What Car? says...
Actor Rob Lowe once complained that his career had suffered due to “bias against good-looking people” – a claim that probably has you reaching for the world’s smallest violin. Still, he might have had a point, because it's easy to assume (wrongly) that style always comes at the expense of substance. With a car like the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron, for example.
You see, this electric SUV is essentially a more style-orientated version of the Audi Q8 e-tron – swapping that model’s squared-off rear end for a coupé-like silhouette. But while that does have an impact on practicality, it also improves the aerodynamics, and with it the range between charges.
The other thing to note about the looks is that they might seem familiar. And, if so, there’s a good reason for that: the Q8 Sportback e-tron was previously sold simply as the E-tron Sportback. It’s been rebranded as part of a facelift that also saw the exterior detailing and suspension tweaked, the power increased and – most significantly of all – the batteries upgraded.
Three power outputs are available: the entry-level 50 quattro model produces 335bhp, the mid-range 55 quattro boosts that to 402bhp, and the flagship SQ8 packs 496bhp. What’s more, there are four trims on offer: Sport, S line, Black Edition and Vorsprung.
In this review, we’ll look at each of them. Plus, we’ll see how the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron compares with the similarly slinky Jaguar I-Pace and boxier rivals such as the BMW iX and the Mercedes EQC.
If at the end you decide any of these cars is right for you, don’t forget to check out the prices available through our free New Car Deals service. There's no haggling involved, and it can help you secure a great new electric SUV discount.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Despite the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron’s 'sporty' looks, the 50 quattro and 55 quattro versions never feel especially quick from behind the wheel. That's partly down to the fact that this electric SUV weighs almost 2.5 tonnes and therefore needs a lot of energy to get it rolling.
It's also to do with the responsiveness of the accelerator pedal: on the 50 and 55, you need to depress the accelerator quite a long way if you want to access full performance. When you do, the 50 gets from 0-62mph in 6.0sec, with the 55 trimming that to 5.6sec. The Jaguar I-Pace feels noticeably quicker, with its hair-trigger sharpness and 4.8sec 0-62mph time.
If you want your Sportback to beat that, you’ll need the SQ8 version, which has three electric motors rather than the two of lesser models, and can crack 0-62mph in just 4.5sec. (So far we’ve only tried the regular Audi Q8 e-tron in SQ8 form.)
Fortunately, the 50 and 55 suit a more relaxed approach to driving. Not only do they let in next to no wind noise, but road noise is also far more muted than it is in the I-Pace. In fact, the Sportback is one of the quietest cars you can buy.
Then there’s what happens when you slow down. Despite juggling between regenerative braking (which uses the electric motors as dynamos to charge the battery) and regular friction brakes, the brake pedal offers a good amount of feel, which is still quite rare in electric cars and hybrids.
Combined with the progressive accelerator pedal, that braking feel makes smooth driving easy, and the 50 and 55 do an excellent job of wafting you along, especially in Comfort mode. Indeed, they deal with all manner of lumps and bumps better than the Mercedes EQC and are roughly on a par with the I-Pace for comfort.
If you switch the suspension to Dynamic mode, the car becomes noticeably more jiggly over broken city streets, but it’s the setting you’ll want to engage on faster undulating roads. It keeps vertical body movements more tightly controlled and reduces the extent to which occupants are thrown around, to the benefit of driver confidence and passenger comfort alike.
It’s important to highlight, though, that despite the Sportback’s linear steering and impressive body control, it still feels rather heavy during quick changes of direction. The front end will wash wide at lower speeds than in the I-Pace, which also leans less.
As for range, the 89kWh battery in the 50 officially allows it to cover 295 miles between charges, which is slightly more than the BMW iX3 and I-Pace manage, and significantly better than the 255 miles of the EQC and the 257 miles of the equivalent BMW iX.
The 106kWh battery in the 55 and SQ8 gives them official ranges of 343 miles and 290 miles respectively. But the range-topping iX manages 382 miles.
The interior layout, fit and finish
If you’ve ever sat behind the wheel of a regular Audi Q8 e-tron (or the 2019-2023 Audi E-tron that it replaced) the Sportback will feel very familiar. That’s excellent news when it comes to quality, because it means you get appealing soft-touch plastics, glitzy trims and a standard of assembly that’s second to none.
The Sportback also features the same twin display control set-up, with the upper screen used for navigation, media and driving mode selection, and the lower one giving you access to the climate controls.
On the whole, the system works well. It looks sharp, responds promptly to prods, and is easy to use when you're parked up. Plus, you get plenty of gadgets, including a DAB radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, and wireless phone-charging. However, like all touchscreen-based systems, it’s more distracting to use on the move than the rotary controller interface in the BMW iX3 and BMW iX.
