Age of e-tron: Audi E-tron Sportback concept surges EV plans forward

Published: 18 April 2017 Updated: 18 April 2017

► Audi e-tron Sportback concept revealed
► All-electric coupe-SUV shown in Shanghai
► Confirmed for production in 2019

This sleek new coupe-SUV creation is the Audi E-tron Sportback: an all-electric concept car designed to spearhead Audi’s plans of electric car world domination. It’s been revealed to the public for the first time at the 2017 Shanghai motor show, and a production version has already been confirmed for launch in 2019.

The e-tron Sportback is the second of three new EVs Ingolstadt wants to sell by 2020. The first of those three cars will be the production version of the E-tron quattro concept, which could be called the Q6 E-tron when it arrives in 2018. That will be followed by the sportier E-tron Sportback you see here a year later, then a compact EV on the VW Group’s MEB platform in 2020.

Click here for our full guide to the Shanghai motor show

Tell me more about those looks…

Well, the E-tron Sportback is about as Sportback-ish as you can get, really: it’s a long, four-door car with a big bonnet and swooping roofline. It rides higher than any of Audi’s other Sportback models, so is definitely more Allroad than Q in terms of its ride height and ground clearance.

There’s no way of avoiding its rather fat bottom when looking at the rear end, but that does show off the single rear light beam and subtle E-tron badging underneath.

Audi e-tron Sportback rear quarter

In terms of design details, those rear-view cameras you see are nearer to production than you think – Audi is just ironing out when and where to put them into production. Exterior designer Domen Rucigaj told us that they were for future production cars that aren’t too far away, so we could see them in the next-generation A8 due in a few months’ time.

The E-tron Sportback is described by Domen as ‘an interpretation of the A7, but with SUV DNA.’ He’s keen to stress that the E-tron Sportback will carve its own space in Audi’s range: ‘This is a completely new segment, because coupe-SUVs are normally much higher. This is much longer and more dynamic.’

The Sportback’s shape and design is also strikingly familiar to the high-riding Steppenwolf concept car from the 2001 Paris motor show.

Are the four rings… glowing?

Yes – good spot! Audi says it’s the first time that its four rings have ever been illuminated on a car – it uses LEDs to illuminate both the front and rear Audi logos. The front one glows bright white, while the rear has several different functions; it’s white when the car is idle, red when you’re driving, bright red when you brake (to pass safety requirements as a third brake light) and glows an even brighter white in reverse.

In fact, the E-tron Sportback is a hotbed for new lighting tech elsewhere, too. ‘Audi is light, Audi is the light brand. We wanted to show the theme of digitisation clearly through E-tron’, Cesar Muntada, head of light and wheel design, told us.

Audi e-tron Sportback light detail studio

The front headlights use projected LEDs to blast light forward without dazzling oncoming drivers and there are rows of solitary LEDs organised in a cube shape beneath the main headlights that demonstrate things like battery level and charging progress or even something as simple as when the car is at idle.

When out on the road, Audi’s sweeping directional indicators still let drivers know which way you’re going, but a series of sweeping arrows are projected onto the floor. ‘In the modern world, we see everyone with their heads down [on smartphones/devices]. We wanted to extend that safety feature to the floor; here you can realise at the last second… “Ah-ha, there is something happening here,”‘ says Cesar.

Those projections even extend to emergency braking situations; flashing red arrows around the car are beamed onto the ground under heavy braking.

So the Audi E-tron is all show and no go?

Absolutely not. This might be a concept, but Audi assures us that it’s driveable and quick, too.

How does 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds sound? That’s a stonker of a launch time for something as long as an A7 and has to heave around a hefty electric drivetrain. In fact, it’s quicker to 62mph than its torque-filled sibling, the SQ7, and will make Tesla Model X owners think again before egging you on for a traffic light drag race.

Power is rated at 429bhp in regular driving conditions but, if you do fancy giving that smug Tesla owner a run for their money, the E-tron will gird its loins and release its maximum output of 496bhp as temporary 10-second overboost if you floor it. Plus, since it’s an electric car, there’s a huge 590lb ft of instant torque to play with.

Audi e-tron Sportback side

All of that shove is handled by what Audi calls its electrified quattro four-wheel drive system with torque vectoring. When just cruising, the Sportback will use just the front motor to save power and will only engage the rear motors if you give it the beans. There’s the standard ‘D’ drive mode, for your commute or popping to the shops, or ‘S’ for your B-road blasts. The ‘S’ mode is the only setting where the boosted power will become available.

Audi is pretty confident that the E-tron Sportback will be the driver’s choice of electric car, too, despite the fact that this powertrain is pretty much exactly the same one used on the E-tron quattro concept from two years ago.

Project leader for the e-tron drivetrain, Jan Wischerath, assured us that it would not only be emotional to look at but not just another cut-and-dry electric car, either: ‘The car and acceleration will follow exactly what you do with your foot, so there’s no downshifting. You step on the accelerator and the car will just go in that instant, so it’s very quick and responsive even on tight curvy roads.’

What about range and charging?

Well, provided you don’t drive around like your hair is on fire everywhere, you could get as much as 310 miles out of one charge. Again, that figure is exactly the same as what Audi hopes to get out of the much more SUV-like E-tron quattro concept. That 310-mile range figure means it’s roughly on par with the Tesla Model X and puts it ahead of the (admittedly smaller) Jaguar I-Pace.

Like the recently-revealed VW I.D. Crozz concept, Audi promises that 80% of the 95kWh battery pack can be charged in half an hour. Plus, if plugs aren’t your thing when you’re at home, Audi’s wireless charging system can be placed in a garage or driveway and the boffins at Ingolstadt claim that it’s just as efficient at charging as a conventional plug and cable. The car can even remotely park over its charging pad for your convenience.

Is the interior festooned with all kinds of futuristic wizardry?

Well, yes and no. It’s a conventional four-seater, with a conventional steering wheel, conventional infotainment system and conventional drive selector on the centre console. However, just like the exterior, the Sportback’s cockpit has splashes of technological genius.

‘This interior is about lightness, elements and performance,’ says interior designer Mattijs van Tuijl, but points to the touchscreen displays and describes that the ‘black panel architecture’ inside means that all of those surfaces are interactive to some degree.

The drive selector is said to be where you would rest your wrist, so the lower touchscreen that controls the air-conditioning is easily within reach. There’s a Ferrari grand tourer-inspired second info display on the passenger side and small displays for the rear view cameras in both the front and rear doors.

Audi e-tron Sportback interior

Microfibre trims the door inlays, which has a similar feel to Alcantara, and bamboo-derived material furnishes the seats. ‘We have this fast re-growing raw material, which is in a way sustainable. It has this very nice silk feeling,’ says colour and trim designer Oliver Keyerleber.

What really takes the biscuit, though, is the use of electroluminescent paint on the seats and select door panels. These surfaces gently glow and provide interior lighting without the need for wires, bulbs or even LEDs. You still need to provide a charge for the electroluminescent paint to work, but there’s far less packaging required to power it, making it an almost limit free light source in terms of where to place it.

‘It’s a really big step and it gives us designers a tremendous advantage, because it has a package of just 0.02mm,’ says Mattijs, ‘It’s painting with light and about integrating functions in a very logical way.’ 

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By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, gamer, serial Lego-ist, lover of hot hatches