The Audi e-tron was one of the first luxury EVs to hit the market without a Tesla badge when it was launched to the world in 2018.
Based on a version of the MLB Evo architecture underpinning the popular Audi Q5 and Q7, the e-tron was thought to be called the Q6 e-tron ahead of its reveal – but it seems Audi wanted to really break the electrified e-tron sub-brand away from its more conventional models.
Fast forward to 2022, and the two-variant line-up has recently been expanded with the nameplate’s first performance model, the 2022 Audi e-tron S, available in conventional SUV and slinkier Sportback body styles.
The tri-motor model packs enough grunt to haul this 2.65-tonne leviathan to 100km/h in around 4.5 seconds in full-attack mode, once the exclusive realm of Audi’s RS models – though a high-output Tesla will still put it to shame in a straight line.
But while rival makers like the aforementioned Silicon Valley giant focus heavily on EV tech and breaking the design mould, the Audi e-tron makes up ground by offering a traditional Audi experience with a new-age powertrain – for better and for worse.
Does the sexy e-tron S Sportback on test justify its lofty price tag? At $170,000 before on-road charges and taxes, you’d hope this all-electric crossover has the substance to match its neck-breaking style.
The Audi e-tron S starts at $168,400 before on-road costs for the SUV version, with the coupe-styled e-tron S Sportback tested here upping that to $175,400 plus on-roads.
Our test subject also featured a number of options, including:
- Sensory package ($9600)
- Digital Matrix LED headlights
- Entrance LED projector lights with e-tron logo
- Power-assisted soft close doors
- Heated rear outer seats
- Air quality package
- Extended fine Nappa leather upholstery
- Sunshade for rear windows, manual
- 22-inch Audi Sport alloy wheels in 5-arm-interference design ($1600)
- Inlays in carbon square structure ($1850)
- Virtual exterior mirrors ($3500)
Due to ongoing component shortages, current orders of the e-tron S will miss out on features such as a wireless phone charger, electric steering column adjustment and tyre pressure monitoring.
Each of these carry a credit that is discounted off the retail price.
All up, when you factor in the credits for missing features, the as-tested sticker is a whopping $190,325 plus on-roads. Eesh.
If you want an SUV-coupe body style and an electric drivetrain, you’re fairly limited for choice. The Jaguar I-Pace is arguably the e-tron Sportback’s most direct rival, which in EV400 HSE spec costs $155,550. However, the sole powertrain offering is a 294kW/696Nm dual-motor electric drive system which is off the e-tron S’s 370kW/973Nm in boost mode.
The Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo, while not a conventional SUV, does do the ICE car-aping crossover thing rather well. For the 420kW/650Nm Taycan 4S Cross Turismo, you’re looking at a starting price of $205,300. Or, the entry-level Taycan 4 Cross Turismo with its 350kW and 500Nm starts at $176,700.
Meanwhile, the just-launched Tesla Model Y Performance is faster but smaller, and the waiting list has already blown out until well into 2023. After a recent price adjustment, the Tesla is priced from $102,329 before on-roads.
If you’ve ever sat in an Audi Q7 or Q8, the e-tron’s cockpit will have a nice air of familiarity.
That’s to be expected, given the e-tron line was one of the first Audi models to feature the current cabin layout as well as the latest MMI touch infotainment setup with stacked touchscreens.
It’s all easy enough to use, and there’s little to no learning curve if you have experience with most recent or current Audi products, but there’s still a few special e-tron touches.
For example the centre tunnel features a bespoke design given there’s no transmission. It’s a deep, configurable space with cupholders and a place to store your phone. Our test car missed out on the standard wireless phone charger due to oft-mentioned component shortages, which is a shame.
Another casualty from the semiconductor crisis is electric steering column adjustment, which at this price point is a bit of a shame. Nothing wrong with adjusting the wheel yourself, but when you’re spending almost full price on a vehicle that’s meant to have it, you can’t help but note its absence.
The dual-tier MMI touch setup is one of the better touch-based systems available. The infotainment system, positioned higher, is easy to use with clearly labelled shortcuts, lovely graphics and animations, and of course fully featured with wireless smartphone mirroring, native satellite navigation with online traffic updates, and other net-based Audi connect functions.
You can search for parking, see current weather, and have the navigation re-route you based on current traffic conditions.