Other standard equipment in the Sportback includes electrically adjustable front seats with four-way adjustable lumbar support and a memory function that allows the driver to save their preferred settings. Add in a good range of steering wheel adjustment (manual in lesser trims and powered in the top-spec Vorsprung) and you'll have no problem getting comfortable – or staying that way for long journeys.
You don’t sit as high up as you do in the Audi Q7 but you have a more commanding view of the road than in the Jaguar I-Pace. What’s more, vision at night is aided by Digital Matrix adaptive LED headlights that automatically shape their light pattern so they can stay on high-beam without dazzling other road users.
Rear vision in the Sportback is restricted by the low roof and small rear window, and it’s harder to see out of than the regular Q8 e-tron when reversing. Fortunately, parking sensors (front and rear) and a rear-view camera are standard across the range.
You can specify 'virtual door mirrors', which replace conventional mirrors with cameras in slim, aerodynamic housings. Unfortunately, the door-mounted screens that display their images are positioned a little lower than is ideal, forcing you to look across and down to see what's behind you, rather than taking a more natural glance to your right or left.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
You’re unlikely to want any more leg or head room than you get in the front of the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron, and its front seats are a good distance apart to prevent their occupants from rubbing shoulders or banging elbows. Even the wide centre console, which incorporates several handy storage spaces, doesn’t get in the way of the driver’s left knee as it can in some SUVs.
Taller rear-seat passengers will find things a little more cramped in the back than they would in the squarer Audi Q8 e-tron. By adopting a more heavily tapered roofline, the Sportback loses 20mm of head room, which might not sound like a lot, but means occupants approaching 6ft tall will feel their hair brushing the roof lining.
Shoulder room is unchanged, though. There’s enough for three adults to sit side by side, although life is made more uncomfortable for a central rear passenger by their seat having a harder backrest than the others.
The Sportback’s roofline reduces boot capacity over the regular Q8 e-tron by 45 litres, but it can still take more luggage than the Jaguar I-Pace and the small-ish loading lip minimises awkwardness when hauling in bulky items. There's also a space beneath the boot floor, plus a small front boot with space for the charging cables.
The rear seatbacks split and fold down in a 40/20/40 arrangement that allows you to transport longer items between two rear passengers. The I-Pace has a 40/20/40 arrangement too. As a bonus, levers in the boot allow you to drop the Q8 Sportback e-tron’s rear seats without opening a side door.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
While you pay a premium for the sleeker looks of the Audi Q8 Sportback e-tron (compared with the regular Audi Q8 e-tron), it's still priced broadly in line with electric SUV rivals. Like them, it should be cheaper to run than an equivalent petrol or diesel SUV – particularly if you’re a company car driver or can charge at home.
A full charge from a 7kW wallbox takes at least 14 hours, but charging rates of up to 170kW on the bigger battery and 150kW on the smaller one mean a 10-80% charge in around half an hour is possible if you can find a suitably powerful public charger.
The list of standard equipment on the entry-level Sport trim includes heated front seats, leather upholstery, two-zone climate control, power-folding door mirrors, cruise control and a powered tailgate.
Upgrading to an S line or Black Edition car gets you more leather trim, sportier styling, privacy glass and 21in rather than 20in alloy wheels. Range-topping Vorsprung trim brings enormous 22in alloys and comes with just about every option box ticked – although it's too expensive for us to recommend.
The Sportback was too new to be included in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey but the closely related 2019-2023 Audi E-tron finished eighth out of 14 cars in the electric car class. Among premium-badged rivals, only the Tesla Model 3 did better. The Jaguar I-Pace and the Tesla Model S were some way behind, in 13th and 14th place.
You get a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty with the Q8 e-tron, while the drive battery is covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.
The independent safety experts at Euro NCAP haven’t crash-tested the Q8 e-tron, but the structurally identical Audi E-tron was awarded the body’s maximum five-star rating in 2019. It just pipped the I-Pace and the Tesla Model X for child occupant protection, but didn't score quite as well as they did for adult occupant protection.
Every Q8 e-tron comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB) and a lane-departure warning system. Plus, there are heaps more active safety aids that you can add via the options list or by going for range-topping Vorsprung trim.
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The E-tron Sportback was renamed the Q8 Sportback e-tron when the car was facelifted in 2023 to make it easier for buyers to tell where the car fits into the brand's line-up – above the Audi Q4 Sportback e-tron and the upcoming Q6 Sportback e-tron.
We recommend the mid-range 55 quattro version. It's not as quick as the top-of-the-range SQ8 version, but still does 0-62mph in 5.6sec and has a longer range. Our pick of the trims is Sport.
Highlights of the Technology Pack include a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, a 360-degree parking camera, ambient interior lighting, and a head-up display that projects key information on to the windscreen in the driver's line of sight.
|RRP price range||£69,400 - £118,750|
|Number of trims (see all)||19|
|Number of engines (see all)||12|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, electric, diesel|
|MPG range across all versions||22.4 - 34.9|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£139 / £8,446|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£277 / £16,892|