2022 Audi Q4 Sportback E-Tron First Drive: Is a Premium Badge Enough?

Platform sharing is smart. It allows automakers to share the cost of fundamental components across higher production volumes and expand the number of models their individual brands can offer consumers without massive investments. For decades, the Volkswagen Group has been a master of the platform-sharing game, using Volkswagen bits underneath Audis and Audi hardware underneath Bentleys, to name just two examples.

Platform sharing is the reason Audi now offers U.S. customers no fewer than seven EVscounting body and powertrain variantswhile BMW currently has two on sale and Mercedes-Benz one. Four of Audi’s EVsthe E-Tron, E-Tron Sportback, and the more powerful S versions of eachare built on Audi’s own EV platform. The sporty E-Tron GT shares its underpinnings with Porsche’s Taycan. And the new Q4 E-Tron and Q4 Sportback E-Tron utilizes the same MEB architecture as Volkswagen’s ID3, ID4, and the forthcoming ID Buzz.

You wouldn’t know it looking at the 2022 Q4 Sportback E-Tron. Whereas Volkswagen’s MEB vehicles have a faintly futuristic EV edge to them, the Q4 Sportback E-Tron (and the regular Q4 e-Tron, for that matter) look reassuringly Audi in their design and execution.

Priced from $53,895, including destination, the Q4 Sportback E-Tron rolls on an MEB platform whose dual motors produce a combined 295 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque and are fed by an 82-kWh battery that has a usable 76.6 kWh of storage and an EPA estimated range of 241 miles. Audi claims the 4,706-pound Q4 Sportback will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and is speed-limited to 112 mph.

Our top-of-the-range Prestige test car, which added Audi’s high-end MMI navigation and Virtual Cockpit systems, plus LED matrix headlights, a Sonos auto system, and an augmented head-up display to the mix, retails for $61,495. It looks and feels less expensive than the larger, more powerful E-Tron, Audi’s first all-electric vehicle launched in 2018. That’s to be expected, because the Prestige is $5,600 cheaper than the least expensive E-Tron model. (Opting for the Prestige version of the regular Q4 E-Tron, which has a conventional hatch/SUV roofline rather than the Sportback’s raked rear, will save you a further $2,800. )

The good news is that Audi can make modest plastics look upscale (are you paying attention, Volkswagen?). The grained stuff looks almost like leather, and the shiny stuff on the dash looks like metal. Even the piano black looks like it belongs on a piano. It all has that distinctive Audi character, thoughominouslythe interiors of both Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 and Kia’s EV6 give the Q4 Sportback E-Tron’s cabin a run for its money in terms of perceived quality. 

This is not a knock against Audi, by the way. Rather, it’s an indication of how good the Koreans have become at this stuff.

Q4 Does the Thinking for You

Left to its own devices in the default auto drive mode, our German-spec Q4 Sportback E-Tron did a lot of the thinking for the driver, anticipating speed restrictions and junctions, automatically increasing the level of regen as you approach them while prompting you to lift off the throttle to reduce speed and improve efficiencyall while making sure you stay in the right lane. 

But if you’re the DIY type behind the wheel, every time you start the Q4 Sportback E-Tron (you just get in, buckle up and select a gear; with the key in your pocket you don’t have to press the start/stop button), you’ll want to disable the lane keeping assist to stop red and green lines from floating into your field of vision in the augmented head-up display. This also kills the aggressive reactions through the steering wheel that make the steering feel truculent if you want to do something this Audi doesn’t like.

You’ll also probably want to play with the three levels of lift-off regenerative brakinglow, medium, and highor let the Q4 Sportback E-Tron simply coast when you lift off the accelerator. The levels are activated by the paddles on the steering wheel, though, confusingly, the plus paddle means less regen and the minus paddle gives you more. To make the Audi feel more fluid on the road, we tended to leave the car in coast mode, or the lowest level of regen, unless driving in heavy stop-and-go traffic.

Beyond that, you’ll also want to select Dynamic mode. This doesn’t just make the Audi feel sharper and more responsive. It puts the driver in charge, reducing the interventions from the electronic nannies.

What Dynamic also reveals, however, is that despite its relatively stiff suspension the Q4 Sportback E-Tron isn’t hugely … dynamic. There’s plenty of grip and decent thrust but little adjustability in the chassis. The Audi feels lazy on turn-in and pushes when you go to power. Slow in, fast out; fast in, slow outdoesn’t matter what you try, the Q4 Sportback E-Tron remains stubbornly one-dimensional in its responses. There’s not a ton of feedback through the steering wheel, and it doesn’t punch out of corners from the rear axle like other dual-motor EVs. 

The dual-motor Kia EV6 is more fun to drive quickly. So, too, despite its homely looks, is the Mercedes-EQ EQB.

How Efficient Is the Q4 E-Tron?

We covered 700 miles through Germany and France in five cold and windy days, a mix of lengthy stints cruising at 80 to 90 mph on the autobahnincluding a quick burst to 112 mph to verify its claimed maximum speedplus crawling through heavy traffic in towns such as Stuttgart and fast running on quiet back roads through the Vosges Mountains. That’s a demanding duty cycle by EV standards.

The Audi had a fully charged battery when we started, and we put 250.7 kW into it over six stops at charge points before finishing back at Munich Airport with an indicated 26 percent of battery charge remaining. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests the Q4 Sportback E-Tron therefore used a total of 307.4 kW to cover 708 miles, which translates to 2.3 mi/kWh, or 77.6 mpg-e. 

That’s short of the EPA’s 100/89 mpg-e city/highway and 3.6 mi/kWh combined numbers, but as noted, we didn’t treat the Q4 Sportback E-Tron with kid gloves. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using gasoline or electricity, your mileage will vary: Driven normally, we’d expect the Audi to deliver close to its EPA-rated 241-mile range.

This handsome, well-finished, well-equipped Audi EV proves the benefits of platform sharing. But it also reveals a downside. None of the MEB-based Volkswagen EVs we’ve driven so far have been particularly inspiring to drive. And neither, sadly, is the MEB-based Q4 Sportback E-Tron.

This Audi Has a Hyundai Problem

But this Audi’s bigger problem isn’t Volkswagen. It’s Hyundai. 

The Audi’s 400-volt system doesn’t allow it to charge as rapidly as the Hyundai Ioniq 5’s 800-volt setup: We saw a peak charging rate of 125 kW during a quick “park and spark” with the Q4 Sportback E-Tron hooked up to a 350-kW fast charger west of Stuttgart. It took 15 minutes to pump 29.39 kW into the battery, increasing its charge by 38 percent and adding 70 miles of range. 

We’ve seen a peak charging rate of 229 kW from a Hyundai Ioniq 5 hooked up to a 350-kW charger, the battery charge going from 0 to 80 percent in 23 minutes. What’s more, the dual-motor Ioniq 5 HTRAC Long Range also has more power, faster acceleration, and a marginally better overall range.  On top of that, the Hyundai boasts a better ride and is every bit as well finished as the Audi. Oh, and it’s cheaper, too. In today’s brave new EV world, a premium badge may no longer be enough.

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