When I arrived to pick up the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 Quattro S, from first glance, it didn’t scream ‘electric vehicle’ per say. Why should it? Audi did well to keep within their brand and product recognition elements with the e-tron. You see, it could be that the German automaker wants to attract current traditional Audi customers too. Hey, if ain’t broke why fix it, right? The 2021 Audi e-tron Sportback is a beautiful piece of machinery, sticking to the pure German engineering values, boy did it attract attention. Every time I took it out for a cruise, people would ask me about it while stopped at the traffic light. The main two that several asked were ‘Any good?’ and ‘how is the range?’. In fact, while at a stopover in Dubai Sustainable City, a Tesla Model 3 owner did a walkaround, and was really considering the switch.
I was handed the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 quattro S line 300 kW CUV. The vehicle is available in twelve paint finishes in the Middle East, ours was the Daytona Grey Pearlescent, with brown interior, and riding on 21 inch black light alloy wheels – truly befitting the trim. For the shape, the size is quite generous. I’m 184cm and didn’t have to push the seats all the way back and low to kill any legroom in the back. Comfortable to seat the 5-passengers it can carry; the seats and leather do feel mighty fine and refined. The rear trunk is 605L and will support all of your needs, like shopping, suitcases, golf gear, strollers and what not – though it may not fit in the odd furniture item from IKEA, but you can drop the seats down to fit those too. There is a tiny compartment under the front hood that will house your charging cables, but that’s about it – no matter, like I said, the trunk can fit everything you really need.
Let’s talk about the looks
Remove the famous four rings and all badges, and anyone passing by can tell it is an Audi. It may not even look like an electric vehicle, which some might like just that. The signature Audi front matrix headlamps give it that mean and sporty look. I personally liked the exterior design, so much so that I took tons of photos that I didn’t need to. My favorite color on any CUV or SUV is indeed grey, and the color looks great on the e-tron – very Audi looking.
The Audi e-tron Sportback S line looks classy, sporty, and practical all in all. However, the many that saw the vehicle had different opinions about the virtual side mirrors. At first glance, they looked cool. Then when I drove the car away, it was always a double-take to check the sides for any cars. I didn’t like them. But, as with any new car you drive, the more you drive it, the more you get used to it naturally. After a few days of driving, I got the hang of it – so I didn’t really mind them. The good thing is that they are optional, so you can choose old school or new as per your liking.
What does that money get you on the inside?
Well for starters, you get your money’s worth. Just take a look at the interior, you see Audi’s effort to give you a proper driving experience. If you compare it to the Tesla Model X, you get way more! I love the minimalistic approach and all, but when I fork out a solid investment, I want to actually see what I’m getting.
Open the doors and your greeted with the e-tron logo projected on the floor (featured on all-doors), step inside the cockpit you see a proper top of the line Audi interior, and greeted by the flat-bottomed sports contour leather-wrapped multi- function steering wheel with shift paddles… and that’s just the steering wheel. There’s no mistake here, everything is premium. All bright and shining situated behind the steering wheel is your 12.3 inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’. A beautiful one piece screen that gives you all the information you need, and to support that is the heads-up display that shows you your speed and warnings on the windshield. Situated at arms-length is your gear selector, though it looks like your regular shift selector handle, this one is fixed, and you control the mode with your thumb. That smoothly integrates in the deep compartment and cup holders where you have access to a mobile device holder that has wireless charging, as well as access to your entertainment ports like USBs.
The infotainment and gadgets
Smack in the center are are two flush mounted screens (top 10.1 inch and below 8.8 inch) that control everything else. The top covers your vehicle settings, infotainment, and Apple CarPlay, the bottom your climate control, and a neat little feature that is home to shortcuts that you can add for quick access to the included apps. Featured on the bottom of the lower screen are the touch / press (I’ll get to that shortly) buttons that quickly access your ‘drive select’, traction control, hazard light and your front and rear de-foggers. Right beneath the screen you have your buttons that power the vehicle, the parking and all-round vehicle sensors, as well as a volume control knob. As I quickly found out when using the screens, you need to give a slight hard press when you want to select or confirm anything. Don’t fear, when it comes to typing, like searching for a radio station, that is as graceful as typing on your smartphone.
The aforementioned virtual side mirrors do give you good visibility, and I noticed that when a car enters your blind spot, the camera slightly turns out to give you more view. However, I didn’t notice any warning alerts for when other cars were in my blind spot.
The sensors when parking can get quite excited, with the car beeping as if you are about to crash into something, though adequate space is available all-round. The car is packed with cameras giving you great visibility from all angles, and there is the nifty 3D view where you can see the vehicle with the angle of your choosing.
The drive experience
So, you’ve admired your vehicle from the out and in. Sat in, adjusted your seat and steering wheel, and clicked in your seatbelt. Press the power button, put it in D, and you’re ready to go. But, the vehicle does not move when you lift off the brakes. Unlike your regular gas guzzler, there is a no ‘creep’ or ‘crawl’ function. The vehicle lets you know via a green park light that it is ready to go when you lift off the brakes pedal. When you start to accelerate, your seatbelt tightens slightly, a little snug rest of assurance that it is fitting well. The almost silent take off is due to the whine of the electric motor. You’ll notice that too when you slow down and come to a stop. I personally love it, makes me feel I’m driving a futuristic car!
