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Audi joins the Tesla-fighting electric SUV party

Up to 310 miles on a charge and 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds. It’s the German Model X…

Published: 18 Apr 2017

Audi has revealed its headline-grabber for the 2017 Shanghai motor show. Like VW’s effort and Skoda’s big debut, it’s a coupe-ish electric SUV. Spotting a theme, anyone? Crossovers are in, and fossil-fuel power is out…

What’s interesting about the e-tron Sportback concept is the bullish chat Audi’s attaching to it. Audi boss Rupert Stadler announced at the car’s reveal: “Our [first] Audi e‑tron will be starting out in 2018 – the first electric car in its competitive field that is fit for everyday use.”

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So, that’s a swipe not just at the Jaguar I-Pace, which will arrive in the market at around the same time, also offering 0-62mph times in Porsche Cayman territory and a 300-mile-plus range. That’s also a thinly veiled dig at Tesla, which already has the Model S and Model X and is putting the final touches to the Model 3 as we speak.

Stadler continues, referencing this particular car, the e-tron Sportback: “We will make this sporty SUV the must-have product of the next decade”.

Hmm. Tesla’s success has been built on becoming the brand that people who don’t really know or care about cars recognise as something different, new, and cool. If Audi wants to be the techno-car must-have, it's parking its tanks smack in the middle of Elon’s lawn. Popcorn, anyone?

In the meantime, let’s have a deeper look at what Audi’s bringing to the party. The e-tron Sportback’s main claim is its lighting tech. Surrounding the front grille are some 500 individual digitally controlled LEDs, which Audi says can portray a range of animations far more versatile than plain old headlights. And there you were thinking scrolling indicators were flashy…

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So far as power goes, the rakish, A7-sized concept has got plenty. Two rear-mounted motors, plus one up front (of course it’s Quattro drive) churn out 320kW in the standard mode, or can boost up to 370kW. In English, you’re talking up to 490bhp – north of RS5 output, in other words. As a result, Audi claims a 4.5sec 0-62mph sprint, while the floor-mounted battery’s low centre of gravity and 52/48 front/rear weight distribution mean it might even handle. Handier than a Q7, at any rate.

Audi’s decision to launch the e-tron Sportback in China isn’t a coincidence: it’s promised five electric and hybrid e-tron models within five years for the Chinese market, as the country’s plug-in car infrastructure booms in reply to the smog-ridden atmosphere.

And with diesel facing a wobbly future in Europe, an Audi-badged uberfast e-SUV is likely to go down well over here, too. Just don’t expect 23-inch rims and cameras for door mirrors on the showroom model when it squares up to Jaguar and Tesla in a few years’ time. Anything else you’d like to tweak, or does this look like an electric car you'd actually buy?

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