There’s always been something special about anything Audi S and RS. The menacing pump of the guards, the oversized wheels, and the raucous sound that accompanies the squatting of rear wheels as the famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system does its thing.
But what if one of those ingredients was removed? Enter the 2023 Audi e-tron Sportback S. Part of the German brand’s electric vehicle line-up, it’s also the first to be adorned with the coveted S badge. Tested here in Mythos Black, it’s a beautiful thing.
With 46mm wider guards (than the standard model), an optional black exterior styling package and gorgeous 22-inch Audi Sport alloys hiding 6-piston front callipers, it’s easy to see why the e-tron drew admiring glances wherever we went.
It truly has an aggressive, tiger-about-to-pounce like stance. Pleasing aesthetics continue inside, where you’re greeted with beautiful diamond-stitched Valcona leather seats that take pride of place in a very well executed interior.
Five occupants sit surrounded by quality materials like brushed alloy, soft touch plastics and Alcantara. During the day, a large panoramic sunroof provides ample light and at night, the adjustable cabin lighting (including seat belt buckles) adds a nice ambience.
Up front, the seats have a myriad of adjustability and great bolstering, while in the rear there is more room than we would have thought, with two adults able to travel comfortably.
Rear occupants also get two separate AC zones, controlled by a separate touch screen, and two USB outlets. The air conditioning system has a purification option, which uses ionisation and fragrance to keep the cabin air clean.
The gear “lever” is big, but it doesn’t function in the traditional sense. Selecting gears is in fact handled by a switch on the right most side of the “shifter” and ergonomically, the design makes sense.
Gears can be selected with the pointer finger while the handbrake can be released with the thumb, all while giving the driver a comfortable place to rest their left hand. The centre binnacle treatment is different too.
There’s a space to store and wirelessly charge a phone to the left, and to right, a rolling cover hiding two cup holders. We found ourselves storing items above this space, as it was contained – but it became annoying when we wanted to access what was underneath.
Sitting atop this are two screens; a lower 8.6-inch unit handles HVAC controls front and rear, and short cut functions. Above this sits a 10.1-inch main screen, which takes care of the rest of the vehicles controls with a satisfying haptic “click” as buttons are pressed.
Ahead of the driver is a 12.3-inch screen that can be configured in a myriad of different ways, supplemented by a head-up display. Boot space is strong despite a raised floor (which incidentally made things easy to load) and a sloping roofline.
Total capacity sits at 615-litres with the rear seats in use, which increases to 1,665-litres with the second row down. This is supplemented by 60-litres of storage space under the bonnet.
A near audiophile-quality 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with wireless Apple CarPlay rounds out a cabin that is a very pleasant place to spend any amount of time.
Now back to how we began. What if something out of the traditional S/RS formula was missing, and what if it was the noise? Gone is the tuned high-output 5/6/8 cylinder, super or turbocharged engine, replaced here with electric motors.
Hitting the start button sees one greeted with nothing more than a welcome message and jingle, for want of a better word. Specifically, the Sportback S has three motors; one on each side of the rear axle and one up front.
Together they produce a combined standard output of 320kW and 808Nm. In “boost” mode, these figures increase to 370kW and 973Nm. It’s worth noting that this mode is not on-tap, and is time limited.
These impressive figures are not just numbers on paper either, with the Sportback S able to chase down 100km/h in 4.5 seconds. That’s no mean feat when you consider it has an unladen weight of 2,730kg.
The rate at which it picks up speed is unexpected and remarkable – again, truly deserving of the “S” moniker. It slows as well as it goes, with regenerative braking supplementing the aforementioned 6-piston front callipers.
Audi’s Quattro system, driven through these electric motors, along with torque vectoring, allows the vehicle to adjust drive constantly and seamlessly. It’s low centre of gravity means the e-tron Sportback S is unexpectedly enjoyable through the twisties too.
It’s only Achilles heel is the steering, which we found to be slightly wooden in feel. It needs more feedback, especially in Dynamic mode, which stiffens and lowers the suspension by up to 76mm.
Despite that, this car feels smaller and nimbler than it should. It’s stable, holds a line well, and is a joy to power out of a corner. It’s only here that limited power understeer presented itself, but it was a non-issue, and is simply characteristic of an AWD car.
We think it’d be a blast on a racetrack, but we wonder how many laps we could do in maximum attack. You see, the claimed range on this vehicle is 360 kms, but we never saw better than 350-ish.
Even with an overnight 15-hour charge we were never able to get back above 300km – noting this was a simple standard power outlet scenario. On a cold Sydney morning, we found that switching on air conditioning and seat heating dropped our range by 50km.
Obviously, the air conditioning is the main culprit there, but that’s still a significant number. The rate at which the battery is depleted is difficult to ignore. We were not able to better an average of 34.5kWh/100km against Audi’s claimed figured of 26kWh/100km.
The principles of range and efficient driving are the same across EV and ICE – much of it lies in the right pedal. Unfortunately, the right pedal in this car provides lots of smiles – and we absolutely loved that.
Utilising a more frugal drive mode such as “Efficiency” and going easy on the right foot helped, but it removes from the joy of the car and doesn’t really remove the range anxiety. To be clear, we were never in any doubt of of its suitability in the city.
A trip to say the wine country in Mudgee may need a charge before we return or even on the way there, depending on how you drive. We’re sure it is doable with some forward planning and use of the My Audi App, but it’s just a dampener.
Safety is well accommodated in the e-tron Sportback, with autonomous emergency braking incorporating pedestrian detection (up to 85km/h) and intersection assist (up to 10km/h), active lane assist, a 360-degree camera, and eight airbags.
Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and traffic jam assist features, along with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic assist, collision avoidance assist, and safe exit assist. Goodies aside, the 2023 Audi e-tron Sportback S presents a unique challenge.
We love that Audi has shrugged off the temptation to re-design the Sportback and held close to their design roots. It carries the genetic visual drama and luxury that we expect from a bona-fide S/RS sports car, while also offering ample performance.
No other EV looks as aggressive and dare we say it, presents in design as non-EV as this one, which is exactly what makes it challenging. The conundrum lies in where to position it against its rivals.
It’s a great car (there are those who have been waiting for yours truly to utter those words about an EV). It looks sensational inside and out, and delivers the luxury and features one would expect from an Audi of this specification and price.
It lacks the anticipation of spooling turbochargers, camshafts coming on song, or even the throttle blip of a downshift in preparation for a corner. But it packs an almighty punch right from the moment you plant the pedal – and that is an incredible rush.
But, and it’s a big one; there’s no drama. You can feel the tyres struggling to hold things together, but it misses the visceral sensory overload that comes with the sound of an engine, and that completes the S/RS formula.
Yes, it warps you to 100km/h and you do that a few times and have a giggle, but it’s just not as satisfying as it would be in a conventional motoring sense. Retailing for $173,900 plus on-roads, it comes with a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Our test vehicle was provided by Audi Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Audi e-tron Sportback S, contact your local Audi dealer.