An excellent Audi but an average EV
THE GOOD
  • Excellent interior
  • User-friendly
  • High-tech
THE BAD
  • Average range
  • Regenerative braking system has faults
  • Value

The Audi E-Tron was the brand’s first-ever fully electric SUV, and the sportback version follows Audi tradition by adding a more stylish body and raked roofline to a capable powertrain, providing fashion-forward shoppers another option. As the electric vehicle (EV) space gets increasingly competitive, however, the 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback does little to set itself apart.

Power: 8/10

The E-Tron Sportback is powered by two asynchronous electric motors, one on each axle, giving this luxury SUV an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system worthy of its Audi badge. It can redistribute torque instantly for better traction when needed and also disconnect the front motor when not needed to maximize efficiency. The battery has a capacity of 95 kWh and is capable of charging at 150 kW, which allows it to get from zero to 80 per cent charge in about half an hour. Output is rated at 355 hp and 414 lb-ft of torque, but Boost mode unlocks a total of 402 hp and 490 lb-ft.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

Its roughly 350 km of driving range is on the lower end for both premium and mainstream EV offerings. While the rating doesn’t matter too much if you have a place at home or work to charge, if you live in a condo like I do, it simply requires a bit more planning. I like being able to squeeze a few more trips between charges, and the E-Tron Sportback’s range made life slightly inconvenient, especially on a few days where I had longer trips and was tight on time. The E-Tron is heavy, which impacts range, but I would love to see how this setup would fare in a lighter car.

The AWD Jaguar I-Pace is rated for 377 km, while the front-drive Kia Soul EV gets about 450 km, and the new Ford Mustang Mach-E with the extended-range battery and AWD gets about 425 km. A long-range AWD Tesla Model X, meanwhile, gets up to 597 km.

Like fuel economy in internal combustion vehicles, EV range is affected by many different factors like weather, driving style, climate control use, and more, but I would have liked to see more range and higher efficiency from the E-Tron Sportback. The SUV’s range estimates seemed fairly accurate, but I have experienced greater efficiency with energy use in other EVs.

An unexpected and convenient feature was a charging port on each side of the SUV (the one on the passenger side is optional), the covers for which retract at the push of a button and close automatically when you unplug. Although one of them only works with Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, the other is a DC Combo port that adds Level 3 fast charging capability to the mix but also works with Levels 1 and 2. Having ports on each side simply makes it more convenient to plug in and charge, especially if you’re at home and don’t have a wall socket on both sides of the garage and your charging cord isn’t long enough to wrap around.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The E-Tron comes standard with a multi-link adaptive air suspension that can be raised or lowered for better efficiency, more ground clearance, or easier entry and exit. It feels like pretty much any other Audi on the road, with a confident and composed drive. It’s responsive to all inputs and there’s really nothing too notable about the way the E-Tron drives except that it’s excellent. The steering is heavy but offers little feedback, and the brakes feel natural and progressive, where other EV brakes can be a bit touchy.

The SUV is smooth and silent, but it doesn’t offer the same type of Tesla-like breakneck acceleration, even in its Dynamic mode. It’s quick enough, getting from zero to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds and pulling off convincing passes, but it’s not organ-crushing fast. The ride quality is also a bit harsh for a luxury SUV, even in its softest setting, but that probably has more to do with the giant wheels, which start at 20 inches and can be optioned up to 22s.

One area that could use improvement is the regenerative braking. It has paddle shifters for regen on demand, which is a fun way to be engaged with the car, but true one-pedal driving isn’t available, which is a missed opportunity. You can ease off the accelerator and coast the E-Tron all the way to a stop, but if you don’t hit the brakes when it comes to a full stop, the E-Tron will start to roll backwards and then beep to warn you, where other EVs apply a brake hold. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment, especially since many EV enthusiasts love one-pedal driving and it’s very much an essential part of the driving experience. There’s also no option to set the regen braking to its most aggressive setting and just leave it; the paddle shifters seem to be the only way to control how strong the regen braking is.

The sound the E-Tron makes at low speeds sounds high tech, futuristic, and slightly ominous. Other EVs sound angelic or like spaceships; this definitely has a more sinister tone, which suits the serious nature of this SUV better.

Styling: 7/10

While I’m not normally a fan of “coupe SUVs,” the proportions of the E-Tron Sportback aren’t too off-putting – though from the rear, it’s still a hard sell over the regular E-Tron. From the front, the huge vents look a bit silly and the slats in the grille don’t really seem necessary, but the headlights are really the highlight, and Audi’s lighting is always on point. In general, it looks attractive enough and very much like other Audis in that it errs on the side of conservative, save for a couple weird details.

The same goes for the interior, which is a very serious affair that is well-built with nothing too flamboyant. The interior is really the best at night, when it’s too dark to see all the dust and fingerprints on the shiny surfaces, and the bright ambient lighting makes the interior feel like a spaceship. With the ambient lighting set to maximum brightness, it makes it look and feel like something from the movie Tron.

