Lithium-ion ironies with our long-term Audi e-Tron Sportback

Published: 04 March 2021

► Living with Audi's electric SUV
► Coupe shape and camera mirrors
► Stay tuned for regular reports

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

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy