Audi’s first-ever electric SUV gets a performance boost with the brand’s first-ever electric S model – adding class, pace and poise, to the detriment of overall range
It was almost inevitable that Audi would eventually do a quicker, S-badged variant of its E-tron electric SUV, which in tried-and-true form means honing the performance, sharpening the dynamics and sportifying the look – all of which succinctly describe this E-tron S.
Tested here solely in $175K ‘Sportback’ coupe-SUV guise (though also available in more traditional wagon-bodied SUV form), the E-tron S adds around $15K to the list price of a regular E-tron and brings noticeable (if still relatively subtle) benefits to its accelerative punch, its interior sparkle and, in particular, its visual form.
Painted in a new colour called Plasma Blue and optioned with 22-inch Audi Sport alloys ($1600) and a high-gloss black styling package ($1600), our test E-tron S Sportback looked striking without going over the top. A redesigned front bumper with larger air intakes (and active grille shutters) and venting that directs air flow around the wheels makes the E-tron S surprisingly aerodynamic for an SUV.
For the first time on any non-RS Audi, the E-tron S features wheelarch flares that widen the car by 23mm per corner for extra visual toughness and greater clearance over the massive 285/35R22 tyres, and there’s venting built into them to direct airflow down the side of the E-tron.
Given Australia’s love of anything sports-oriented, it’s probably no surprise that Audi expects the S version to become the best-seller in the E-tron line-up, with the Sportback bodystyle eclipsing the SUV wagon in popularity – hence why we’re testing it here.
Due to semi-conductor shortages, our test car lacked a few equipment items – namely Audi Phone Box (with wireless charging), electric steering column adjustment and tyre-pressure monitoring – though Audi says these features will be included on any E-tron S that is ordered from the time of writing in April 2022.
Highlights include rear torque vectoring, a panoramic glass sunroof, sports seats with Nappa leather and an impressive 16-speaker, 705-watt Bang & Olufsen 3D surround-sound system with wireless smartphone mirroring.
The only options packages are a 22kW AC Charging Package ($6900) that unlocks much quicker three-phase home charging capabilities (when paired with a compatible wall-box) and a Sensory Package ($9600) that includes very trick Digital Matrix LED headlights, LED entry lights (front and rear), soft-close power door latching, heated outer rear seats, upper and lower dashboard elements in Nappa leather, an air-quality package and manual sunshades for the rear windows.
In terms of defying the laws of physics, the E-tron S does a pretty impressive job. Weighing 2580kg (though with much of that mass mounted low), this five-seat SUV manages to thread itself through challenging corners with poised confidence – no doubt thanks to its dual rear electric motors that act like Audi’s sport differential on combustion-engined cars to offers torque vectoring between each rear wheel. Audi claims this set-up is a world-first.
The E-tron S also features sports-tuned adaptive air suspension that can be raised and lowered through a 76mm range, and automatically lowers itself by 26mm at speeds beyond 120km/h … which is legal almost nowhere in Australia. But what the E-tron S really succeeds at is remaining calm under pressure. This is a deceptively agile, deceptively rapid SUV that also rides with genuine authority – even on 22-inch wheels when in Dynamic mode.
Powertrain-wise, the E-tron S ups maximum outputs (under ‘boost’ mode, which requires the transmission to be in Sport) to a considerable 370kW/973Nm from the 55 quattro’s 300kW/664Nm. That’s enough to slice a considerable chunk from the 0-100km/h time (now 4.5 seconds instead of 5.7) to finally give this girthy SUV the punch you expect from electric torque.
Pulse the gear-lever into Sport, then pin the throttle for an overtake and you’ll be thrust into a silent stratosphere faster than you can say ‘I wish I never had the cheesecake at lunch’.
The thing is, the E-tron S never feels analogue, which is again probably no surprise. This is an electric car with an electric degree of feedback, though the keenness of its steering and the suaveness of its chassis somehow make up for any lack of true driver feedback and connection.
Safety-wise, the E-tron is right up there with any other Audi threatening the $200K barrier. It scores an excellent head-up display, front and rear parking sensors with a 360-degree camera and kerb-view, adaptive cruise with traffic-jam assist, front AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning, lane-change warning, rear cross-traffic assist, junction AEB with collision-avoidance assist and turn assist, and safe-exit warning.
As with most active-safety systems in Audi vehicles, the E-tron’s safety aids work subtly (for the most part) and effectively, and can be easily curated or switched off entirely.
One of the best things about the E-tron is that it isn’t a clone of an existing Audi SUV – it actually sits in between the five-seat Q5 and seven-seat Q7 in size, though is actually closer to the Q7 for exterior dimensions.
