by Deiondre van der Merwe
With Audi planning on having 20 full-electric models on the road by 2025, the e-tron Sportback marks the beginning of a new direction for the German automaker. Being the second dedicated all-electric model from the brand means that first impressions certainly count; and if the tone for Audi's greener ventures is being set by the e-tron, sign us up. The electrified SUV ticks all the right boxes, with saucy styling and decent driving range pairing perfectly with a swanky interior filled with modern tech. As if that isn't enough, the two electric motors produce a maximum of 402 horsepower. The e-tron Sportback is essentially the fastback version of the standard e-tron SUV and glares at the Tesla Model X and the Jaguar I-Pace, ready for the challenge.
The e-tron is an all-new model for 2020 and is essentially the coupe version of the standard e-tron SUV. It adds a newly-engineered battery for improved long-distance range compared to the SUV version.
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The e-tron Sportback clothes utility in sharply contoured metal, and the result is a stunning SUV that catches the eye immediately. A sloped roofline gives a distinct nod to the four-door coupes in Audi's lineup, and a set of sharp LED headlights with a unique light signature flank a Singleframe grille coated in platinum grey. The color choice is meant to distinguish the e-tron as an all-electric model, with other bits like the wheel arches and lower sills coated in anthracite to finish off the look. The seamlessly banded rear lights are also full-LED for futuristic flair, and the sum of all parts rests on 20-inch wheels as standard at base level, though 21-inch wheels are standard on the Edition One along with an S line exterior style as standard.
The e-tron Sportback slots in between the Jaguar I-Pace and the Tesla Model X in terms of size. The SUV measures 193 inches from its snout to its tail and sits 86.2 inches wide with the mirrors included. It stands 65 inches tall, just slightly shorter than the Model X. Its 115-inch wheelbase is shorter than that of the I-Pace, and it's heavier than its British counterpart with a curb weight of 5,754 pounds.
The system responsible for getting the wheels turning is impressive, comprising two electric motors powered by a 95 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Audi engineering has the battery cleverly placed low in the body, along with other components for a low center of gravity. The battery system sends power to two motors, one located in the front and the other in the rear. The latter does the lion's share of the work, and, when combined, the setup produces 355 horsepower and 414 lb-ft of torque for regular driving. Flipping over to Boost mode unleashes 402 horses and 490 lb-ft of torque, putting it in the same league as the Jaguar I-Pace, but behind the base Tesla Model X's 534 hp and 557 lb-ft of torque. Still, the Sportback manages a run from 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds, impressive when you remember it weighs nearly 6,000 lbs.
Audi hasn't put as much focus on the advancement of its electric technology as it has on keeping its reputation for comfort and driving pleasure intact. The e-tron Sportback may not be as groundbreaking as the Tesla Model X in terms of engineering, but that doesn't seem to matter as much when you're being cushioned by standard adaptive air suspension. Electronically controlled dampers also aid the effort to provide a heavenly, plush ride, and the SUV gracefully glides over the average bump. Immediate acceleration is a welcome advantage of most electric vehicles, and the e-tron Sportback responds eagerly when you put your foot down. On the topic of pedal-pushing, the blend between its regenerative and traditional brakes is expertly put together and less jolting than rivals. Beyond day-to-day driving, the e-tron Sportback is capable of towing up to 4,000 pounds, meaning it's as capable as it is pretty.
Relatively on par with the Jaguar I-Pace, the e-tron Sportback returns EPA estimates of 76/78/77 MPGe city/highway/combined, while the Jaguar returns 80/72/76 MPGe figures. Unfortunately, none of them hold a candle to the Tesla Model X's 105/98/101 MPGe estimates, proving that Tesla is nearly unbeatable in this segment when it comes to long-distance range. As for total driving range on a full charge, the e-tron falls behind both of its main competitors with 218 miles against the I-Pace's 234 miles and the Model X's 351 miles. That being said, the upgrades made to the Sportback for 2020 see an improvement over 2019's regular-bodied e-tron.
When plugged into a DC fast-charger, Audi estimates that it will get just under 60 miles of range in 10 minutes and 174 miles in half an hour. It will take around nine hours to get to a full charge with a standard outlet, and will get an 80% charge in 30 minutes from a 150 kW DC outlet.
While most coupe variants sacrifice a noticeable amount of headroom for rear passengers, this particular five-seater loses just under an inch in comparison to its sibling. Legroom is abundant for the driver and front passenger and even six-footers will find the headroom up front manageable. As for the seating, it's comfortable enough for even longer journeys and you can opt to have the seats clad in one of four leather combinations in standard form. For the base model, heated and ventilated front seats with 12-way power-adjustability are standard but the Prestige gets 18-way power-adjustability instead.
The e-tron Sportback's cargo-carrying abilities are quite practical thanks to a 27.2 cubic-foot trunk, increasing to 54.5 inches with the rear seats folded. There's also a frunk that stores the charging cable and allows for 2.1 cubic feet of storage space for smaller items. Inside storage is decent thanks to deep door pockets, an open storage bin in the middle console, an under-armrest bin, and a nifty glove compartment.
As expected, the list of standard features for this car is impressive, even in its base form. The entry-level Premium Plus comes fitted with a panoramic sunroof, a hands-free tailgate, and keyless entry. Push-button start joins the list along with four-zone climate control, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control and heated 12-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way lumbar support, heating, and ventilation. The rear seats are also heated and ambient lighting sets the tone. For the Prestige, 18-way power-adjustable front seats clad in Valcona leather are added to the mix along with driver and passenger seat memory. Multi-color ambient lighting is added along with a full leather dashboard. Dual-pane acoustic glass is also used for the front side windows on this model.