These functions aren’t new, but the e-tron is one of the few instances where I’ve found the native navigation to be very current with traffic updates and appropriately re-route me on the fly to save time, much like Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze.
It’s also hooked up to an excellent 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system with an output of 705W. The audio experience is great, as you’d expect from a B&O-branded unit, with crystal clear, deep, bassy sound.
Ahead of the driver is the lovely Audi virtual cockpit measuring 12.3-inches in this application. It’s crystal clear in resolution and offers a range of extra menus and layouts to go with electrified e-tron ownership, such as range and charging displays, as well as a power meter in place of a conventional tachometer.
While still somewhat conventional in layout, there’s enough adjustability to the Audi’s digital instruments to make them more functional than analogue unit, without alienating more traditional buyers. My personal favourite is having maps between the dials, and minimising the dials when using actual navigation – it looks beautiful too.
The lower touchscreen is dedicated to climate controls and shortcuts, with a panel of touch-capacitive controls also joined by physical switchgear for select functions.
At CarExpert we generally knock manufacturers for removing physical buttons and dials for touch-based shortcuts due to issues with accuracy and complexity, but the Audi’s setup is arguably is one of the best of the breed.
There’s haptic feedback and clicks just like normal buttons, and there’s no confusing array of menus and combinations of presses or swipes to get where you need to go.
It’s all pretty well labelled too, with the large virtual buttons, so if you’re trying to adjust things on the go you’re not going to mis-press something else by missing your target. I will say, that the low placement of controls means to use them on the fly you need to take your eyes off the road and look quite far down in the cabin, which is not ideal.
Despite the Sportback’s coupe-like roofline, accommodation in the second row isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty good.
There’s surprisingly good leg, knee and head room for adults sitting behind adults. At 6’1 I fit behind my own driving position fine, and you can see how the e-tron S Sportback compares to other Audi SUV models in this video. Definitely roomier than something like a Jaguar I-Pace.
There’s standard four-zone climate control in the e-tron S, and if you tick the box for the Sensory package ($9600) you get heated outboard rear seats, too.
Other amenities include netting on the front seatbacks, a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders and storage, bottle holders in the doors, ISOFIX anchors on the outer seats, as well as top-tether points for all three rear positions. There are also two USB charging ports at the rear.
The e-tron Sportback’s boot is a little compromised compared to the e-tron SUV, with a quoted 615L with five seats in use compared to 660L in the standard body. It’s bolstered by a 60L ‘frunk’.
You’ll also notice the sharply raked tailgate means the opening and boot area isn’t as tall as the e-tron SUV, which is something to consider if you, say, cart around a dog or plan on carrying tall items in the boot.
Fold the rear seats down and there’s a handy 1665L, and there’s minimal loading lip and no step between the boot floor and the rear seatbacks. It’s not quite flat in this configuration, but the standard air suspension can help things somewhat by lowering the rear via the switches in the boot area.
Under the boot floor there’s a space-saver spare wheel. I wouldn’t want to be plonking that thing on alongside the optional 22-inch rims on this test car…
The e-tron S is powered by a tri-motor electric drive system powering both axles for all-wheel drive.
Maximum system outputs are rated at 370kW and 973Nm. Audi claims the 0-100km/h dash takes 4.5 seconds on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 210km/h.
Worth noting is the fact those figures are when the e-tron S is in boost mode, which essentially primes the drivetrain for full attack, and is only on tap for short periods of time. For the bulk of driving, the e-tron S puts out 320kW and 808Nm.
There’s a 95kWh (net) lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the underbody, good for a claimed driving range of 418km on the more lenient NEDC combined test cycle. According to international WLTP specifications, the more realistic range quote is 347-379km.
Audi’s claims for the e-tron S Sportback are slightly better than the SUV version. The e-tron S SUV has a claim of 413km using the NEDC cycle and 344-374km using the WLTP method.
Officially, the e-tron S Sportback quotes a power efficiency figure of 26.0kWh/100km (26.4kWh/100km e-tron S), which is the electric vehicle equivalent of thirsty. Clearly the power-hungry tri-motor drivetrain and heavy 2655kg heft aren’t conducive to electric hyper-mile driving.
