(Pocket-lint) - Audi's first all-electric car was the Audi e-tron, taking the name the company had previously used on a number of different cars with some electrification, and applying it to its big, bold, electric SUV.
The Audi e-tron Sportback had been shown off and confirmed before the original SUV made it onto our roads, but now gets its own full launch, bringing an alternative styling for those looking for a sportier-looking electric car.
Design and interior
Audi has Sportback models across its range, but it's a slightly confusing term. There's an A3 Sportback, for example, which is a hatchback, while in the Q family (which are all technically hatchbacks) the Sportback name isn't used at all. But it is used on the A5, for example, to distinguish between the Coupé (with no back doors) and the Coupé style with back doors - which is what that Sportback name means here.
The Audi e-tron Sportback falls into that strange segment for drivers who want the road presence, ride and cabin space of an SUV, but never plan to put an old washing machine in the back. That rear roofline drops down, carving through what SUV owners would see as useful storage space, to give a sleeker and more athletic look.
At the same time, it's paired with slightly more aggressive body styling around the front, assisting with that sporty look - while the huge 21-inch wheels add a sense to bling to things. It's not subtle - just as cars like the BMW X6 or Mercedes GLC Coupé demonstrate - and that can be divisive.
The important thing is that you don't choose it in black, because that hides a lot of the exterior detail, which adds bite over the regular e-tron SUV, which is why you're opting for the Sportback in the first place.
Cosseted in the interior there's no doubting the quality. Audi's approach to electric cars isn't to give you something that's different, as you'll find in the BMW i3. Instead, it's completely Audi; it's a car designed for those who have a Q5 or Q7 and are considering shifting to electric instead.
In that, a lot of the interior is familiar - essentially the same as you'll find in the e-tron SUV or indeed the Audi Q8 - and that really spares nothing in the pursuit of luxury. Mission accomplished, as the e-tron Sportback is very well appointed - but the "entry-level" trim is S Line, so you're already starting a couple of steps up the typical ladder.
As such, leather sports seats are standard, offering adjustments in directions that only seem to make sense in a Christopher Nolan movie. That also sees quality materials used in the door panels where lesser cars would use a soft-touch plastic, so that everything is just so.
The cabin is larger than some London apartments, with plenty of head and elbow space for the driver and front passenger, and loads of knee room for those in the rear seats. Despite the dropping rear roofline, there's still plenty of space for those over 6-feet tall.
Then there's 615 litres of boot space, with room under the floor for a spare wheel too, while those rear seats fold down in case you want to move house, or something. In essence, although it's not as big as the SUV original in the back, it's still big.
Electric at its heart
Like most other electric cars on the road, the battery is packed into the floor of the Audi e-tron Sportback, meaning a low centre of gravity. Indeed, the e-tron drives and handles much like other Audi Q family cars - except that it all happens in ghostly silence and with the benefit of the electric motor's instant torque.
There are three versions of the e-tron, one equipped with a 250kW motor (badged 50), one with a 300kW motor (badged 55 - which is what's on test here), and finally the e-tron S, which gets a 370kW motor. All models have the same 95kWh battery, so range doesn't differ - only power.
That 95kWh battery is certainly capacious, but the downside that all this luxury has is that it's heavy - 2.5 tonnes total - so you need the big battery to stand a chance of getting anywhere. Audi's figures rate the range at 241 miles and this will vary depending on the type of driving you're doing - and it varies quite a lot.
On the motorway, for example, you might struggle to get 200 miles from it, while in suburban stop-start driving you might top that 240 miles of range. At one point we had just over half a battery full and it was reporting 130 miles of remaining range after careful suburban driving.
But the long-term averages you see from the Audi e-tron Sportback are close to those we got from the regular Audi e-tron, about 2.7 miles per kWh. Multiply that up and it comes out to 256 miles. This is some way short of the figures you'll get from something like the Kia e-Niro, which breezes to nearly 300 miles on a smaller battery. But the e-tron isn't solely about range - it's about the premium experience as you drive those miles.
And premium it is, the assurity that comes from the Quattro all-wheel drive system, seeing you hurtle towards the horizon in silence, covering 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds (on the 55 model). That will drop to 4.5 seconds on the e-tron S - which is pretty insane considering the size and weight of this car.
But people don't really drive like that - not in electric cars anyway. There is a range-extending option hidden in the settings that will identify things using up battery power and turn them off when you tap the button. It's usually just the aircon, but it's nice that it's there when you do want to extend the range.
Otherwise you still get a sports mode and Audi's driving modes, allowing you to change the character of the car. This will make a big difference to the range too, because gentle driving preserves the power, where fast sprints obliterate the battery power very quickly.
