The 2021 introduction of the e-tron Sportback now adds a second all-electric model to Audi’s stable of electrified vehicles, contributing to the automaker’s corporate goal of electrifying 30 percent of its U.S. model lineup by 2025. The e-tron Sportback is a crossover SUV like the standard e-tron, but with a coupe-like four-door body influenced by the shape of the A7 Sportback sedan. Despite the steep pitch of the e-tron Sportback’s rear roof, there is ample headroom at all five seating positions.
Mechanically, the 2021 e-tron Sportback benefits from several improvements Audi made to the e-tron powertrain. The e-tron’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is powered via asynchronous electric motors on the front and rear e-tron axles. In a new-for-2021 development, only the rear axle provides e-tron Sportback propulsion in most driving conditions to improve efficiency. The front motor is designed to engage instantly in spirited driving and cornering situations or before wheel slip occurs in inclement weather conditions.
Power for the motors is provided by a 95 kWh battery that Audi has configured to use at less than total capacity, thus optimizing battery longevity and repeatable performance. For 2021, e-tron drivers can access 91 percent, or 86.5 kWh, of the battery’s total capacity, up 3 kWh from the previous model. Also new for 2021 are battery charge ports on both sides of the vehicle to enhance charging convenience.
Output for the e-tron Sportback is rated at 355 horsepower and 414 lb-ft torque, though with Boost Mode engaged those numbers rise to 402 horsepower and 490 lb-ft. In Boost Mode, the e-tron Sportback accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. EPA rates the e-tron Sportback’s efficiency at 76 city and 78 highway MPGe, and 77 combined, with driving range of 218 miles. The e-tron Sportback’s regenerative braking system is designed to recoup energy from both motors during coasting and braking. Steering wheel paddles control the amount of coasting recuperation in three stages.
The e-tron Sportback is equipped with 20-inch wheels and adaptive air suspension as standard equipment. Standard driver assistance systems include Audi pre sense basic, side assist with rear cross-traffic assist, and active lane-departure warning. Among the features on the e-tron Sportback’s MMI touch screen system is a map estimating where the SUV can travel given its current state of charge, plus suggested charging station locations along the route. Amazon Alexa is integrated into the e-tron Sportback’s MMI system, and a subscription service provides access to news, music, audiobooks, and control of Alexa-enabled devices from the SUV’s steering wheel.
With a cost of entry at $69,100, the e-tron Sportback’s pricing is solidly in the midst of its competitors in the luxury electric vehicle field, like the Jaguar I-Pace and Polestar 2.
Audi's new 2019 e-tron electric SUV joins Jaguar and Porsche in giving Tesla some serious competition. The automaker’s first-ever all-electric vehicle looks much like the rest of the Audi lineup, foregoing the temptation to go too futuristic or quirky in an effort to stand out as an electric. Its iconic Audi grille reinforces the sense of normalcy even as it handles the distinctly-electric job of directing cooling air to pass under the battery pack. Some electrification cues are provided, though, as the e-tron features slats running across the rear bumper that highlight the lack of tailpipes. Lights in the front are also designed to look like the bars of a charge status indicator. A dark colored section along the sides show battery pack location.
Efficient aerodynamics and other efficiency-enhancing touches were important in designing the e-tron, which features a drag coefficient of just 0.30. Features include cooling ducts for the e-tron’s front brakes and its adaptive, speed-dependent air suspension. Standard ultra-low rolling resistance 20-inch wheels are aerodynamically optimized. Full underbody cladding incorporates an aluminum plate to help protect the battery and also lower drag.
The e-tron's electric quattro all-wheel drive uses two asynchronous motors, each driving one set of wheels. Single-stage transmissions transfer torque to the axles via differentials. At moderate cruising speeds, the e-tron is powered mainly by the rear motor. The battery pack's location between the axles plus the low positioning of other drive components results in low center of gravity. Weight distribution is approximately 50:50. A driver can select from seven different driving modes, from comfortable to sporty, that alter suspension stiffness, steering responsiveness, and how aggressively the SUV accelerates.