Keeping the settings in normal, the vehicle is a beautiful and smooth ride. The loose steering wheel at stop or low speeds stiffens up as you speed up. The vehicle adjusts its height based on your driving too. You’ll only notice when you come to a stop after you have been travelling at higher speeds and doing some cornering. So, don’t think the vehicle is wobbly.
There are various driving modes that you can select, such as all-road (I stuck to this for the majority of the drive), off-road, dynamic, efficiency, or individual. For maximum power output to the wheels, select Dynamic and put it in S to get lots of smiles and giggles.
The vehicle is very intuitive if you have the safe driving settings enabled. You’ve got your lane control which can be activated by clicking the end of the indicator control stick, which is very responsive, and for those of you that use your phones while driving (you shouldn’t be selfish and do so), please activate it that way you stay in your lane! The vehicle also senses when there’s something going on ahead of you. For example, if you’re travelling at normal speed and there’s traffic ahead a green pedal and foot warning light flashes on the dash and heads up display advising you to lift your foot off the pedal.
Another supporting drive feature is how the vehicle slows itself down while coasting and you approach a vehicle. If you are on the empty road, the vehicle will continue to coast when you lift your foot off the pedal, and gradually slow down. However, when you approach traffic, the vehicle will begin to slow down via the electric motors on your behalf once your foot is off the pedal too. The deceleration rate is dependent on how close you are to the vehicle in front of you. You can easily bypass that with the paddle shifts that gives you three control levels. If you’re braver than your e-tron, then hit the + paddle shift and it will ease off the braking. If you’re concerned for your baby, then you can press the – paddle shift and it will slow down quicker. You can switch this mode off if you prefer. A note here, if you are not aware of EVs, they only have the ‘one gear’, so get the rally shifting idea out of your head when you first sit in the e-tron.
The Audi e-tron Sportback gets its power from two motors, one on each axle. When you ignore the efficiency and range potential and smack it in boost along with S driving mode, you get a surprising punch when you floor it. 400 HPs mustered up at a moment’s notice sure did put a smile on my face. As it’s an EV, it feels ‘zippy’ and has a ‘catch me if you can’ kind of vibe to it, if you know what I mean.
When I sped things up a bit (for that short moment when I was returning it) the brakes at first felt underperforming. I felt the car would not come to a stop by applying the same pressure I did as on other cars. When I punched the car and gave it all it had, I slammed the brakes to see just how good they were. Rest assured, no ribs were broken, and the car comes to full stop. The Audi e-tron Sportback has a shorter braking distance, comparing to the Tesla Model X, courtesy of the 18 inch front and rear disc brakes.
Speeding around roundabouts and corners, you would expect it to roll around like conventional SUVs, but the mighty e-tron held its ground well, and changed lanes with more grip than expected.
Charging and Range
The battery system of the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 quattro stores 95 kWh of gross energy and operates at a rated voltage of 396 volts. The battery system is exceptionally rigid and crash-proof, thanks to a solid protective frame and an aluminum laminate that holds the 36 cell modules.
The Audi e-tron that we drove had a charging port on each side of the car, which is extremely convenient as you don’t have to worry how you park the car to line it up with the charging station. As I only had the car for three days, I didn’t need to charge it at all. The range, though technically not the highest amongst current EVs in the market, it is more than enough to last you days. In my humble opinion if there is enough range for you to cover big distances in a single day then you are more than OK. You see, no one in their right mind will push the e-tron to the limit of minimal battery – the same for a traditional ICE vehicle running it to the orange empty light. These days, there are charging stations spread across major cities in the Middle East. So, you are bound to find one on your way or nearby.
The e-tron Sportback we drove is also capable of reaching 80 percent capacity in around 30 minutes on fast-charging stations. That’s very reasonable considering that we can often spend about the same time waiting in line at the regular gas pumps.
If you end up buying an EV, then we certainly recommend you download the ‘Plug Share’ app on your phone. It lists all the EV charging stations available, by power and type, in the city you open it in. Note that if you are driving the e-tron, you’ll need to find charging stations with Type 2 connectors.
Warranty and Service
The vehicle comes with a standard 5-year service and maintenance plan and 5-year 24-hours roadside assistance. The battery is covered for 8 years or 160,000 kms (whichever comes first). UAE buyers get free first year registration too.
The Audi e-tron Sportback may not be so futuristic looking, it is still proper built EV, and a damn good looking one in fact. No matter what anyone thinks about those virtual side mirrors. Though it might seem pricey, but the Audi e-tron starts at AED 375,165 and it fairs well against competing vehicles such as the Jaguar I-PACE and Tesla Model X that are in the same price range. The Audi e-tron Sportback is available in two variants: the 50 Quattro (71kWh) and 55 Quattro (95kWh). All I can say is, if you are indeed shopping for an ESUV, then visit your nearest Audi dealer and take a test drive – you’ll see that it makes a great choice.