A quick, classy and quiet electric SUV that builds on the solid foundations of its more upright sibling
This is the car with which Audi is aiming to challenge the Jaguar I-Pace for zero-emissions SUV driving honours.The E-tron Sportback 55 quattro, as its name suggests, is a more sporting version of the E-tron 55 quattro that has been on sale here since mid-2019. Outwardly, it’s distinguished from its sibling by a more heavily curved, coupé-like roofline and liftback-style tailgate, among other subtle changes, including more aggressively styled bumpers and headlights using Audi’s new digital matrix LED technology.Together, these alterations provide the E-tron Sportback with a shapely profile similar in style and detailing to the Elaine concept that Audi unveiled three years ago.Sharing certain exterior design elements with conventionally powered Audi models, it’s perhaps not as distinctive as the I-Pace. But with a drag coefficient of just 0.25Cd, it’s among the most aerodynamically efficient series-production SUVs yet, beating the Jaguar in this crucial area by a considerable 0.4Cd margin. This is thanks in part to the availability of ‘virtual exterior mirrors’, which use a camera to project a live video feed on the forward part of the doors inside.The changes to the cabin over the regular E-tron are slight, but that’s no bad thing. In terms of attractiveness, perceived quality and tactility, the dashboard, controls and trim materials are all premium in nature.The optional front sports seats are firm and supportive, setting up a pleasantly roomy and airy driving environment. However, accommodation in the rear is compromised to the tune of 20mm by that plunging roofline.The adoption of a more heavily angled tailgate also reduces boot capacity by 45 litres over the E-tron, at 615 litres. Even so, it’s still quite versatile, with 58 litres more than the I-Pace. Like the E-tron (alongside which it’s produced at Audi’s factory in Brussels, Belgium), the E-tron Sportback is based on a modified version of the MLB Evo platform, housing between its axles a sizeable 95kWh lithium ion battery made up of cells supplied by LG Chem.At 4901mm long, 1935mm wide and 1616mm tall, the E-tron Sportback is 85mm shorter, 60mm narrower and a considerable 89mm lower than Audi’s conventionally powered flagship SUV, the Q8.The drivetrain is borrowed wholly from the E-tron. It uses two differently specified asynchronous electric motors, one sitting up front that produces peaks of 181bhp and 182lb ft of torque and a second at the rear making 221bhp and 232lb ft.Together, they provide a maximum system output of 402bhp and 490lb ft for limited periods of up to eight seconds in Boost mode, which is activated by slotting the gear selector into S. In D, the combined output of the motors is reduced to a milder 355bhp and 414lb ft to help increase efficiency and consequently extend the range between charges. The I-Pace’s two motors, by way of comparison, deliver a maximum combined 394bhp and 512lb ft.Power is sent to all four wheels via a single-speed gearbox attached to each motor and networked via a central power electrics system. In a key departure from its more practical sister, however, the E-tron Sportback features a decoupling mechanism between its front and rear axles.This enables it to send its drive exclusively to the rear wheels in everyday driving in D, giving it an additional seven miles of range over the E-tron, at 278 miles. It’s only when you call up greater reserves via the kickdown function in S that the other motor is called upon and the front wheels begin to do the driving.