► All-electric SUV given coupe roofline
► Sportier drive rivals Jaguar i-Pace
► Entry spec is S Line, with lots of kit
German premium manufacturers like nothing better than making things into coupes, so in a move as inevitable as death and taxes Audi has followed up its first series production electric car, the e-Tron SUV, with an on-trend version called the e-Tron Sportback.
That name is a bit confusing, but think of the Q3 and Q3 Sportback pairing only larger and electric, while ignoring the fact that by that logic the Q8 should be called the Q7 Sportback, and you’ve got the idea.
Basically, it's a more dynamically-roofed-and-suspended electric off-road-alike for customers with shorter passengers and compact hobbies.
What makes the Sportback a Sportback?
Basically, a sportier back, as you’d imagine. Specifically the elegantly tapering roofline that swaps 20mm of rear headroom for a slinkier silhouette, which broadcasts all sorts of subliminal messages about the driver’s lack of interest in practical matters.
But does it though? Because actually 20mm isn’t all that much when you think about it – your extra voluminous lockdown hair probably took up more vertical space – and the boot remains a very useful 615-litres in size.
So in a lot of ways the Sportback looks like a proper cake-and-eat-it scenario; a nicer profile (if you’re into that sort of thing) and more exclusive styling without penalising interior space. Isn’t electric car packaging brilliant?
Does it get a more powerful drivetrain?
Sort of, insomuch as it’s only offered as a 55 Quattro at first (you can get this powerplant and the lesser 50 Quattro in the SUV) with a lower power output version on the way.
The 55 is quick off the mark thanks to 355bhp and 414lb ft of torque, responsible for a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds. Pop the drive selector into S mode though and you get 402hp and 490lb ft, shaving nearly a second off its sprint time.
That increased output is only available for eight seconds but under normal running conditions that’s more than enough – bear in mind this is a 2.5 tonne SUV measuring nearly five metres in length, and it can very quickly feel like it’s getting away from you.
In truth rivals like the Jaguar i-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC are faster sprinters, and a Tesla Model X would monster it. But in the real world if you want a spacious electric car that doesn’t give your passengers whiplash, the e-Tron Sportback is punchy enough.
What’s it like to drive?
To drive the e-Tron Sportback is to drive an Audi SUV – although the words ‘dynamic suspension tune’ and ‘big old whopper-sized wheels’ in the press pack (that last one is paraphrased) usually means it's time to don the a pair of Road Tester's Padded Pants.
This time however it’s not so different in feel from the standard e-Tron, the air suspension in the Sportback model offering up a good balance of ride settings when you cycle through the seven modes from Comfort to Sport and Offroad.
Maybe that’s because with a low centre of gravity and stiff body (45% up on a normal SUV, says Audi) the Sportback doesn’t need to be massively solidly sprung to avoid wallowing, yet when you drive it quickly it does a surprisingly good job of staying level.
That’s not to say it’s particularly rewarding to drive quickly – there’s lots of grip from the Quattro all-wheel drive (now provided by a motor on each axle rather than a load of diffs and clutch packs) and a planted feel that inspires confidence. I’m not sure it’s a world apart from the e-Tron SUV in truth, but there’s a definite crispness to the steering response and suspension that is not at all unwelcome.
A Jaguar i-Pace does a better job of feeling up on its toes in a corner, the e-Tron Sportback feels more like it’s got its toes wedged into the top two inches of tarmac, even with the ESC in its looser sport setting. But then again, that’s kind of what you want from an Audi, isn’t it?
Also, while you can say most electric cars are quiet on the road, the Sportback is really quiet. Acoustic glazed side windows like an A8 limo help, but even so, the refinement on a long drive is very good indeed.
How many miles are in the battery?
Slightly more than the SUV actually, thanks to the more aerodynamic shape Audi, so depending on spec you should expect about 240 miles from the 55 Quattro.
That’s a reasonable figure and can be filled from empty on a 7kW domestic wall box in 14 hours, so you’ll likely start each day with a full battery, unless you commute from Stoke to Norwich.
When you need to cover lots of miles in one go the e-Tron Sportback offers rapid 150kW DC charging like the SUV version, and here you can expect a 0-80% fill to take as little as 30 minutes - or roughly the time it takes to go to KFC twice.
Can you still get adults in the back?
It’s actually pretty spacious back there, with room for a tall driver behind a tall passenger without much complaint. Our test car even had a panoramic roof, and that didn’t seem to spoil things either.
As mentioned earlier the boot measures 615 litres (or 1,665 litres with the seats down) plus there’s another 60 litres in the front. Our frunk was full of cables and therefore spoken for, but that’s better than having them loose and rolling around in the boot.
Also nice is the fact there is a charger port on each side of the Sportback - a useful feature if your wallbox is in an awkward spot. Only the driver’s side port can handle a DC charge, though.
It’s fair to say the biggest change in the Sportback over the e-Tron SUV is the shape of the roofline – although Audi has as usual sprinkled some other changes on the car to make sure it’s sportier overall, rather than just in the looks department.
What’s nice this time around is that those changes feel like less of a penalty when it comes to practicality and comfort, so really the choice comes down to which car you like the look of better.
It’s also a really mature vehicle – slower than its rivals in a sprint, but fast enough for every day driving plus a bit more. There seems to be a gradual move away from electric cars needed to break the sound barrier from a standstill in order to gain attention and overall, that’s a good thing.
As a result while it’s not the most exciting option the Sportback does turn the heat up a little when compared to the SUV and at its heart remains a good car – with a class-leading interior and buttoned-down driving experience that will help current Audi customers feel right at home with this most modern of propulsions.