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Another new review of the e-tron sportback.

Spending some time behind the wheel of this all-new performance luxury electric vehicle recently, I was reminded of something Dr. Z said at the launch of Mercedes-Benz all-electric SUV, the 2019 EQC.

“If you’re coming late to the party, you better bring a very good bottle of wine,” the incomparable Daimler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche said.

In this case, the ‘party’ is the electric vehicle revolution the motoring world finds itself navigating, and the ‘wine’ is a first generation, out-of-the-box EV that catches up to—if not surpasses—existing EVs that had a good many years head start.

That was certainly true of the EQC, and after zipping around Metro Vancouver in Audi’s newest entrant in the all-electric segment, it’s certainly also true for the E-tron Sportback.

It’s quick. It’s refined. It’s comfortable. It’s luxurious. It’s technologically advanced. In other words, it’s all the things that Audi has come to represent.

The Sportback is the second entry in Audi’s E-tron stable, following in the low-resistance tire tracks of the E-tron, the mid-size luxury crossover that was launched in 2018. Next up will be the 2021 Q4, the concept of which was released early this summer and a model aimed squarely to compete with a number of crossover-style EVs available now or coming to market in the next few months, most notably the Tesla Model Y, the Volvo XC40 Recharge, the Polestar 2 and the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Unlike the Q4—which will be based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform—the E-tron Sportback shares the same platform, powertrain and liquid cooled battery pack as the E-tron. Pictured in silhouette, the E-tron SUV and the E-tron Sportback look identical from the nose to the B-pillar, with the body styles differing as the Sportback’s roofline dips down to the rear window and rear hatch. Despite the ‘sportback’ name, the E-tron version sits higher and has a shorter rear overhang that Audi’s gas-powered sportback models in the A5 and A7 lineups.

Likewise, the two E-tron driver cockpits are very similar, each utilizing Audi’s forward-thinking E-tron design language, gauge clusters, displays screens and unique gear selector system. Very tasty.

The model I drove was the top-of-the-line Edition One trim. Just 999 have been produced, and adds a number of special features to the mid-range Technik model (the base version is called Progressiv). These include Dynamic orange brake calipers, 21-inch 5-spoke wheels, a black interior with gray ash wood inlays, aluminum exterior trim elements, Daytona Gray exterior metallic paint, Edition One badging on the door sills and an ‘Edition One’ logo beam on the puddle lights.

The cabin of the E-tron Sportback is exquisite, and that’s not an overstatement. A major aspect of the pleasing nature of the interior, particularly from the driver’s perspective, is the leaning towards a more minimalist gauge/switch/display array than those found in gas-powered vehicles. That has become a bit of a hallmark for luxury EVs, credit of which must go to Tesla and its spartan cockpits.

The E-tron Sportback doesn’t go quite that far, though, and designers have done a great job of instilling some ‘Audi-ness’ in the cockpit while maintaining a very clean and simple, and intuitive, layout. Full marks too for the gear selector, which foregoes the current (maddening) trend of buttons or tiny steering wheel stalks in favour of a meaty centre console handle-like shifter that, while unique, still has some old-school vibe to it.

What isn’t old school at all is what happens when you press down on the accelerator. And that’s rapid, oh-so-smooth acceleration with the only real sensory output being the spaceship-like whir Audi engineers manufactured into the electric motor sound. Make that motors plural, as there are two asynchronous electric motors power all four wheels (hence ‘Quattro’). Maximum torque is 414 lbs.-ft, but dial the Sportback into boost mode and that jumps to a 21-inch wheel-spinning 490. Needless to say, getting this heavy (2480 kg/5467.5 lbs without occupants) beast going isn’t difficult, and it’s 5.7 second sprint to 100 km/h (in boost mode) seems quicker thanks to that aforementioned quiet cabin.

And as Audi’s were not engineered to drive in a straight line, dial in that electromechanical progressive steering and the Sportback is on rails, with very little body roll thanks to the five-link air suspension front and back. Suffice to say, the driving dynamics are world-class.

As to the electric underpinnings, the 95 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is capable of a peak electrical output of 300 kW. As to range, the EPA rating is 351 kilometres, which is a little disappointing but given the weight of the Sportback to be expected. If and when this powertrain/battery pack finds its way into a smaller Audi, a 400 km rating is well within reach.

Critics will cite this range as a major flaw in the Sportback’s ointment, but let’s keep things in perspective here: this is a first-generation EV for Audi, and what it may lack in range it more than makes up for in style, performance, élan and charisma.

Besides, with a sticker price of $111,500, the 2020 Audi E-tron Sportback Edition One is not intended to herald the kind of high-volume sales expected/hoped for by EV advocates. Instead it is intended to demonstrate the kind of exciting, aspirational luxury performance EV one of the world’s best automakers can produce. In that regard, mission accomplished.
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