Two electric motors accelerate the e-tron from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds with a top speed of 124 mph. It can tow up to 4000 pounds when equipped with the optional tow package. While EPA has yet to provide driving range numbers, testing in Europe resulted in 248 miles from the 95 kWh battery pack. EPA's testing here tends to yield somewhat lower range numbers.
Audi put heavy emphasis on recuperating as much energy as possible. Depending on driving conditions, terrain, and driving style, regenerative braking can provide as much as 30 percent of the e-tron’s range. The driver can select how aggressively the car uses this system, allowing for "one pedal" driving where taking the foot off the throttle will bring the car to a full stop using only regenerative braking.
The e-tron is available with a full range of standard or optional driver assistance packages including adaptive cruise assist, intersection assist, rear cross traffic assist, lane change and vehicle exit warning, and park steering assist. It comes in three trim levels - Premium Plus, Prestige, and First Edition. A panoramic glass sunroof is standard.
Along with models like the 2019 Jaguar I-PACE, Audi e-tron, and upcoming Porsche Taycan, we're seeing a new generation of high-tech battery-powered vehicles that bring an exciting new direction to legacy automakers. These models also have something important in common: They aim to disrupt Tesla, the industry’s de-facto electric car leader.
Disruption is a word thrown about with abandon these days as veritable institutions of business and commerce fall from grace, or at least profitability, at the hands of an ever-changing and disruptive world. Think Sears, Borders, and Kodak. The list of major companies disrupted – either gone, a shadow of their former self, or on the ropes – continues to grow. While the auto industry has largely escaped this same fate, change is definitely in the wind. And its bogeyman in recent years has clearly been Tesla.
PREVIOUS DISRUPTION: We’ve seen the auto industry disrupted before, not by innovators but rather by geo-politics, circumstance, and a lack of long-term vision. The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and the 1979 Oil Crisis that brought serious gas shortages were a result of political disruption. It was a time when stations ran out of gas, lines of cars snaked for blocks as drivers tried desperately to keep their tanks full and their car-dependent lives on track, and consumers looked for more fuel-efficient vehicles to ease their pain. The problem, however, was there were few fuel-efficient models being produced since there had been no particular demand for them. The auto industry had to adapt, but with typically long product cycles it would take years to adequately fill this need.
Segue to 2003 and the launch of Tesla Motors, an occurrence that seemed interesting but hardly a threat to legacy automakers. Its high-tech Tesla Roadster introduced in 2008 – based on engineless ‘gliders’ produced by Lotus – proved that electric cars could be sporty, fun, and go the distance in ways that all other electrics before it could not, to the tune of 250 miles of battery electric driving on a single charge. Then came the Tesla designed-and-built Model S, Model X, and the new-to-the-scene Model 3. Clearly, the battle for leadership in electric cars was underway.
A HISTORY OF INNOVATION: The auto industry’s penchant for innovation has always characterized its giants. Over its long history, this is an industry that brought us the three-point safety belt, airbags, anti-lock braking, cruise control, direct fuel injection, electronic ignition, and near-zero emission gasoline engines. And let us not forget Kettering’s invention of the electric starter that first saw use in 1912 Cadillacs, an innovation that tipped the scales – and history – in favor of internal combustion over electric cars of the era and helped lead to the combustion engine’s dominance to this day.
While Tesla may have established its role as the industry’s electric car innovator, that’s not to say that legacy automakers haven’t made tremendous progress. GM’s short-lived EV1 electric car of the 1990s proved that exciting and fun electric cars were possible, but not necessarily affordable to make at the time. The technologies developed by GM through the EV1 program live on to this day with evolutionary electric-drive technology found in its acclaimed Chevrolet Bolt EV and other electrified models. Advanced battery electric production vehicles have also been a focus at Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Smart, and VW, with others like Porsche set to enter the market with long-range battery EVs.
