What is it?
Audi's first fully-electric SUV, now in swoopy four-door-coupe form.
Is it new?
The sheetmetal towards the back certainly is. While the Sportback is identical to the regular two-box E-Tron beneath the sheetmetal, its styling sets it apart; most obviously the sleek curve that stretches from the roof to the back, but the front fascia has also been sportified a bit to go along with the name.
And the look works. While many a sport-utility coupe winds up looking awkward and dumpy, the E-Tron Sportback is actually an elegant thing; its rear has the sort of wind-carved look that defined 1990s-era Aston Martins and Jaguars, albeit applied over a much taller vehicle.
What makes it special?
95 kilowatt-hours worth of batteries arranged in 432 cells spread out across the bottom of the chassis, that's what. For 2020, Audi unlocked a little more capacity from the battery pack compared to previous models, giving it an EPA-estimated range of 218 miles. My heavy-footed driving from Manhattan to upstate New York and back again showed that to be fairly accurate in the real world; with a not-quite-full battery showing 200 miles of range when I left for my 130-mile round trip, I returned home with a little more than 60 miles left in the proverbial tank.
Admittedly, that range won't be enough to make regular roadtrippers consider trading in their old Q7 TDIs. (The VW Group-owned Electrify America's high-speed charging stations can recharge the Sportback at up to 150 kW, but you'll still be looking at 30 minutes to get to an 80-percent state of charge with that.) For anyone considering the E-Tron as a second car, however, it's more than enough to keep going through a long day of far-flung errands.
How does it drive?
The E-Tron's briskness off the line is enough to make you forget this isn't an S model (one of those comes next year); the full outlay of power is only available for eight seconds at a pull when the "gearbox" is in Sport, but even the regular continuous output of around 355 hp and 414 lb-ft is more than enough to goose this SUV past most unsuspecting traffic.
You will remember it's not an S once you pitch it into a turn, where it responds more like you'd expect a high-riding SUV weighing nearly 6,000 pounds with you aboard to behave. (Hey, batteries are heavy.) Sporty it ain't; the Sportback seems tuned more to keep the suburbanite buyers more interested in its badge (and maybe its green cred) happy than to entice the fast-driving set.
Which, of course, is fine; not every German car needs to try and be a Porsche 911. What's not fine is the tuning of the active safety systems, which on my test car made maintaining a steady course practically impossible at highway speeds. It constantly varies the steering assist, which means you never know how much of a result an input will lead to. You wind up constantly readjusting the wheel; it’s almost impossible to take a clean line in turns. It’s like the opposite of Mazda’s system to reduce stress. Worse yet, there's no apparent way to turn the system off; digging around in the active safety system menu turned up ways to deactivate many other systems, but not that one. (I wound up setting the stability control to sport mode, which turned the lane departure system off.)
I didn't have that sort of problem with the regular E-Tron I tested last year, mind you, so it could simply have been an issue with this one test car. Still, until I can get my hands on a second Sportback to see, I'd say make sure you at least include some highway driving on your test drive.
What’s it like inside?
Quiet. Car and Driver found the Sportback's interior to be a library-like 63 decibels at 70 miles per hour; credit not just the electric motors, but the low coefficient of drag of 0.25 and the ample sound deadening material.
That tomb-like isolation feels awfully appropriate for the Sportback's interior, given how much it feels like Tony Stark's vision of a fancy future. The Valcona leather seats are complemented by extensive cowhide and soft-touch materials, as well as ash gray wood in my top-shelf test car. All those natural (and natural-ish) materials stand in contrast to the trio of screens that dominate the interfaces: the Virtual Cockpit Plus instrument panel has no time or space for physical gauges, while the twin infotainment screens use clever haptic feedback to feel nearly as responsive as physical buttons. It's a thoroughly upscale experience, one that feels very much worth a stack of 700 Benjamins or more.
Of course, that's the same sort of situation you'd find in any Audi with this sort of pricetag. Which perhaps was the point; rather than try and make its electric vehicle a design outlier á la Tesla Model Y, Audi chose to make it look and feel just like any other new four-ringed crossover wherever possible.
What’s it cost?
2021 models will start at $69,100 before tax, title, destination and any options. My test car was one of the few 2020 model year E-Tron Sportbacks — one of just 200 copies of the Edition One launch version, a fully loaded model packing a price close to $90K.
2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback
Powertrain: Dual electric motors, all-wheel-drive
Torque: 490 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 77 mpg-e city, 78 mpg-e highway
Base Price: $69,100