Growing Family: Audi's E-Tron Sportback Debuts in L.A.
And then there were two. Volkswagen Group, which is leading the (mainstream) charge on vehicle electrification, has a second high-end electric vehicle to tempt cozy greenies, and like its sibling, its styling aims to comfort, not repel.
The Audi E-Tron Sportback (“e-tron” Sportback in Audi parlance) is a slightly more curvaceous, sportier version of the E-Tron two-row crossover that began appearing earlier this year. Like that model, the Sportback doesn’t turn away traditional premium buyers with Jetsons-like styling and overbearing nods to the technology that lurks beneath its surface. It’s all-electric, yes, but you’d hardly know it from standing next to one.
While the relationship to the more traditionally laid-out E-Tron is obvious (its footprint is identical), the Sportback goes its own way in a number of ways. Not in terms of battery size — it’s still a 95 kWh pack, buried below the floor — but you will see a difference in another all-important metric: range. The E-Tron rates 255 miles on the European WLTP cycle (204 miles EPA), while the Sportback boasts 277 WLTP miles. How that breaks down stateside remains to be seen.
Obviously, a coupe-like roofline and seamlessly integrated rear glass form part of the package; the automaker is careful to note that rear-seat passengers lose only eight-tenths of an inch of headroom. Luggage space behind them amounts to 21.7 cubic feet, down from 28.5 cubes in the E-Tron.
An available S line bumps up the model’s appearance, adding a rear spoiler and more aggressive diffuser while kicking the standard 19-inch wheels to the curb in favor of 20-inchers. Eventually, buyers will be able to opt for 22-inch hoops.
Audi claims that roughly 6.2 miles of additional range was gained through the Sportback’s slipperier shape, which employs front air curtains and other trickery to bring the vehicle’s drag coefficient down to 0.25. Where legal, buyers can opt for digital camera side “mirrors” that cut drag even further. At speed, the Sportback can lower itself by up to 3 inches, allowing an even less disruptive passage through the air.
Some 30 percent of the model’s range is achieved through energy capture — i.e. recuperation, via either acceleration or braking. The Sportback, an all-wheel drive vehicle, makes use of two motors paired with each axle. Under most acceleration situations, the rear motor acts as a generator, charging the battery, while during braking the vehicle can pour juice back into the vessel via the electric motor or mechanical brakes. Or a combination of both. The car decides which.
Fancy stuff, but most drivers will be more concerned with how quickly they can get off the line. With 414 lb-ft of torque on tap from the twin motors, drivers shouldn’t worry. The manufacturer claims a zero-to-62 mph time of 6.6 seconds, though placing the shifter in “S” will shorten the trip to 5.7 seconds. It does this by boosting output to 490 lb-ft for 2 seconds.
Expect quicker battery drain with these kind of stoplight launches, you monster.
Should you choose to throw range concerns to the wind and haul ass like you’ve stolen your Sportback, the S model’s wide rubber and sport air suspension will help keep things level as you round that last corner to your house (standard Sportbacks adopt a multi-link setup). Matte black wheel arch trim and side sills will help you look fast as you do it, too, though neighbors might wonder why there’s no roaring engine behind that expansive grille.
Weight balance between the front and rear axles? Audi claims a perfect 50:50.
Lighting the way, should you choose to opt for them, are digital matrix LED headlamps that can do anything the driver wants. Not yet legal on U.S. roads, these lamps employ a million “micromirrors” than can direct — or disrupt — a headlamp’s beam wherever and however the driver chooses.
It’s worth noting what lies in wait when the NHTSA eventually gets its way. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety will surely approve of these lamps:
It can generate dynamic leaving- and coming-home animations that appear as projections on a wall or on the ground. This presentation transforms the area in front of the car into a carefully illuminated stage. Not only does the digital light system deliver cornering, city, and highway lighting as versions of the low-beam light with exceptional precision, it also supplements the high-beam light by masking out other road users with even greater accuracy. Above all, however, it offers innovative functions such as lane light and orientation light. On freeways, the lane light creates a carpet of light that illuminates the driver’s own lane brightly and adjusts dynamically when he or she changes lane.
Fancy stuff, but off-limits to American buyers for now. Frankly, the E-Tron Sportback itself is off-limits until Audi decides to send it stateside (no word on U.S. availability just yet). Europeans will have access as soon as spring 2020.
Inside all Sportbacks, drivers are greeted with a 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit, with stacked screens measuring 12.1 inches up top and 8.6 inches on the bottom providing infotainment, convenience, and climate functions via the center stack.
At launch, there’ll be a slightly less potent model on offer for those Europeans. The Sportback 50 Quattro (as opposed to the 55 Quattro we’ve just described) makes do with 398 lb-ft, with the motors drawing juice from a 71 kWh battery pack. Zero-62 mph is a 6.8-second trip. Range on this version is 215.6 miles on the WLTP cycle, which definitely translates into a sub-200-mile EPA range. It’s unlikely such a beast would dare show its face here.
All that said, the 55 version can tap into 150 kW fast-chargers, providing a 80-percent charge in just under 30 minutes, Audi claims. Range is important, but so too is the ability to top up in a relative hurry. In a vehicle that falls behind some of its rivals in terms of driving distance, recharging speed takes on an even greater importance.
On thing’s for sure — the E-Tron Sportback will not get the world on wheels. A base 50 Quattro starts at the equivalent of $79,000 USD.
[Images: Audi AG, @ 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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"Some 30 percent of the model’s range is achieved through energy capture — i.e. recuperation, via either acceleration or braking. The Sportback, an all-wheel drive vehicle, makes use of two motors paired with each axle. Under most acceleration situations, the rear motor acts as a generator, charging the battery, while during braking the vehicle can pour juice back into the vessel via the electric motor or mechanical brakes. Or a combination of both. The car decides which." How fascinating - nice copy/paste from Audi's press releases. In other words, this car does exactly what all hybrids and EVs have ever done. But as an engineer, I take exception to the notion that the rear motor is charging the battery while the front motor is discharging it. If this is actually true, it would explain why the efficiency, range, and acceleration of this car are so poor. 204 miles from 95 kWh for $79k - gimme a break. A base Model S goes 373 miles for the *same price*, and hits 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. Sure, anyone can build an EV - and the "mainstream" mfrs can do it better!
For the foreseeable future ev sales will be about range. 300 is the minimum to get people who aren’t early adopters off of gas. An suv with 200 mile range is doa.