Audi e-Tron Sportback long-term test: the ten-month verdict

Published: 02 December 2021 Updated: 02 December 2021

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The e-Tron Sportback is good at being an Audi, and quite good at being an electric vehicle. But it’s not perfect, in part because it’s an EV, and in part because it’s an Audi EV.

I’ll explain. Like all the best Audis, it’s ultra-desirable, and looks great, the mix of squared-off rear arches and bigger front intakes endowing it with more presence than the meeker non-Sportback sibling. Interior quality is also top-notch, way beyond what you’ll find in a Tesla.

In our 10 months we loved the space inside too, both up front for tall parents, and in the back where we had two chunky car seats. Despite being a button enthusiast I even got on with the dual touchscreens, and the cameras-for-mirrors concept worked as well.

As an EV, it is ultra-refined (helped by being an Audi), and as quick as I’d ever want my family car to be (and too much for Mrs P when Sport mode ups the ante from 355bhp and 414lb ft to 402bhp and 490lb ft). It doesn’t pollute my neighbourhood, and after 10 months of the swift, silent and serene life I’d not want my family carthorse to be anything other than electric. Speaking of which…

Charging was fine when it was local, where there’s a decent number of options, or when I could use the driveway charging points of the wider family. Occasionally a longer trip meant the need to charge en route. For the most part this was also fine, if you researched ahead, but a couple of bad experiences with out-of-order chargers dented my confidence.

The official figure of 2.5 miles per kWh isn’t great, and our actual figure of 1.9 is frankly off the pace. Only with the recent warm weather has the range shown more than 200 miles (when it should be nearly 250) but until June it never budged above 180.

It was more range frustration than range anxiety, though. We never felt we couldn’t go anywhere we wanted, and didn’t make a trip in anything else for almost a year. In fact, I’ve loved it as a family car, and would happily run it for years to come.

But I couldn’t buy one, knowing something better is always just around the corner. The BMW iX arriving at the end of the year claims a 380-mile range, and EVs are constantly leapfrogging each other, so why you’d do anything but lease any EV for the next few years is beyond me.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official), 1.9 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 8.6p per mile
Miles this month 733
Total miles 6768

Month 9 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: EQC driver takes on the e-Tron

etron vs eqc

Automotive osmosis. Sounds like a French concept car, actually the ability of your daily runner to get under your skin, warts and all. So there’s nothing more corrective than assessing your car through the prism of an arch-rival.

We go for a gentle run through the Oxfordshire countryside. The Audi’s width has me breathing in to squeeze past oncoming traffic. It doesn’t feel as quick off the line as the Merc (and isn’t, sacrificing half a second to 62mph), though it keeps on pushing – whereas EQC punch tapers off past 50mph and the e-Tron makes a louder e-whine than the buttoned-up Merc.

Turning the Audi’s wheel feels a touch light and vague off the dead-ahead, but becomes nicely weighted with speed. I’m over-ridden at the first corner by the lane-assist system, which takes a confident line through the fast sweeper. Doesn’t stop it getting switched off instantly, by one touch of the stalk button.
The Merc does the whole stopping thing far better. Use the paddles to select from two gradients of regen braking, or coasting mode: engage what’s best for the conditions and the Merc persists until instructed otherwise.

With the Audi, you have to pull a paddle every time you want to amp up regen, and it’s two tugs for max. Talk about complicated. Add in its less responsive pedal, and the extra 100 kilos of mass, and stopping the e-Tron is a bit sluggish.

Ben finds the Merc really squirrelly under braking: ‘The body goes in about eight directions at once.’ It’s not just under braking: cornering, sudden steering inputs and bumps can upset the soft suspension. While this gives a lovely loping primary ride on smooth surfaces, the secondary ride is often harsh, thumping through dips and jarring over crests. While the Audi has superior body control, both cars crash their 21-inch wheels on B-roads.

For a £92k car, the e-Tron’s cockpit pales into blandness compared with the Merc’s imaginative colours and materials. Additional demerits for the range bar that’s less clear than the Merc’s swingometer, and the lack of a stopper to prevent the seatbelt latch plate hiding at floor level. That said, the LED outline illuminating the buckles is helpful, and the touchscreen’s haptic feedback is welcome compared with the inert Merc’s.

Driving the e-Tron doesn’t make me question my EQC commitment. The Merc is more efficient (2.4 miles per kWh over the 145-mile trip), more emotional and more engaging to pedal. Confirmation bias? Perhaps. Or confirmation that CAR remains a melting pot of unruly opinions.

