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2021 Audi e-tron Sportback review: Electric German style

While the Porsche Taycan has been stealing the headlines over the past year, Audi has been quietly working on its all-electric offering, bringing something that’s expected to be far more popular than a speedy sedan. I’m talking about the Audi e-tron, an electric SUV with plenty of power, torque, and size. For those seeking something more stylish, there’s also the Sportback variation, with a sleek profile that channels the brand’s iconic A7 line.

Infusing this design with the responsiveness and high-tech expertise that Audi is known for seems like a winning formula with few drawbacks, but the spec-sheet of the e-tron raises a few eyebrows. Fortunately, we don’t just evaluate cars on what the specs say.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV exterior

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

The e-tron’s exterior elements are perfectly in line with Audi’s design language, making it easy to mistake it for any other four-ringed product on the road. It’s the details that help differentiate the e-tron, and they really stand out. Our tester featured bright orange brake calipers which are a quick way to note this is no regular Audi.

There is an orange e-tron badge by the two charge ports (one on each side for convenience) and the cover for these ports is conveniently motorized. The front end shows a bit of ruggedness with a silver accent surround for the grille and corner inlets which reminds a bit of a skid plate or body cladding. On the other hand, the 21-inch wheels show off a high-class stance. Overall the design of the Sportback is attractive, looking just different enough to get attention from Audi fans and casual observers alike.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV interior

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

When it comes to luxury electric cars, a certain high-tech flair is expected, and the interior of the e-tron Sportback really delivers. There’s a bright 12.3-inch gauge cluster, a pair of touch-screens on the center stack, and a smart mix of physical and touch buttons.

Other automakers clumsily navigate the gear selector design in an EV, sometimes using a lifeless stick, a set of buttons, or an unengaging knob like you’re dialing a gear. Audi on the other hand, opts for a chunky shifter, possibly inspired by throttles used in sci-fi a spacecraft.

While the e-tron is far from confining, the large sunroof helps it feel even more spacious. The only design decision that caught me off guard was the control stalk on the steering wheel, exclusive to the adaptive cruise control system. While the rest of the buttons and controls in the vehicle made perfect sense, this adaptive cruise control setting required a bit more of a learning curve, with its varying positions and distance toggle.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV infotainment and tech

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

That high-tech vibe is continued through the smart features of the vehicle. The 12.3-inch virtual cockpit gauge cluster is bright and easy to use, and those finding it too distracting can rely on the bright head-up display instead, although you’ll miss out on the handy map view or efficiency indicators. It’s also customizable, with a few different layouts.

A pair of touch screens on the center stack is used for infotainment and HVAC duties. They feature haptic feedback and require a bit more of a forceful push to select items. Fortunately, the screen vibrates back at you to confirm your selection (although sometimes it feels like it’s saying “you pushed too hard!”) This works well even for those wearing gloves, so I’d consider it a win. My biggest criticism of the displays is that the heating and fan controls are low on the center stack, and combined with the touch-screen operation this can feel a bit distracting at times, especially if you’re making multiple adjustments. It clearly takes a bit more practice to become adept at operating this while on the road.

Of course, the infotainment system features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, while a wireless phone charger is found near the cupholders between the front seats. Apple CarPlay is even wireless, which adds to the convenience. Thrones up front feature heated and cooling functions, even massaging you when you feel stiff on a long road trip.

The e-tron Sportback also offers a solid safety suite, featuring automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, front and rear parking sensors, and even traffic sign recognition. That last feature even works with the adaptive cruise control, to dynamically change the set speed to whatever is the speed limit on the road you’re on.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV recharging

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

Packed beneath the floors of the e-tron is a 95 kWh battery, which is good for a range of 218 miles on a full charge, according to the EPA. My experience with this was bang on, although I had a few cold and snowy days of testing which saw a frustrating 10-15 percent reduction in range.

