Road test: Audi e-tron Sportback 50 Quattro
Ever wondered what a road trip in an EV would be like?
It seems fitting that my first EV experience is testing a car from Audi’s first all-electric range. I have an e-tron Sportback 50 Quattro for the day but do start to wonder, walking into Audi Centre Hobart, how much brain reprogramming is required for this leap.
Concerns soon dissipate. Although its little electric charging-port doors fulfil some of my childhood sci-fi dreams, the e-tron is no spaceship. Its gear shifter is the only unfamiliar feature I should recognise. Audi has even retained the brand’s classic large grill despite it being functionally superfluous, which is a fancy way of saying ‘purely decorative’.
The e-tron Sportback 50 Quattro has a coupe-style roofline. Pair that with 21-inch 15-spoke alloy wheels and you’ve got a sleeker SUV to the regular e-tron 50 and 55. Mine is white with chrome trim but the black styling package buys you next-level exterior aesthetics. A sunroof is optional.
I slide into the Valcona sport driver’s seat for a comprehensive journey the sales executive calls “getting you set up”. The black-saturated cabin lives up to Audi’s reputation for interior design and finish. Without a driveshaft there’s legroom galore. Virtually all adjustments, apart from the steering column, are electric. I push the keyless start button and information glows my way from two touchscreens, a ‘virtual cockpit’ dash and a windscreen display.
Designed, engineered and even built in Germany (not all Audis are), this award-winning EV has an impressive list of standard features.
Unexpected pleasures include heated rearvision mirrors, adaptive air suspension, auto wipers, a 3D sound system and a wireless charging pad. A rear bumper sensor closes the tailgate with a foot-wave. A phone app remotely controls locking and cabin temperature. Personal favourite: it’s impossible to lock the ‘key’ in the car.
This practical vehicle is well-equipped for transporting humans of all sizes and can tow 1800kg. Spare leads under the bonnet are easy to access. Its sophisticated safety features and driver assistance systems remind me we’re very much in that vehicle-technology stage between us driving the car and the car driving us.
We forego music for the car's calming quietness ... acceleration is near silent
While heading north on the Tasman Hwy (A3) I switch between drive select modes (comfort, dynamic, efficiency, offroad, allroad) and note variations in accelerator response, steering-wheel weight and suspension height and stiffness. In dynamic, for instance, throttle response is sharper and the steering wheel more sensitive.
At nearly 2.5 tonnes this is a heavy car and, even at the lowest clearance in dynamic mode, the weight is obvious on bends, though my cornering improves when I use the paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which simulates gear changing. Downshifting eliminates brakes and recuperates battery power. It’s very smart.
From Mayfield Beach we’re right on Oyster Bay – the traditional homeland of the Oyster Bay nation. We forego music for the car’s calming quietness. Even acceleration is near silent. Although there’s power on tap, nudging the gear shifter from D to S-for-sport mode releases even more. Overtaking, I really appreciate the absence of that kick-down time of combustion vehicles.
Overall it doesn’t feel particularly different to driving a conventional top-of-the-range SUV. That is, until we roll into Swansea with a low-ish battery and zero experience recharging an EV between us.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if there were people sitting up there in the RSL club right now laughing at us,” says my travelling companion while he and I re-enact a scene from The Comedy of Errors as we fumble our way into the future. I call Audi. “Have you pulled the plug out and pushed it back in again?” they ask.
Once we get it together, it takes 25 minutes and $10 for the battery to climb from 30% to 70%. We’re too hungry to fully recharge. The e-tron is a luxury vehicle with a premium price tag but comes with six years of free Chargefox network charging and other more valuable perks. Plus there’s no stamp duty on EVs in Tasmania.
Instead of continuing up the East Coast, as many do, we turn off into Dolphin Sands. At Melshell Oyster Shack we park beside a colourful awninged caravan and buy fresh oysters and cold beverages from friendly people. We eat in the sun overlooking the lagoon.
Backtracking to nipaluna/Hobart we stop in at Piermont Retreat, swim at Cressy Beach and do some cheese-eating and wine-tasting at Boomer Creek Vineyard. We stop at Me & Mum’s in Little Swanport where we buy coffee and homemade biscuits for the road, and end up meeting the owners and their friends. “We saw you in Swansea,” someone says.
Fifty kilometres out of Hobart we’re down to 50km of battery range. No problem; I shift from dynamic into efficiency drive mode, rapidly flap the appropriate paddle shift and roll into Audi with 17km to spare.