So here’s the lesson of the day: If a business model no longer works, as was the case with General Motors and Chrysler during the financial meltdown in the late 1990s, you restructure. A brand no longer resonates with consumers? You drop it, like GM did with Oldsmobile. And if a class of vehicles is falling out of favor in lieu of more desired ones, you move on, as Ford is doing by phasing out almost all of its passenger cars in coming years in favor of more desired crossover/SUVs and pickups.
THE AGE OF ELECTRIFICATION: A paradigm shift is also occurring as automakers grapple with changing consumer preferences, regulatory requirements, and the projected demand for future vehicles and technologies. Enter the age of electrification. Over the past decade, Tesla has set the bar for innovative battery electric propulsion, advancements in near-autonomous driving technology, over-the-air vehicle software updates, and more. It has achieved a real or perceived leadership position in these areas and that’s a threat to legacy automakers. Now automakers are responding in a serious way and Tesla itself is under siege.
GM fired the first volley with its 2017 Bolt EV, beating Tesla’s long-touted Model 3 to market with an affordable long-range EV capable of traveling 238 miles on battery power. While Tesla is now delivering its well-received Model 3 in increasing numbers after a series of production challenges, the race with GM to produce an ‘affordable’ mainstream EV with 200-plus mile range was not much of a race to affordability at all. GM won that one handily, holding the line with a $37,500 price (after destination charges), while Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3 has yet to materialize. As Tesla did with its earlier model launches, the automaker is delivering uplevel, high-content, and higher-performance versions first, in the case of the Model 3 from a recently-lowered base price of $42,900 to $60,900, depending on configuration. The Bolt EV’s MSRP has moved in the other direction, dropping slightly to $36,620 for the 2019 model.
Nissan’s all-new, next-generation LEAF that debuted in 2018 improved its range to 150 miles, with a recently-announced LEAF PLUS model joining the lineup with a bigger battery and a range of 226 miles. Hyundai’s 2019 Kona Electric and Kia’s 2019 Niro Electric offer a battery range of about 250 miles, although these offer availability only in California and perhaps a few other ‘green’ states.
EXCITING NEW ENTRIES: Jaguar’s 2019 I-PACE, a fast and sporty crossover with a 234 mile battery electric range, is now available and priced to compete with Tesla’s Model S and X. We'll soon be seeing Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan long-range electrics on U.S. highways, with others like Aston Martin and Maserati developing high-end electric models as well.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the coming months and years. To be sure, legacy automakers will not cede their leadership positions and market share without a terrific fight… and that fight is intensifying. Tesla doesn’t fear risk and has shown it will go in new directions that others will not, unless they must.
But Tesla doesn’t operate like legacy automakers that have been around for a long time, some more than a century. Those companies have mastered mass production, fielded extensive model lineups, developed widespread and convenient service networks, and have a history of successful worldwide distribution. Tesla is still learning this game, although it is making headway with its intense and successful efforts to deliver increasing numbers of its Model 3 to customers.
Importantly, legacy automakers are immensely profitable, while Tesla has had but a few profitable quarters since its launch and its losses have been in the billions. Tesla’s well-documented difficulties in ramping up mass production of the company’s 'entry-level' Model 3 – and its initial deliveries of only up-level Model 3 examples at significantly higher cost than its widely-publicized $35,000 base price – have added to its challenges.
That said, it would be a mistake to count Tesla out for the long haul based on its current and historic challenges including missed financial and vehicle delivery targets, serious Model 3 production challenges, and a number of high-profile Tesla crashes while driving on its much-touted Autopilot. Regardless of all this, in 2018 Tesla’s Model 3 was the best-selling luxury model in the U.S.
Legacy automakers will have Tesla directly in their sights and Tesla will continue to innovate. A veritable race-to-the-finish!