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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.

There are challenges ahead even as electric pickups are poised to enter a potentially enthusiastic market. Those challenges could mean a more gradual market trajectory than that of electric sedans and SUVs, which have already taken quite some time to gather momentum. For example, cars and SUVs used for commuting or running errands are typically driven less than 40 miles daily, with occasional trips of several hundred miles with passengers. That’s a reasonable and flexible duty cycle for electric passenger vehicles. It’s different for trucks.

With the exception of work trucks in urban areas, pickups in many rural areas travel hundreds of miles every day without refueling. That’s not an issue for conventionally powered pickups with their considerable driving range. It could be for coming electric pickups since their battery range is about half that of most full-size gas pickups. When conventional pickups do need to refuel, it takes but a few minutes to fill up with gasoline compared with the hours required for electrics. Realistically, it's difficult to see electric pickups meeting the duty cycles of work trucks like these until fast charging becomes widespread, especially in rural areas.

Towing presents additional food for thought. It’s well-known that fuel economy, and thus range, is reduced when conventional vehicles tow trailers, boats, or any load. Range is impacted more dramatically in electric vehicles, a fact that could make electric pickups less desirable for towing a boat or heavy load any significant distance since charging would likely be required every couple hundred miles. Illustrating the challenge is that towing a 5000 pound trailer with a Tesla Model X or Audi e-tron has been shown to result in a range reduction of up to 40 percent. Increasing range by adding batteries in an electric pickup may bring longer range, but it also means reducing payload and towing capacity pound for pound.

Looking at the demographics of pickup owners and comparing this with available charging stations presents a stark reality. The 13 states where pickups represent 25 percent or more of new vehicle sales have about 2600 public charging stations, less than 10 percent of all public charging stations in the country. That’s quite a disconnect. These are typically large states where long distance travel is the rule. This underscores the importance of charging opportunities and the formidable challenges electric pickups may face in areas where charging infrastructure is behind the curve.

Another challenge is maintenance. Even though electric pickups require significantly less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts, there are times when EV-specific service will be required. While the usual tire, brake, and fluid maintenance can be performed by mainstream service providers, electric pickup manufacturers must provide for other potential servicing involving an electric drivetrain, on-board electronics, and the many other controls and systems unique to an electric vehicle. That’s not a significant issue for legacy automakers like Ford and GM that have a widespread dealer sales and service network, even in sparsely populated states. Service personnel at dealerships can be trained in EV-specific work. Fledgling and start-up electric pickup companies will certainly be at a disadvantage here.

Will electric pickups succeed? Time will tell. Plus, we’ll have to see how some wishful launch schedules align with reality since COVID-19 has caused auto manufacturing delays and shutdowns. Plus, with today’s extraordinarily low gas prices, the value equation for electrics of any kind is skewed, at least for the present time. That doesn’t mean there won’t be demand for electric pickups…just that expectations for timing and market penetration should be tempered.

chevrolet-volt-frontChevrolet’s Volt continues to be a milestone vehicle in the increasingly crowded plug-in hybrid field. While GM officially calls the Volt an extended range electric car, it’s technically a plug-in series hybrid since it operates with its engine generating electricity rather than powering the drive wheels. It’s distinguished for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is its 53-mile all-electric driving range before reverting to electric power from its 1.5-liter DOHC engine-generator, which delivers a total 420 mile driving range.

That 53-mile battery electric range is just one of the reasons the Volt is a standout. With the exception of Honda’s new Clarity Plug-In that achieves 47 miles on battery power before reverting to hybrid operation, no other plug-in hybrid competitors come close. Before the Clarity, the best PHEV competitors were able to offer 25 to 33 all-electric miles, with most achieving significantly less.

chevrolet-volt-power-displayGreen Car Journal editors spent a year and just over 20,000 miles behind the wheel of Chevy’s Volt, allowing plenty of time to experience life with this extended range electric under varying driving conditions. One thing continually stood out: Having this kind of battery electric range meant most of our daily drives were spent entirely in electric mode with zero emissions. When heading off to nearby cities beyond the Volt’s battery range or during our numerous road trips, it was comforting to know there was no limit to the distance we could drive with the car’s engine-generator at the ready.

The Volt drives confidently, and silently, with refined road matters and passenger comfort we came to appreciate on drives long and short. The changeover once batteries are depleted does bring a different feel since the engine-generator is more noticeable than engines in a typical plug-in hybrid, but not so much that we gave it a second thought during our drives.

chevrolet-volt-cabinWelcome features are replete in the Volt, from a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, LCD instrument cluster, and 8-inch center touchscreen display to MyLink infotainment and advanced driver assist systems. Thoughtful touches like a heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seats help cinch the deal in cold weather driving.

It’s tough to find fault with the Volt since Chevrolet really did an exceptional job with this car. If we had one wish, it would be for a slightly more accommodating rear seat. The first-generation Volt was a four-seater since the car’s battery storage configuration meant a console was at the center of the rear seat, with batteries beneath. The rear seat in the second-generation Volt left the rear console behind in lieu of a center seat position, although it’s clearly better suited for a child than an adult. No matter…we’re happy with the change.

chevrolet-volt-chargeportAfter 20,000 miles on the road, this was one long-term test car that was hard to give up. Our positive experience over our year of driving remains with us and, like every Volt owner we’ve run across, we can only heartily recommend this car.