Volkswagen Group has brought the floodlights to Shanghai and it's pointing them all on its burgeoning electric vehicle technology. One of several Group electric concepts debuting at this week's Auto Shanghai show, the Audi e-tron Sportback serves as a sleeker, sportier followup to the 2015 e-tron quattro SUV. The new concept gains a more coupe-like profile and a touch more quickness while keeping the same power and range.
Automakers, including Audi, have proven you can create a convincing car by combining the size and layout of a four-door with the sporty looks of a coupe. They have had a much tougher time trying to convincingly combine the size and utility of an SUV or crossover with those coupe-like looks. Vehicles like the BMW X6 and Mercedes GLC Coupe end up looking much too big and chunky to be proper four-door coupes, and they lose some of the size and usefulness of a proper utility vehicle in the process.
Audi is just the latest to experiment with adding a dropping roofline and more defined muscles to what would otherwise be a tall, beefy, five-door SUV. Its results are mixed, which is about the best we could have expected. The e-tron Sportback looks pretty good from certain angles, but overall, it's like a smooth sports sedan top planted uncomfortably on an SUV's legs.
So far, we prefer the higher, slower-dropping roofline and shorter rear overhang on the Skoda Vision E, another VW Group Shanghai electric debut, but we'd like to compare them in the flesh to really get a read.
At 193 inches long and 78 inches wide (4.9 x 1.98-m), the Sportback is just a touch larger than the 2015 e-tron quattro (192 x 76 in, 4.88 x 1.93 m). It stands roughly half an inch lower at 60.2 in (1.53 m).
The transition from the 2015 concept encompasses much more than just dropping a roofline and slightly shuffled dimensions. Audi overhauls the entire front-end in a move away from traditional ICE-driven styling toward a more distinctive electric identity. The airy slats of its Singleframe grille are replaced by a broad, body-color panel, which makes the illuminated four rings pop even more than they would on the usual Audi grille.
Audi never hesitates to fancy up its lighting, as evidenced by its work in lasers and OLEDs, and it explores a new configuration on the Sportback. The narrow DRL strips up top serve as the eyes of the concept, and what appear from a distance as grille-like light bars below are actually full arrays with close to 250 LEDs per side. Drop yet another level, and you come to Audi's digital matrix laser projectors, which offer driving light and high beams.
Audi's advanced, multi-tier front lighting system can shine patterns, graphics and characters on the road, providing many display and communication possibilities. For instance, the system can communicate via letters and numbers with the world outside or create an illuminated crosswalk for a pedestrian. It can also illuminate the width needed for the car, helping the driver safely navigate tight spaces and traffic situations.
Audi gives the e-tron Sportback a more rugged, muscular profile highlighted by accentuated fenders, large 23-in wheels and AWD-hinting arch and lower edge trim. The dual prongs of the rear lighting work with the falling roofline and the character lines in sweeping the onlooker's eyes back to the rear. The illuminated rear logo climbs up, as compared to the 2015 e-tron quattro, allowing the rear lights to extend clean across. As in the front, the rear lights use a combination of digitally controlled matrix LEDs and laser projectors.
Like the original e-tron quattro, the e-tron Sportback drives under power of an AWD combination of single front-axle motor and dual rear-axle motors. This combination produces 429 hp (320 kW) under normal driving but can spike to 496 hp (370 kW) in short, boost-mode spurts. Audi estimates a 4.5-second 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time, a tenth quicker than the original e-tron concept.
With a 95-kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery mounted low and centrally between the axles, the e-tron Sportback can travel around 310 miles (500 km) per charge. It can be charged via a combined charging system with connections for both AC and DC.
Inside, Audi continues its ongoing exploration of digitized design, well on the road to finding out just how much digital technology constitutes too much – the cost of repairing either one of two side-view displays versus that of repairing a simple mirror seems like it could push even the biggest tech-loving geek toward hating excessive in-vehicle digitization.
In between the two side-view displays, the overall digital layout is similar to the original e-tron quattro's, but with a more closed-off digital instrument cluster. A wide 10-in infotainment and navigation OLED touchscreen fills out the upper center console, while an OLED auxiliary control system sits below. Just in case that's not enough to keep the driver's fingertips busy, there's also a lighting control touchscreen to the left of the instruments. Oh, and the spokes on the steering wheel feature touch surfaces that serve as alternate controls.
With all that driver-angled display space, you might expect the passenger to have a touchscreen or two, but beyond the side-view display, there's only a thin, simple digital strip showing navigation and weather information. The rear passengers use door-integrated displays/touchscreen controllers, which show rear-camera feeds when parked.
"We have made a conscious decision to give the Audi e‑tron Sportback its first showing here in Shanghai because China is the world's leading market for electric automobiles," explains Dr. Dietmar Voggenreiter, member of Audi AG's board of management for marketing and sales. "That applies as much to the infrastructure and financial support as it does to sales. There are already about 150,000 charging stations in the country, with another 100,000 due to come on stream by the end of 2017. In the next five years, we will be offering five e‑tron models in China, including purely battery-powered vehicles with ranges well in excess of 310 miles, such as the Audi e‑tron Sportback."
Audi revealed the e-tron Sportback ahead of the official press opening of this year's Shanghai Auto Show. The concept previews a production model that it will add to its lineup in 2019, following the 2018 launch of the standard e-tron quattro-based SUV.
See more of this new concept in our e-tron Sportback photo gallery.