than 70 per cent of its output. Overall, the Sportback attains up to 30 percent of its range through recuperation. The wheel brakes, whose innovative electrohydraulic activation concept allows them to respond with exceptional speed, only ever come into play when deceleration forces exceed 0.3 g.
Highly flexible thermal management, comprising four separate circuits, regulates the temperature of the high-voltage components with maximum efficiency. This enables rapid DC charging, a long battery life cycle, and reproducible performance even under heavy loads. The standard heat pump, which harnesses waste heat from the high-voltage battery, can use up to 3 kW of actual power losses for heating and air conditioning the interior—which is exceptionally efficient. Depending on the outside temperature, that can boost the Audi e-tron Sportback’s range by up to ten per cent.
When the time does eventually come to plug in, recharging of the e-tron Sportback 55 quattro can be completed to the recommended 80 per cent capacity in as little as 30 minutes at DC fast charge stations thanks to its 150kW charging capability. The same will apply to the forthcoming 50 quattro model with its 120kW threshold.
Accessing and paying for electricity while on the road is easier with the new e-tron Charging Service, which provides subscribers with one RFID payment card that is accepted at a vast number of charge points operated by 18 suppliers across the UK and Europe, and offers a choice of two attractive fixed price charging tariffs. UK fleet and retail customers who place an order for an e-tron model before December 31st 2020 will receive a free 12-month subscription to the service’s Transit Tariff and an account credit equivalent to 1,000 miles-worth of electricity at no extra cost.
Convenient AC charging at home is of course also possible, and Audi UK has sought to make this simpler as well by offering a 7kW home wall box charger to all fleet and retail customers placing an e-tron or e-tron Sportback order before December 31st. The wall box needs around 14 hours to restore a totally depleted 55 quattro to a full charge, or around 10.5 hours to bring the 50 quattro version back up to speed. By downloading the myAudi app, the driver can activate and deactivate charging remotely and also define a home charging schedule that takes advantage of cheaper off-peak electricity supply periods.
The myAudi app also provides access to the remote preconditioning system which is another standard feature of e-tron Sportback models. Using the app the driver can activate the car’s heating and ventilation unit from a smartphone to cool or heat the cabin well before a journey begins. In Vorsprung versions, an upgraded comfort remote preconditioning system also enables full adjustment of the cabin temperature and can control the seat, steering wheel and window heating functions.