The ride and handling is actually very good, avoiding the wallow in the corners that plagues some SUVs, while also coping with broken road surfaces too. Despite the huge wheels, the adaptive suspension will soak up rougher roads and speed bumps. You can also change the ride height, adopting Allroad mode (the highest) when you want to venture offroad, then dropping lower for better handling on faster roads.
Of course, all this needs power and the e-tron is equipped with two charging ports behind the powered flaps on the wings of the car. The left socket is Type 2 (up to 22kW), the right hand is CCS. Having two might seem excessive - the Porsche Taycan has a similar setup - but it means a little more flexibility when you pull up to a charger.
The Audi e-tron supports charging rates up to 150kW and that will see the battery fill from 0-80 per cent in 30 minutes, which is what you'll use for those motorway top-up on long journeys. A full charge from a typical 7kW wall box would take 14.5 hours, while charging from a domestic plug socket would take 32 hours.
We suspect that most considering the Audi e-tron, as a premium car with a premium price, would have a driveway or garage, where that 14.5 hour charging will see the car fully charged over a typical night.
Loaded with tech, but it's not all vorsprung
The Audi e-tron is loaded with technology, much of which you'll find in other cars across the range, such as the Virtual Cockpit and Audi's latest MMI system, comprised of two haptic touchscreens.
We've commented on the touchscreen arrangement before. Many buttons have been removed compared to the old MMI setup, resulting in a large central display that will display your mapping or navigation, media and so on, with a second lower display that handles things like your climate controls and other shortcuts.
That second screen also handles things like address input for the satnav - and it's not the best implementation in reality. It's hard to use on the move, because drawing on that second display isn't as easy as it was, for example, scrawling letters on the top of the old MMI click-wheel in older-gen Audi cars.
You could bypass this using voice, but please don't. The voice input isn't great, not when we've all become accustomed to the fluidity and accuracy of systems like Google Assistant and Alexa. We failed to get anything like the destination we wanted via voice, so we'd advise you to avoid the disappointment.
One thing we really like is Virtual Cockpit. Audi has taken a much more dynamic approach to this technology for the driver display than other companies - many offer a digital display, but often just with digital dials. Being able to have a huge map display is still one of our favourite things and it does make you feel like you're in a car of the future - even though it's been available across Audi models for a number of years.
There's a lot of other tech, like the vision around the car to provide a 3D visualisation of the vehicle in context on the screen, which is really helpful to get into the middle of that parking space. The e-tron Sportback a big car, so that's also really helpful in getting you tight up to chargers, which can be a problem given that many are installed in corners or alleyways, or flanked by massive metal posts.
We also like the predictive regen. The e-tron will naturally coast when you lift off the power, but it will sense when you're approaching another car or a junction and start slowing the car for you, putting juice back into the battery as a result, before you increase that manually by putting your foot on the brake.
We also have to give a word to digital wing mirrors. Of all the things that draw attention, it's the replacement of the wing mirrors with cameras. People literally stop to examine them in the street. It's a £1250 option (ouch), but they are really cool. It takes a couple of days to get used to looking at the display in the door rather than out of the window though.
They do have a practical advantage too, giving a nice clear view, reducing wind noise at high speeds, and they also don't fog up - so even on cold mornings we found the view to be crystal clear. Surely that's worth the price? Or maybe not if you find the flicker of yet more screens out of the corner of your eye to be irksome.
As is always the way with Audi, the options list is rich and can quickly send the price rocketing skywards. You get a lot as standard - including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can plug your phone in and use that system instead - and there are other neat details like the Qi wireless charging pad with a little clip to keep your phone in place.
Starting at just over £68,000, the Audi e-tron Sportback is clearly a car for those with a little more money to spend. But it's not hugely different to the price you'd be asked for the Audi Q8 - sure, there are some major differences, but there's also a lot in common.
At its heart, the Audi e-tron is a sensational car. It's dripping in quality, the long experience that Audi has is reflected in just about all areas (voice control aside). It's great to drive, too, with power and sophistication in abundance.
It won't win awards for range - not when put up against the likes of the Tesla Model X - but the fundamental question when buying an electric car is whether it whether it meets your average range needs. We suspect, for many, that the e-tron Sportback will.
Tesla Model X
The Model X's most distingushing feature are the huge gull wing doors at the back, but this is an electic car with practial range, impressive performance and a sprinkling of Tesla fun thrown in.
The Mercedes EQC plays very much in the same space as the Audi, addressing the same customers with an upmarket SUV offering.