Safety: 8/10

The Audi E-Tron Sportback tested had all the desired advanced safety equipment, but a lot of it doesn’t come standard. Even the most expensive E-Tron Sportback requires buyers to pay an extra $2,800 for the adaptive cruise control package, which also includes intersection assist and a 360-degree collision-avoidance system, traffic sign recognition, and active lane assist with emergency evasive steering.

At the highest Technik 55 trim, automatic front and rear emergency braking, a 360-degree camera, a 3D visualization of the vehicle in its surroundings, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and blind-spot monitoring are included.

Most of the systems work well, but sensors were often too sensitive and fired false negatives, even when the vehicle was clean and the sensors free of obstructions. For example, there were a few instances when it slammed on the brakes for situations that were clearly not emergencies, like a car parked next to me that it perceived was cross traffic instead of a stationary object.

Features: 9/10

The Technik 55 trim tested comes with standard heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, leather steering wheel and seating surfaces, four-zone automatic climate control, cabin preconditioning, soft-close doors, a power tailgate with foot-activated sensor, an upgraded audio system, puddle lights, wireless phone charging, and one of the industry’s best implementations of a digital dashboard. The back seats have two USB ports and the vehicle notifies you as you’re exiting if you’ve left your phone in the charging cradle, which is useful because it’s inside the centre console. A part of me wishes the E-Tron had a few more flashy features to add to its wow factor, though.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Most of the controls for the E-Tron Sportback are done via the two large touchscreens that take up the centre stack. The screens have haptic feedback, but you can’t actually tap it like a phone or tablet; you have to apply some pressure and push it like a button, which might trip you up at first. I experienced two instances where the screens didn’t load up when the vehicle was started and required a power cycle to reset.

Two-screen setups tend to be confusing, but the E-Tron Sportback keeps it simple by keeping the functions separate: climate controls on the bottom screen and media, navigation, and vehicle settings on the top screen. The menus are straightforward and easy to navigate. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included and take up as much screen real estate as possible, meaning there are no dead zones.

The gear selector, which you hold like a traditional shifter but rock the left toggle forward and back with your thumb or forefinger, feels better to use than pushing buttons and provides a place to stabilize your palm while you use the lower touchscreen.

I wish there was more information available on energy usage or better efficiency coaches and there isn’t a lot of charging info available when it’s plugged in, but most of that can be accessed through an app.

Practicality: 8/10

The trunk holds 615 L of cargo, and 1,665 L with the second row folded. In comparison to the regular E-Tron’s 660 L and 1,725 L ratings, it’s actually not a huge sacrifice and the Sportback has a lot of usable space in the cargo hold and has two deep wells on either side big enough to hold a jug of washer fluid. The E-Tron Sportback also has a front trunk, which is great for storing the charging cable to free up space in the back. It’s a bit shallow, but underneath is where the tire repair kit is located, also saving room in the trunk.

Each door gets deep pockets, and while the netting on the seat backs seems a bit cheap, it also opens up more places to stash stuff. There’s also a large compartment for cupholders in front of the centre console that can be changed into a rectangular storage compartment by stashing the cupholders away. There’s also decent space in the console itself.

Comfort: 9/10

For a vehicle with a sloping roofline, rear seat passengers have decent headroom and even with a taller driver in front, legroom isn’t terribly compromised. During a long drive up to cottage country, the seats proved comfortable and no fatigue settled in. The inside is serene and Audi does a good job blocking out any outside noise.

Value: 7/10

The 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback starts at $88,850 for the Progressiv trim, while the Technik trim starts at $96,500, more expensive than the non-Sportback’s $85,600 and $93,250 starting prices. The extra cost over the non-Sportback is tough to justify. The Progressiv comes with most of the luxury and safety features you’d want, but is a bit lacking on the tech front. The Progressiv adds more tech features, but still requires a $2,800 upgrade to get adaptive cruise control. While the interior design, materials, and build quality make the Audi E-Tron feel worth the money, the average range leaves me wanting.

The Verdict

The 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback is a solid EV with lots of good tech and a user-friendly, well-built, and luxurious interior. But in a space where things are starting to heat up and get even more competitive, it doesn’t do enough to set itself apart. Most every Audi I’ve ever driven has been weirdly close to perfect though with little personality, and the E-Tron Sportback doesn’t quite hit the high bar that Audi has set for itself. This is an excellent Audi, but it misses the mark on being an incredible EV. Still, if you’re looking for a luxurious and stylish electric vehicle with all-wheel drive, the 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback has a lot to offer.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 300 kW   Model Tested 2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback 55 quattro Technik
Engine Cylinders 2 asynchronous electric motors   Base Price $96,500
Peak Horsepower 355 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 414 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,295
Fuel Economy 3.1 / 3.0 / 3.1 Le/100 km cty/hwy/cmb, 27.6 / 27.0 / 27.3 kWh/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 351 km est. range (95 kWh battery)   Price as Tested $109,795
Cargo Space 615 L/1665 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$10,900 – Adaptive cruise control assist package, $2,800; Luxury package, $4,500; Second AC charging port, $600; Orange brake calipers, $500; Night vision assist, $2,500