Audi has today revealed details of its upcoming electric powered SUV – the Q4 Sportback e-tron coupé. The premium German marque plans to produce this car alongside its Q4 e-tron sibling by 2021. The two cars share the same battery power and technology, yet in terms of design, the creative team led by Marc Lichte, have made advances for a coupé SUV that subtly expresses its clean electric drive.
Audi has been teasing with the promise of a pure electric family of cars under the “e-tron” badge for some time. The designs presented over a decade ago were brave and provocative – they took a fresh approach to visualizing electric cars in ways that almost crossed the borders of product design. These early e-trons were testing the market, the media and the consumer in a time well before the car world woke up to the reality of electrification. Now, Audi has pledged to produce 20 electric models by 2025 to roughly cover 40% of overall sales. The e-tron family will take on most segment too, from compact city cars to the executive sedans and family SUVs.
The two Q4 e-trons leading the way – the classic SUV and this new Sportback coupé – share similar dimensions. They are roughly 4.6m long, 1.9m wide and 1.6m high. What essentially differentiates the two is the roof design. Whereas the Q4 e-tron has a boxier look, the Sportback benefits from a sloping rear coupé-style roofline. The subtle curve runs right into the horizontal spoiler at the level of the lower window edge at the rear, adding to the illusion of length and creating quite a dramatic frame for an SUV. “It is a super-fast line, the fastest roofline we’ve designed,” says Lichte of a car that wears his signature. “This is definitely the sportiest SUV we’ve ever done.”
And there are plenty of design cues to signal the car’s clean power, “such as the digital taillights”, offers Lichte referring to the broad light band that connects the two rear LED lamp units as a visual statement uniting the e-tron family. It retains the marque’s distinctive single-frame radiator grill even though an electric powered car doesn’t necessarily need so much engine cooling. Lichte explains: “The single frame grille is your brand signifier. We wanted everyone to know that this is an Audi from far away.” In e-tron fashion, the new concept vehicle also features a structured closed surface within a broad, almost upright octagonal frame in place of a traditional radiator grille, housing and hiding the car’s sensors.
The Q4 e-tron’s large battery is neatly packed low between the axles and with no transmission tunnel restricting the space, the cabin, like most electric cars, is more spacious than those powered by conventional engines. The Q4 has a fully digital interior too, featuring Audi’s virtual cockpit and with the new head-up display utilizing the latest augmented reality functions. The technology, we are told, will go into production in a year.
Lichte is a strong advocate of exploring sustainable materials as much as possible with the e-tron cars. Whether Audi drivers choose to go eco is another story, but it certainly helps to have the option. Who knows, with time even more conservative buyers may warm to the idea of ditching leather for alternative fabrics, some of which are much more reflective of contemporary taste. On the electric Q4, the floor covering is made of recycled materials, the seats are upholstered in Alcantara and surfaces covered with a high-quality multi-layer eco paint replace the usual chrome-plated metal decor frames.
The classic e-tron SUV and this new Sportback coupé share the same drive technology. At the core lies the parent company Volkswagen Group’s modular electrification platform which offers a broad range of power levels. The quattro all-wheel drive Q4 Sportback benefits from the performance version with the front and rear axles each powered by an electric motor. There is no mechanical connection between the axles. Instead, an electronic control ensures that the torque distribution is coordinated optimally and in fractions of a second to achieve ideal traction in all weather conditions and surfaces. Acceleration to 62 mph happens in a reasonable 6.3 seconds and the top speed is restricted to 111 mph.
The Q4 e-tron Sportback ’s large battery provides a driving range of 279 miles on a single charge, with rear-wheel drive cars boasting an impressive battery power range of over 310 miles. Subtle aerodynamic tweaks to the body contribute to these numbers with drag coefficient as low as 0.26 – a fraction below the Q4 SUV sibling. The complex thermal management of the drive and battery, which involves a CO2 heat pump, also helps improve range.
This Q4 Sportback e-tron and its sibling are exceptionally constructed and thoughtfully designed cars, yet they feel a touch safe. Somewhere, the avant-garde thinking we saw with Audi’s early electric visions became diluted in later e-trons production cars. I suspect management at Audi AG may have felt that customers need to get used to the idea of electric cars and start trusting the battery range before pushing the design front too boldly. Speaking with Lichte last March, I asked him this very question. I wanted to know if he sees Audi taking a more daring approach when the e-tron cars are more established among consumers.
He replied: “We are at the early stages with our electric cars as we still have our combustion car fleet. I see us as being in an in-between phase where I have to handle both types of cars – old world and new world. But we are always looking at what the future could look like for us. We do this through products like the Q4 e-tron, cars that are almost production ready, as well as more conceptual studies like the AIcon ” he said referring to the marque’s inventive handful of autonomous concept cars, before concluding: “Looking ahead to the next ten years, there will no longer be a combustion engine so we will have one Audi type.”
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