By Phil McNamara

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official); 1.9 miles per kWh (tested); 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 8.9p per mile
Miles this month 569
Total miles 6035

Month 8 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: turn it off and on again

etron sportback dials

Some electrical glitches this month. First on the blink was our Pod Point home charger. It needed just to be turned off and on (as advised by the customer service team, who were answering calls early on a Saturday).

Next was my trusted BP location near the M3. One of the chargers was out of action (I didn’t think to check, because coming from fossil fuels you don’t) but then the other would only put in £2 of juice before clicking off.

And the Audi’s Digital Cockpit display randomly reverts from my chosen ‘e-Tron’ to ‘Classic’ layout – and sometimes won’t change until you’ve turned the car off and on.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official); 1.8 miles per kWh (tested); 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 8.0p per mile
Miles this month 641
Total miles 5466

Month 7 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: the price of progress

etron sportback camera mirror

We have long-term test cars to see how they cope with daily use, but after a few months there’s a danger you start to mellow to a car’s quirks. Note-taking, especially during the first few weeks when everything is a new experience, is thus crucial – even if you’re out with the family and haven’t yet paid for the parking because you’re busy scribbling in your pad.

Case in point, the e-Tron’s virtual door mirrors. To begin with they were a MASSIVE DEAL. Now they’re just the mirrors on our Audi. And now I’m used to tilting my head down a little further to see the screen mounted inside the door, whereas initially I kept looking out at the camera arm.
I’ve also got used to the images on the screens – but those early notes tell me they’re not as crisp in the daylight as a straightforward reflection in a common-or-garden bit of glass, while at dusk they’re brighter than a real mirror.

So far, not much different from the conventional method of seeing what’s behind you, except £1250 more costly. The plus points are less drag, giving a few extra miles, and the combination of their tiny size and being heated means they’re never misted or iced over.

The cameras-for-mirrors come up short in two areas, though. For one, you can’t just move your head to improve the angle when parking. You know, when you just lift yourself up in the seat to get a better sight line down to the kerb? Yeah, that doesn’t happen in the Audi. Nothing moves, nothing changes, and you feel like an idiot. You have to poke the screen instead, and even then I don’t think the screen shows enough contrast between the grey kerb, the grey road and the grey alloy.

The other problem is that because the cameras aren’t mirrors, cyclists and bikers can’t see you looking back at them. In London that eye contact, from the driver up to someone on two wheels nipping past a line of traffic, is crucial – yet all they’re now greeted with is a lifeless Terminator eye on a stalk.
 Is this progress?

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official); 1.7 miles per kWh (tested); 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 9.4p per mile
Miles this month 645
Total miles 4825

Month 6 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: making sense of an odd idea

etron sportback rear cornering

Remember the neither-fish-nor-fowl BMW 5-series GT, with the wheelbase of a 7-series and a hefty bootlid that let it double as both saloon and hatchback? There’s a distinct resemblance between that BMW and this electric Audi. Which is ace, as I always had a soft spot for the bloated 5 GT.
The e-Tron is neither SUV nor estate yet offers raised seating (helpful when, like me, you’re a giant) and gargantuan space, thanks to the 3m wheelbase. There’s no silly double lid this time, but with a big hatchback lid (for shelter) and fixed parcel shelf (for support) the boot is the perfect place to dress a toddler in waterproofs for a rainy walk.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official), 1.8 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 9.4p per mile
Miles this month 589
Total miles 4180

Month 5 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: no splash, no dash

etron charging

It’s hard to stop talking about charging when it’s all so new (albeit, I accept, not necessarily exciting). On-street charging has become the norm, but our nearest chargers are on a poorly lit street, and last week I did well to avoid some dog poo on the pavement. 
I’ve never had to dodge a turd on a BP forecourt before. Speaking of which…

We’ve been to a BP forecourt twice this month to use the Pulse 150kW chargers, as part of two long round trips for baby bump scans. We spent 10 minutes at one charger (all the first-born would allow before a meltdown) and it smashed in 25kW for a tenner, while the follow-up experience was a little longer and calmer.

Both times, though, we’ve met the same problem: actually getting the cable into the plug. The e-Tron’s DC plug is by the driver’s door, and unless you park across the space it won’t stretch. And the cables can’t get longer, BP tells me, because they can’t dangle on the ground for health and safety reasons, and they can’t coil up in case of damage.

Solution? An industry standard plug location, ideally front and centre of the car’s nose. And pigs might fly…

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official), 1.9 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 8.6p per mile
Miles this month 513
Total miles 3591

Month 4 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: beating the system

etron night charge

Due to the impossibility of parking near a lamppost charger in my own street, I tend to top up the e-Tron at some nearby Source London 7kW points.