The e-tron S and e-tron S Sportback can charge at a rate of up to 150kW using DC fast-charging, which will see the 95kWh battery replenished from 5 to 80 per cent in as little as 30 minutes. Using an 11kW AC home charger, the e-tron S will take 9hr 15m for a full charge.
If you don’t charge at home often, Audi throws in six years of unlimited charging with the Chargefox national public charging network. A professionally-installed home wall box comes at an additional charge, however.
I spent a lot of time in the e-tron S Sportback, and my assessment is going to come off as a bit of a mixed bag. It has some very high highs, and some frustrating lows.
From the moment you set off, the e-tron S is a pleasingly familiar drive if you’re an Audi owner or have experience with its current products. There’s a wonderful refinement and sophistication to how it goes about its business, and there’s no learning curve to the various displays and controls on the move.
There’s a number of drive modes available via the Audi drive select system accessible via the lower touchscreen on the centre stack, including auto, allroad, efficiency, comfort, dynamic and off-road. All tailor the drivetrain, steering, assist systems, air-conditioning, and air suspension to various conditions.
I was generally flicking between efficiency (to maximise range), comfort (to prioritise ride comfort) and auto (to figure it out for me in mixed conditions). There were a couple of gravel lanes I navigated using the allroad mode too, which jacks up the suspension a bit and makes this coupe-styled crossover look like some sort of futuristic rally concept.
With majority freeway use during our time with the car – to and from filming and a long weekend road trip to Phillip Island – the e-tron S did its best work in comfort to make longer stints that little more effortless and relaxing.
My friends commented on the serenity of the interior – in terms of powertrain and road noise – as well as the cloud-like feel of the air suspension in its comfort setting. You can really spend hours behind the wheel and step out feeling fresh as a daisy.
If you are spending hours behind the wheel, you might need to keep a keen eye on the projected range readout as well as the public charging entries in the infotainment system, as the power-hungry e-tron will have you plugging in more regularly than most rivals.
With indicated power usage starting at around 30kWh/100km and tapering off to around 26kWh with more mixed driving, the e-tron S’s dash would only show between 280-350km of range, which is well off the manufacturer’s claim of 400km or more.
Furthermore, just about all the e-tron’s rivals quote better range and efficiency figures, including the single-motor BMW iX3 (440km), Jaguar I-Pace (446km), Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 Sport (430km), Porsche Taycan 4S Cross Turismo (452km) and the Tesla Model Y Performance (514km).
It didn’t help that our test vehicle was optioned in press kit hero-spec with 22-inch wheels and liquorice-thin tyres. No doubt if you stuck with the standard 21-inch rims you’d consistently get a little more range.
Beyond the range complaints, there’s a real Jekyll and Hyde vibe to the e-tron S’s personality. In more sedate driving it’s incredibly smooth and linear in its power delivery, and the adaptive brake regen means it coasts like a normal car when you want or can do limited energy recuperation if the vehicle ahead is slowing down, or if the navigation recognises a speed limit drop or upcoming intersection.
Flick it into dynamic and everything firms up and is primed for maximum attack.
Numerous times I caught passengers off-guard with the immediacy of the e-tron’s acceleration at full tilt, with this seemingly effortless vehicle suddenly turning into a land missile as you fire it off the line.
Sure, a Model Y Performance is a second quicker to triple figures, but that’s not to say anything under the 5.0-second mark to 100km/h is slow by any means. Plus, having maximum torque on tap from the moment you mash the pedal will push everyone back in their seat time after time.
Point the e-tron at a few corners and it grips hard and gets around, though the hefty kerb weight and tall proportions means this is very much a GT and not a hardcore track monster.
There’s good road-holding in both the wet and the dry, and the e-tron S does a good job at getting its power down regardless of the conditions. You get a feeling of body lean though, and its weight can be felt shifting under you.
A real highlight is the amount of available on-board tech, from the futuristic digital side mirrors to the connected navigation and Digital Matrix LED headlights. Despite coming up to its fifth birthday, the e-tron’s technology suite feels pretty fresh.
The camera-based side mirrors are a $3900 option, and while they’re a cool talking point the everyday benefits are limited. In fact, some may actually consider them a backwards step in terms of usability and functionality.
The slim displays have a limited viewing angle, and their placement in the doors is a little low. There were countless occasions where I would turn my eyes to the camera lenses where the mirrors would usually be located, instead of the displays.
