As the crowds flooded the Los Angeles Convention Centre last week to attend the final major international motor show of 2019, perhaps one of the most impactful cars visitors may happen upon would be at the Audi booth in the form of the e-tron Sportback.
Despite being slated for a Europe-first market launch in Q2 2020, the fully electric SUV is clearly banking on model interest and new sales hailing from North America - California in particular, hence it’s presence in LA - with their premium line of EVs, pioneered by the plainly monikered e-tron. This Sportback, like Audi’s other vehicles they’ve attached that name to, is essentially a sportier looking coupe-like version of that.
With its larger RS-inspired 21- or 22-inch wheels (20s as standard), lowered ride height, and sleeker sloping roofline, Audi is positioning the e-tron Sportback as the more desirable of the pair and most belonging in a curb appeal face-off against the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-PACE.
Like the e-tron it’s based on, the Sportback falls in a dimensional wedge between the Q5 and Q8, measuring 1,935mm wide, 4,901mm from end to end, and a mere 1,616mm tall. With its relatively long bonnet (despite having no engine beneath) and the sheer resemblance to the rest of the Audi SUV portfolio, the Sportback deftly masks its identity as their premier EV of the moment.
Fancy Matrix LED headlights feature prominently and are made standard for the first time, though certain design staples of the Ingolstadt-based automaker’s current visual philosophy are tough to kill as its flat Singleframe grille and front edge intakes do little more than establish it as distinctly Audi. After all, any unfilled portion of its fascia would only interrupt airflow and work counter to its impressively low drag coefficient of 0.25.
At launch, the company is offering the e-tron Sportback in two configurations: 50 quattro and 55 quattro. On both, each axle is fitted with an asynchronous electric motor for all-wheel drive traction and rapid acceleration via a pair of two-stage planetary gearboxes, fed by a floor-mounted bank of batteries with an operating voltage rated at 396V.
On the range-topping 55 quattro, those dual electric motors combine to produce as much as 300kW and 664Nm when the car is switched into the boosted S mode, which can sustain that peak output for up to 8 seconds before returning to its normal operating figures of 265kW and 561Nm. When slotted into its ‘full on’ S mode, Audi claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.7 seconds or 6.6 seconds under normal parameters.
The underfloor lithium ion batteries are comprised of 36 individual liquid-cooled modules arranged over two levels and are capable of storing a combined 95kWh for a maximum range of 446km when measured on the WLTP cycle. Par for the course.
By contrast, the e-tron Sportback in its lesser 50 quattro guise utilises lithium prismatic batteries with a combined capacity of 71kWh while its motors output a maximum of 230kW and 540Nm, translating to a 6.8 second century sprint and a quoted range of 347km. That said, all variants (so far) support fast DC charging at a rate of up to 150kW through compatible stations, needing less than 30 minutes to reach 80 percent capacity.
Audi has not disclosed an estimated charge time while using 11kW public chargers, perhaps due to a secondary onboard charging device capable of increasing that to 22kW. However, this feature will only be available post launch in mid-2020 as an optional extra.
Inside, the e-tron Sportback is identical to the wagon-bodied e-tron SUV, which therefore means that it also strongly resembles the cabin of other modern Audi cars in terms of ergonomics, layout, and material selection. The 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster features prominently and works in tandem with the 8.6-inch MMI touchscreen infotainment system and has been tweaked accordingly to handle the specific needs of the fully electric powertrain in addition to coming stocked with LTE, WiFi, and other connectivity options including built in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Naturally, the sloped roofline does compromise rear headroom and boot capacity over the non-Sportback, though with 615 litres with all seats up and an auxiliary 60 litre compartment up front, it remains a very practical vehicle indeed.
Ahead of its European launch, Audi will be ramping up production of the e-tron Sportback in its carbon-neutral plant in Brussels of both the aforementioned powertrain configurations as well as the limited run Edition 1 series. Prices are expected to start at EUR 71,350 or approximately AU$116,000.