What that means is an effortlessly comfortable interior for overall space, which in the E-tron S’s case has been enhanced by beautifully tactile diamond-stitched upholstery and superb sports front seats. The S version also brings its own 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display graphics, a three-spoke ‘S’ steering wheel with heating, an ‘S’ gearshift palm rest (the gearlever is like a small disc that swings around the outer edge) and multiple trim options including different leather colours and carbon trims.
Following a trend started by the current-generation A8 in 2017, the E-tron S combines a pair of haptic-touch centre screens – a 10.1-inch upper touchscreen as the main interface and an 8.6-inch lower screen chiefly for climate control (but also other functions). If it sounds complex, never fear – it looks fabulous and works brilliantly, particularly the slick operation of its wireless Apple CarPlay (but only wired Android Auto) powering through a robust 16-speaker, 705-watt Bang & Olufsen 3D surround-sound system.
Even the wireless phone charging is clever – positioning your smartphone vertically (but tipped on its side) in the vast centre console area to free up even more useful storage space, of which the E-tron has plenty.
Even with the full panoramic glass sunroof there’s still a surprisingly amount of headroom – even in the rear (because the sunroof ends before it reaches rear passengers’ heads) – and anyone who sits in the back also enjoys excellent seat support and generous amounts of legroom and luxury.
As you’d expect in a car as expensive as this, the material quality in the rear seat matches that in the front – to the point where the E-tron S is as good as anything Audi makes on the inside, regardless of price. And the fact that it doesn’t attempt to be wilfully different like many other EVs do will only be the icing on the cake.
As for luggage space, the Sportback version gives away little to the SUV wagon shape. It offers 615 litres of cargo space below the luggage cover (compared to 660 litres), and includes useful underfloor storage with a removable plastic tub that could easily double as an ice bucket at tailgate parties (if they’re your thing).
Uniquely, the E-tron S also offers 80 litres of luggage space below its bonnet – a neatly shaped, carpet-lined and lidded centre bin that easily houses all its cords and such. Compared to the BMW iX, which has a sealed bonnet and no front storage compartment, it’s a nice touch.
The combined WLTP energy consumption for the E-tron S Sportback is 23.2kWh/100km, however we used 31.5kWh/100km in predominantly highway driving using minimal regenerative braking.
The WLTP range for an E-tron S Sportback wearing large wheels is 347km, which is significantly less than the 373km for an E-tron 55 quattro Sportback or any BMW iX variant – the xDrive 40 (425km), xDrive 50 (630km) and M60 (566km).
At least the E-tron S can be charged quickly, and can handle up to 150kW DC charging speed. It shares its 95kWh battery size with the E-tron 55 quattro (of which 86.5kWh is usable) – gaining its extra thrust from an additional rear electric motor.
Using an ultra-fast charger, the E-tron S can go from zero to 80 percent charge in 30 minutes – averaging an impressive 138kW throughout the session thanks to gel-pack cooling of the battery cells – or from zero to fully charged in 45 minutes.
An optional 22kW AC wall-charger ($6900) that requires a three-phase electrical system can hit 80 percent charge in just over four hours, whereas the standard 7.2kW wall charger with single-phase electricity takes 13 hours to achieve the same task.
Recommended service intervals for the E-tron S are every 2 years or 30,000km, with Audi offering free scheduled servicing for the first six years, as well as free public charging for six years through the Chargefox network.
Audi Australia’s warranty is now five years/unlimited kilometres, in conjunction with a five-year paint warranty and a 12-year rust perforation warranty.
As an example of beautifully refined luxury with a highly contemporary flavour, the E-tron S Sportback is a superb piece of work. It looks impressive, its comfort is outstanding (for a sporting model, at least) and it has a dynamic personality that subtly rewards you with its ability to contain 2.6 tonnes of machinery with such dexterity.
Combine all that with terrific packaging and a persuasive ownership experience and the E-tron S Sportback really does argue a strong case for itself … until you realise just how modest its overall electric range is. While Audi’s electric SUV can charge with reasonable speed (thanks to effective cooling), it has close to 200km less range than something like the forthcoming BMW iX M60, which uses a bespoke EV platform and is also quicker.
Use the obvious performance and handling benefits of the E-tron S and that modest range will evaporate even faster, though when used purely as a fancy urban electric SUV with occasional interstate potential, it ironically starts to make more sense.
Yet until the E-tron S can provide a degree of WLTP range that exceeds at least 400km (or preferably more), it remains undeservedly compromised. Range apart, however, this is a mighty fine SUV.
Variant tested S QUATTRO
Key specs (as tested)
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