Another gripe is the lack of auto-dipping function, which means you have to manually adjust the angle via the driver’s side display (it’s touch-operated) to avoid scraping those massive 22-inch rims.
It’s a cool thing to look at on the move, and the borders of the display light up when the blind-spot or rear cross-traffic detects vehicles. Low-light performance was decent as well.
The assistance suite is typical Audi, with adaptive cruise assist (radar cruise + lane centring) taking the load off extended highway stints, and a surround-view camera system with 3D view making parking this big thing easier.
I found the parking cameras to be easily obstructed by water and dirt, and combined with the slim viewing angle of the digital mirrors, visibility in tight parking situations isn’t great.
e-tron S highlights:
- 21-inch Audi Sport alloy wheels
- Aluminium exterior mirrors
- Orange brake calipers with S logo
- Panoramic glass sunroof
- Rear privacy glass
- Four-zone climate control
- Multi-colour LED ambient lighting
- Heated front seats
- Electric front seat adjustment with driver memory
- Valcona leather upholstery
- S sport front seats with contrast diamond stitching
- Sport leather steering wheel with heating
- Electric steering column adjustment
- Audi virtual cockpit with S-specific displays
- Audi connect plus
- 10.1-inch MMI navigation plus
- Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Wireless phone charging
- 8.6-inch haptic display for vehicle functions
- 705W 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system
- Sensory package: $9600
- Digital Matrix LED headlights
- Front/rear dynamic indicators
- Door-mounted LED projector lights with e-tron logo
- Power-assisted soft-close doors
- Heated rear outboard seats
- Air quality package (ionisation and fragrance)
- Extended leather upholstery (upper dash, lower interior elements)
- Manual sunshades for rear windows
- 22-inch Audi Sport alloy wheels: $1600
- Virtual exterior mirrors: $3500
- High-gloss black exterior styling package: $1600
- Roof rails in black or aluminium (Sportback): $900
The e-tron line-up wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out by Euro NCAP in July 2019. However, e-tron S models are not covered by this safety score.
The Audi scored 91 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 71 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 78 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety features include:
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Forward and Reverse
- Pedestrian and Cyclist detection
- Adaptive cruise control
- Lane-keep assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Surround-view cameras
- Front and rear parking sensors
There’s also the option of camera-based side mirrors in place of conventional units.
The Audi e-tron S is covered by the brand’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty which came into effect on January 1, 2022.
Beyond the factory warranty cover, the e-tron line-up already came with six years of complementary servicing, six years of premium roadside assistance, as well as a six-year unlimited subscription to the Chargefox fast-charging network.
It’s a perhaps under-appreciated aspect of Audi e-tron ownership, given BMW’s EVs offer a shorter warranty and will charge you for scheduled maintenance, while Mercedes-Benz matches the warranty cover though also charges for servicing.
While the e-tron S Sportback is somewhat flawed as an EV – largely because of its short range – there’s still numerous elements that make this an excellent Audi, and a great Audi ‘S’ at that.
Too often we see manufacturers compromise on design, build quality, refinement, or value when introducing new powertrain technologies, and while the e-tron is quite expensive and lacks the range of most rivals, you can’t deny it looks and feels like any other high-end Audi product.
It’s smooth, quiet, comfortable, beautifully built, and doesn’t look like a deranged science project.
In typical Audi fashion, the displays and in-car technology are excellent in form and function, and will be familiar to anyone who has stepped out of a recent Audi or Volkswagen Group product. Not everyone wants wild futuristic design with new-age technology.
That said, despite its age the e-tron S Sportback still manages to look like a fresh concept car, and our hero-spec press car looks and feels every bit as expensive as its lofty price tag. Well… it almost does.
Anyone trying to get the most bang for their buck would be better served by the less powerful dual-motor e-tron 55 quattro, which retains the same 95kWh battery with lower energy consumption, for a range claim of 436km (+18km) on the lenient NEDC test method – it’s also $15,000 cheaper than the equivalent e-tron S.
Even better, if you opt for the SUV-bodied e-tron in 55 quattro or S guise, you save $11,000 and $7000 on the starting price respectively.
But there are luxury EVs out there with better performance and range, and at this price range you can get into a Taycan 4S Cross Turismo with more performance, more range, better handling and of course, that desirable Porsche crest on the nose.
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