All spec levels share the same standard tech features, meaning you'll get the best of the best even if you're opting for a base model. Audi's virtual cockpit comprises a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with three visual modes, which will tell you everything you need to know, from speed to car status. As for the central infotainment hub, dual-screens work together to bring you the best of modern technology. The main screen is 10.1 inches, while the lower one measures 8.6 inches. Both are touch-enabled with haptic feedback. The system enables Audi's latest MMI software that allows for navigation and full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Amazon Alexa integration is also standard as well as HD Radio, SiriusXM, and Bluetooth streaming. A Bang and Olufsen 3D system with 16 speakers will expertly push out that Queens of the Stone Age album.
Neither the SUV nor the Sportback version have been at the center of any recalls thus far. This is impressive, but it's worth remembering that this car hasn't been around for very long. Audi provides an eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance is standard for four years. The basic warranty is valid for four years or 50,000 miles.
The list of standard driver-assist features reads long for the e-tron Sportback. Rear cross-traffic alert and vehicle exit warning are standard along with front and rear park sensors, and a top-view camera system with a virtual 360-degree view. Adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist make longer trips that much easier and lane-assist, emergency assist, and traffic sign recognition round off the list. As for Prestige, intersection assist and a head-up display with navigation integration come standard. The airbag system is inclusive of dual-front and dual-front knee airbags as well as side impact and side curtain airbags. Rear seat airbags are optionally available.
The e-tron Sportback received a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA. The standard 2019 e-tron was given top ratings of Good in all categories, and, saving the best for last, it also received a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS, with the Sportback expected to follow suit.
The 2020 e-tron Sportback is an improvement on what was already an accomplished platform. Can it stick it to the Tesla Model X in terms of progression and driving range? No, but it stays true to Audi's key selling points; comfort, power, and luxury. It also lays claim to a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS in its regular configuration. The inside of the high-riding coupe is stunning and equipped with every bit of progressive tech you can think of. The infotainment is simply laid out and easy to use, and Audi's MMI software is the reason for that. Beyond what you can control with the touch of a finger, the German electric produces impressive power outputs and has a usable, albeit slightly sub-par for the segment, driving range. It's also remarkably comfortable, thanks to a state of the art suspension set-up and the inside is roomy enough for five passengers without too many complaints. Rivals outshine it in some areas, and although this year's model is definitely an improvement, the e-tron Sportback could definitely do with some more long-distance range and a bump in power. Fortunately, an e-tron S Sportback is coming, too. Still, the SUV is capable, spacious, stylish, and safe. It scores high amongst its competitors, and it's well worth considering.
The most affordable way into the e-Tron Sportback lineup is the Premium Plus with a starting MSRP of $77,300. It's considerably more expensive at a base level than the Jaguar I-Pace that starts at $69,850, but it manages to be a bit lighter on the pocket than the Tesla Model X's $79,990 sticker. As for the mid-range model, the Prestige comes in at $83,300. The Edition One is the most exclusive model of the all and starts at $88,495. All prices are exclusive of the $995 destination and handling fee. While many state-specific incentives are available, at the time of this writing, the EPA hadn't published federal tax incentives for the e-tron Sportback, but we suspect the $7,500 figure applicable to the standard model also applies here.
The golden rule is generally to opt for the mid-range spec and add a few packages to tailor the car to suit your needs, so to this end, we'd recommend the Prestige model if you want to save a few thousand dollars. We'd go with the Typhoon Gray metallic exterior paint that costs $595 and add the Towing Package for $650. This adds a tow hitch receiver and a seven-pin towing connector. For added safety, adding rear side airbags with illuminated seat belt buckles at the rear costs $400. If money isn't a concern, the Edition One comes with every single available package and is extremely well-rounded, with unique exterior styling and a host of additional features on the inside.
These two electric SUVs go head to head in more ways than one, but they're fundamentally different. They have different ranges and battery sizes and achieve very different goals. The e-tron Sportback is slightly smaller than the Model X, and the latter offers seating for up to seven passengers. The Tesla offers a choice between a long-distance model or a performance version while Audi's lineup simply adds or removes conveniences according to the trim level. The Tesla is also more powerful than the Audi, making the run from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds in its slowest guise while the Audi does it in 5.5 seconds The Tesla would appear to be the better choice if you're mainly concerned with range and power, but in terms of value for money, you can get a fully loaded Audi e-tron Edition One for just under $90,000 where a top of the line Tesla tips its MSRP over into the six-figure range.
A German and a Brit walk into a bar, they immediately start fighting. The e-tron Sportback has a little more manners and is quieter to drive, but manners don't always maketh man. The I-Pace gets to 60 mph just over a full second faster than the Audi, but doesn't have the same stopping power. The Audi's sophisticated braking system simply does the job better, so you can go faster in the Jag, but you can't stop as well. That being said, the I-Pace has an edge - its total range figures are better than the Audi, and this is an important factor that most shoppers in the segment consider before signing those papers. The Audi has a vastly better ride quality but slogs a bit in the corners thanks to its hefty disposition. The Jag is more predictable and willing in terms of handling and has delightfully precise and weighted steering. These two are equally luxurious inside, so it's a close one overall. If comfort and practicality are your M.O., then the e-tron takes the cake, but for better range, snappier acceleration, and a more entertaining drive, the I-Pace is the way to go.
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