It’s dark when I arrive for the first time, as I’m a cheapskate looking to take advantage of the overnight discount when costs are capped at four hours between 8pm and 7am. There’s another Audi in one of the three bays, but it’s just an A5 nabbing a space while the wardens are in bed.

I tap the charging point’s screen, scan a QR code with my phone, enter credit card details and we’re charging happily. The MyAudi app says we’ll achieve 100 per cent charge just before 1am, but as I don’t make it back until 7.30am, the usual 7p per minute rate takes over. It costs £18.62 for 681 minutes – with £1.82 of that coming from that extra half hour in bed. Even with the cap that’s 50p per kW versus 14p on a home wallbox, so the cost per mile is nearer 20p rather than the usual 6p.

I immediately sign-up to the £4 monthly subscription service – which drops the rate to 3.6p per minute – and get a swipe card in the mail a few days later. The cost of a (capped) overnight charge comes down to under a tenner once a week.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official); 2.0 miles per kWh (tested); 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 7.8p per mile
Miles this month 651
Total miles 3078

Month 3 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: lithium-ion ironies

etron sportback socket

Filling up your car with petrol or diesel is a gloriously mundane experience. You can find fuel almost anywhere, the price you’ll pay is clear, and it’s over in minutes. Not so with an EV, and especially not in urban areas – which is painfully ironic because electric is best suited to city life.

But I’ve known living in London with an electric vehicle was going to be an issue since 2017. Way back then our local council, Richmond, had the foresight to canvass residents about future EV ownership and ask where we’d be keen to have charging points installed. Our road was identified for three public points, but just as residents were being canvassed again about going ahead with those three charging points, a celebrity chef opened an eaterie nearby. This would mean an evening influx of diners (and their cars), and local opinion suddenly changed: the mood now was that we weren’t prepared to lose three increasingly precious parking spaces so they could be turned into often-empty EV charging bays.

We did, however, get three lamppost chargers, thanks to the switch to LED street lighting, which frees up enough power to provide 5kW charging. Meantime, other streets didn’t protest quite so much, meaning less than a mile away are three dedicated 7kW Source London sockets.

What’s it really like to live with an electric car?

The other option is fast charging, and the likes of BP are installing 150kW points on forecourts in the capital. Our nearest is over the river in Hammersmith, but the bridge that should get us there is closed for repairs for the next three years.

Charge at home, you say? Like much of London we don’t have off-street parking, which is a sticking point if you want a wallbox installed. There are ways round this – in Oxford, for instance, they’ve been testing different solutions, including digging cable gulleys in the pavement.

For now the focus in my area is on lamppost conversions. Over 200 have been completed so far, another 145 soon, with the request list stretching to over 700.

So I created a spreadsheet – please DO NOT tell my wife – to calculate the different charging costs for the Ubitricity lampposts (£0.24 per kWh, or £0.162 if you buy their bespoke cable at £299) and the Source London chargers (with their three different pricing options). The higher Ubitricity rate was better for little top-ups, while big fills came out cheapest via a Source London full subscription.

But with only three lamppost chargers on the street and no markings to reserve the adjacent space for EVs, I’ve never actually seen a space beside one in the three months we’ve had the e-Tron. So until every lamppost has a charging point, the space beside those that have been converted is gold dust to EV drivers – but just another spot to be nabbed by everyone else. Source London it is, then.

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, twin e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official); 2.1 miles per kWh (tested); 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 7.4p per mile
Miles this month 660
Total miles 2427

Month 2 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: a long-distance journey of discovery

etron sportback long-termer side

The night shift
The night before the journey from the New Forest to London the Sportback is plugged in, so the battery is brimmed by morning.

It knows us so well
Battery is fully charged, but the car’s analysis of how it’s been used on previous journeys means a predicted range of 204 miles, 37 below the WLTP figure.

etron range

Even Eeyore would like it
Whether via Bluetooth or Android Auto, the connection to Spotify is better than in the Peugeot I ran before, and playback through the B&O stereo is much clearer than the Pug’s Focal system. All the better to listen to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh back-to-back-to-back.

Constant calculation
Twenty minutes after setting off we’ve cruised across the New Forest and the claimed range actually ticks up – yay! – to 205 miles. It then drops sharply as we accelerate onto the motorway and join the Sunday crowd heading home. But thereafter it loses range at roughly one mile for every mile we cover.

etron virtual mirrors

Dark art
The ‘virtual mirrors’ get their first after-dark outing, and I’m not sure what to expect – a video of inky nothing? Dusk brings some spectacular colours like an Instagram filter has been applied, and as darkness falls the screens project images much lighter than you’d see reflected in glass.