The e-tron helpfully sports a CCS combo charge port on the driver’s side, and a traditional J-1772 port on the passenger side. It can recharge quickly, since it accommodates chargers up to 150 kW of output. Using a DC fast charger with this 150 kW capability will bring the battery from zero to eighty percent in just 30 minutes. Other fast chargers will see slightly longer times, for example, the DC fast chargers in my neighborhood top out at about 50 kW, taking about 90 minutes to get 80 percent more juice. Using a level 2 charger will recharge the battery in nine hours, while a level 1 charger is far less convenient, taking between 80 to 124 hours.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV driving and performance

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

Most car shoppers know that Audi and all-wheel-drive go hand-in-hand, so naturally, both axles in the e-tron are powered. Typically the motors provide 355 horsepower and 414 lb-ft of torque, but a boost mode bumps that up to 402 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque. You enable that secret function by selecting S on the gear selector. Then the e-tron can sprint to highway speeds in just 5.5 seconds. That may not sound too exciting, but there’s something about the mid-speed power delivery which is intoxicating. After that initial rush of thrust, the vehicle cruises along comfortably, and the lack of noise means that you can get used to pretty high speeds. It’s extremely quiet, and major kudos to Audi for delivering a car with limited wind and tire noise.

Bringing the car to a stop, you can use the paddle shifters to enable two more aggressive regenerative braking settings. These can only be enabled once you’re coasting, and can’t be performed on demand. There isn’t a one-pedal driving setting here. The braking isn’t as refined as the other aspects of the vehicle, signaling one of the lowlights in the e-tron.

Fortunately, it rides as a luxury car should. Smooth and effortlessly, the e-tron glides over bad roads and imperfections on the asphalt, even with the 21-inch wheels fitted to our tester. Air suspension helps here, and the vehicle can raise and lower as needed for better efficiency while on the road. Heavy steering gives a feeling of being behind the wheel of something robust and special.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV practicality

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

By using this sloping rear profile, you’d expect the e-tron Sportback to be less practical than its more traditional counterpart. However, with 27.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats, the Sportback is only down by two cubic feet compared to the regular e-tron. With the rear seats folded, you get 54.5 cubic feet, and there’s a handy compartment under the hood for storing a portable charge cable. In general, the e-tron Sportback feels plenty spacious, and two adults should be comfortable in the rear seats.

Those with a penchant for towing will be happy to hear the Audi will tow up to 4,000 lbs. when properly equipped. Note as good as an EV is, it’s unlikely you’ll get the full range of the battery pack while towing.

2021 Audi e-tron Sportback EV pricing and incentives

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

Including destination fees, the Audi e-tron Sportback starts at $70,145. The next step up is the Premium Plus model, which is $79,045, while the range-topping Prestige model costs $83,345.

Different paint finishes will cost $595, while a Black Optics appearance package upgrades the wheels to 21-inches costs $2,500. The towing package is an extra $750, while a high-tech matrix lighting feature will cost an extra $3,000.

These prices represent a premium of $3,150 over the standard e-tron SUV, so those looking to save a few bucks for a similar experience may want to check that model out. On the other hand, buyers are eligible for a maximum of $7,500 in federal incentives as well which helps to significantly reduce the overall price of a luxury SUV.

Final verdict

Photo credit: Sami Haj-Assaad / EV Pulse

On paper, it’s easy to dismiss the Audi e-tron Sportback as a wannabe player in the realm of Tesla, but in reality, it holds up pretty decently. The range is a worry, but it is easy to navigate thanks to its fast-charging capability. The off-the-line sprint seems basic, but once in motion, the car feels seriously fast, not to mention quiet and comfortable. It’s also loaded with tons of tech, reliable safety features, and a stylish profile.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Audi
  • Model: e-tron Sportback
  • Type: 4-Door SUV Coupe
  • Horsepower: 355 (402 in Boost Mode)
  • Torque: 414 lb-ft (490 in boost mode)
  • EV range: 218 Miles
  • Pros: Looks sharp, high tech cabin, fast charging capability, spacious
  • Cons: Braking performance, low placement of touch-screen HVAC, price premium over standard e-tron
  • Base price: $70,145
  • Price as tested: $86,440
Written by Sami Haj-Assaad
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