Audi unveils E-tron Sportback - and we ride in it

Published: 20 November 2019

► New Audi E-tron Sportback unveiled
► Live at 2019 Los Angeles motor show
► We ride onboard - and test DML lights 

If Audi’s all-electric E-tron SUV isn’t quite 2019 enough for you then as you probably could have predicted, there’s a coupe version on the way: the new Audi E-tron Sportback. Think of it as the Q3 Sportback or Q8 to the Q3 and Q7. It's one of the big Audi news stories at the 2019 Los Angeles motor show.

We’ve had a passenger ride in the new, swoopier model, which for all intents and purposes is simply a chopped-roof version of the electric SUV. That is to say, everything in terms of interior tech, design and drivetrain is carried over.

Like with other Audi cars in this mould, the E-tron Sportback features something of a firmer suspension set-up than the standard car.

Audi E-tron Sportback

It’s not uncomfortable, but certainly felt stiffer riding over tarmac defects, with much less of the SUV’s wafty quality that so suits the refined silence of its electric drivetrain.

Debut of Audi’s Digital Matrix Lights

Also new on the Sportback is the latest version of Ingolstadt’s adaptive headlights, called Digital Matrix Lights (DML). In terms of function they offer a more precise beam pattern to the existing Matrix LED system, with a few additional features.

Rather than banks of diodes lighting up the road the DML headlights use a reflective chip about the size of fingernail that contains 1.3 million microscopic mirrors, which can tilt up to 5000 times a second. It’s ostensibly the same tech as a cinema projector.

Audi Digital Matrix Lights

That allows light to be beamed exactly where it’s needed, enveloping other cars much more accurately than the previous system. It needs to be convincing better than that system though – Audi says this will likely be a €4000 option, or around £3500.

Its party trick is that it can illuminate a carpet of light onto the motorway lane in front of you, constrained by the white lines, and curving with the topography of the road. Onto this carpet two lines of chevrons show the exact width of the car including door mirrors – useful for sizing up gaps in traffic or goalposting between narrow roadworks.

We tried it in Los Angeles in nighttime conditions and it's uncanny how it works; it's real augmented reality in action (see below).

We test the tech of Audi's new digital matrix lights

Then when it comes to parking up, one of five animations can be beamed onto your driveway or garage door for additional attention seeking flair.

Technologically it would be possible to actually project a film onto the side of your house using your car’s headlights, but don’t expect to see this feature homologated in the production Audi E-tron Sportback.

Los Angeles motor show: our full guide

By Adam Binnie

Contributor and new cars editor on our sister website