Audi’s Virtual Mirrors: do they work?

Charge to spare
We arrive home after covering 90 miles, and with 61 per cent battery charge remaining, or a range of 134 miles. No worries, no stress, and definitely no range anxiety.

etron sportback long-termer plug

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, twin e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official), 2.3 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 7.4p per mile
Miles this month 545
Total miles 1767

Month 1 living with an Audi e-Tron Sportback: hello and welcome

etron sportback long-termer static

This is Audi’s e-Tron Sportback, an electric SUV/four-door coupé – and I don’t think I’ve ever been so fascinated by a long-term test car. Not because of the odd yet attractive silhouette, but because just living with it will be a challenge. A challenge I’m all too aware of, having run a Mk1 Nissan Leaf long-termer nearly a decade ago when public charging points were few (to the extent I never used one) and the range was seldom in three figures.

I’m not an EV naysayer, though. As a London resident I’m all for them, and I’m keen to live with another EV, encouraged by the knowledge that both charging infrastructure and battery technology have changed dramatically in the last nine years. I want electric cars to be viable – and in 2020 they should be – so I see the next nine months as an intriguing little brain puzzle. Plus I reckon I’ve mapped out enough charging options in my life that this will be the best kind of challenge: one you succeed at.

But before that, the e-Tron itself. It’s the Sportback (ie swoopier) version of Audi’s first full production electric vehicle, and batteries and motors aside, both e-Tron and e-Tron Sportback are relatively orthodox SUVs. Why? Because you need lots of batteries for a practical range, thus a big vehicle to fit them in, and so market tastes dictate an SUV rather than anything unconventional that would put off a family already apprehensive over making the leap to electric.

Initially there’s only one Sportback powertrain to pick from, a ’55 quattro’ model (with a motor driving each axle), but a ’50 quattro’ will be on sale by the time you’re reading this, and a more powerful, three-motor S version follows soon too – but as both offer reduced range, the 55 is the one to have.

The peak electrical output of the 55 is 300kW, or 402bhp, though that’s via a Boost mode that also unlocks the full 490lb ft and 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds. The more everyday Drive mode delivers 355bhp, 414lb ft, a still-impressive 6.6sec sprint, and the best chance of achieving the WLTP range of 241 miles.

etron sportback long-termer

Prices start at £80k – in part because trim levels begin with S-line and miss out on the non-Sportback’s Sport and Technik options (which kick off at £60k) – and rise all the way to the top-rung £95k Vorsprung model. Our car is an S-line, which means 21-inch wheels, Matrix LED headlights and LED rear lights, adaptive air suspension and rear privacy glass. You also get heated electric front seats, a powered tailgate, a rear-view camera, keyless go, three HD infotainment screens and a plethora of airbags.

Our car is Floret Silver, which costs the same £750 as all the metallic paints. The only ‘free’ paint is solid black. The other options fitted include some stuff that seems like a no-brainer (acoustic side glazing, for £525), some more questionable choices (£825 for four-zone air-con that my two-year old can’t reach), some kit that should be standard (a £425 electric steering column) and some features I’m intrigued to try (the £1250 virtual door mirrors that have tiny cameras on the outside and screens inside).

Audi’s Virtual Mirrors: do they work?

There’s a £1475 panoramic glass sunroof, upgraded Super Sports seats (£1050), a Comfort and Sound Pack (£1895 for a 16-speaker/705w Bang & Olufsen stereo, a 360º camera, hands-free boot opening and configurable LED interior lighting with 30 colour options) and a Tour Pack (£1950 of safety tech including adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and lane-departure warning).

To complicate matters, we have a few options you wouldn’t otherwise be able to spec on an S-line model, because this is an early-build car for media duties. The orange brake calipers and Audi Beam (which projects the ‘e-Tron’ logo onto the ground when the doors are open) are only available as standard equipment on the Launch Edition and Vorsprung models, while the rear side airbags, illuminated seat buckles and additional ‘Sport’ and ‘e-Tron’ modes for the Virtual Cockpit display are reserved for Vorsprung.

So far we’ve bimbled around the capital in it for a handful of miles, in which it’s been deeply impressive, but now the e-Tron Sportback faces a tough test: a long-ish family journey.

By Ben Pulman

Logbook: Audi e-Tron Sportback

Price £79,900 (£92,470 as tested)
Performance 95kWh battery, dual e-motors, 402bhp, 5.7sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 2.5 miles per kWh (official), 2.2 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 6.3p per mile
Miles this month 25
Total miles 1222

By Ben Pulman

Ex-CAR editor-at-large