This is the car with which Audi aims to challenge the electric-powered Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X.
The e-tron Sportback 55 quattro, as its name suggests, is a sportier version of the e-tron quattro SUV sold in selected markets since mid-2019. Outwardly, it’s distinguished from its sibling by a more heavily curved, coupe-like roofline and liftback-style tailgate. Other changes include more aggressively styled bumpers and Audi’s new digital matrix LED headlamps.
Like the e-tron quattro (alongside which it’s produced at Audi’s factory in Brussels, Belgium), the e-tron Sportback is based on a modified version of the MLB Evo platform housing a 95-kWh lithium-ion battery.
The e-tron Sportback 55 quattro’s drivetrain (below) also is borrowed wholly from the e-tron 55 quattro. It uses two asynchronous electric motors, one up front with a nominal peak of 168 hp and 182 lb.-ft. (247 Nm) of torque and a more powerful unit at the rear with 188 hp and 231 lb.-ft. (313 Nm).
In D, combined output is 358 hp and 413 lb.-ft. (560 Nm). Like the e-tron quattro 55, there’s a so-called Boost mode, activated by slotting the gear lever into S. It offers a stronger 402 hp and 489 lb.-ft. (663 Nm) for up to eight seconds.
The two electric motors on the Jaguar I-Pace EV400S, by comparison, deliver a maximum combined 394 hp and 512 lb.-ft. (694 Nm).
Power is sent to all four wheels via a single-speed gearbox attached to each motor. In a key departure from its more practical sister, the e-tron Sportback features a decoupling mechanism between its front and rear axles.
This enables it to send its drive exclusively to the rear wheels in everyday driving in D, giving it an additional 7 miles (11 km) of range over the e-tron, at 278 miles (448 km). It’s only when you call up greater reserves via the kickdown function in S that the other motor is called upon and the front wheels begin to do the driving.
Acceleration off the line is strong but far from explosive in D, owing in part to the e-tron Sportback’s hefty 5,467-lb. (2,480-kg) curb weight. Once you’ve built up initial momentum, though, rolling acceleration is quite sharp. Keep the throttle nailed thereafter and the car will dispatch you beyond highway speed limits with plenty of force.
Selecting S instantly heightens the performance further, providing more responsive tip-in, noticeably stronger roll-on qualities and greater overall performance intensity. So configured, the car has a claimed 0-62 mph (100 km) time of 5.7 seconds, which may be a little conservative. Its electronically limited top speed is 124 mph (200 km/h).
Satisfaction doesn’t only come via the accelerative forces at play. An advanced kinetic energy recuperation system with three selectable degrees of intensity (in addition to an automatic setting that draws on the sat-nav for topographic information) also demands a degree of skill from the driver, in seeing how much energy can be harvested under braking and during off-throttle coasting.
The e-tron Sportback is supremely refined. We’ve become used to the inherent quietness of electric cars, but Audi has managed to take acoustic civility to a new level. Rolling refinement, suppression of road noise and resistance to wind buffeting at all speeds are particularly good.
It’s a pity the e-tron Sportback’s steering doesn’t offer more feel. The speed-sensitive electromechanical rack delivers a reassuring sense of sharpness and weighting but lacks feedback.
Don’t let that shortcoming put you off, though, because it still offers enough to be engaging. It’s capable of stringing together a series of medium-to-high-speed corners with excellent resistance to roll and some proper rear-biased handling properties.
With most of its weight concentrated low within its platform, resulting in a low center of gravity, it offers assured handling traits.
The ability of quattro all-wheel drive and its torque-vectoring system to individually apportion power to each rear wheel provide benefits on smooth surfaces, too.
The optional 255/50-profile tires worn by our test car deliver plenty of mid-corner grip, letting the driver carry a good deal of speed up to the apex without premature understeer or intervention from the electronic stability control system. Thereafter, being prodigious with the throttle causes no deterioration of poise.
The e-tron Sportback has tremendous braking, among the best we’ve come across in any electric car.
Inside (above), changes to the cabin from the regular e-tron are slight, but that’s no bad thing. In terms of attractiveness, perceived quality and tactility, the dashboard, controls and trim materials are premium in nature.
The optional front sports seats are firm and supportive, setting up a pleasantly roomy and airy driving environment. However, second-row accommodation is compromised by that plunging roofline.
A more heavily angled tailgate reduces trunk capacity, which includes both the front and rear cargo areas, by 1.6 cu.-ft. (45 L) over the e-tron 55 quattro at 21.7 cu.-ft. (614 L). Yet it still offers 2.0 cu.-ft. (57 L) more cargo space than the I-Pace.
The e-tron Sportback is more driver-oriented than the e-tron, if not quite to the degree we initially were led to believe. The difference between the two is quite subtle on pure performance alone.
However, with a more sporting shape, greater athleticism on more challenging roads, further improved refinement and a superb interior that continues to offer a good deal of everyday versatility, even despite the coupé redesign, it sets a high standard among electric SUVs in 55 quattro guise.