We’ve entered an era that requires mental dexterity and open-mindedness to challenge established definitions of, well, a whole lot.
Food, for example, is no longer just regionally defined, and the results of countless fusions and influences are delicious and exciting. Fashion allows for a similarly broad scope of integration and acceptability, with even business-permissible jogging pants a thing these days – and not just for those still working from home. Indeed, these mashups are worth celebrating.
The auto industry requires a similar broadmindedness, and perhaps we’ve reached a point where traditional classifications no longer make sense. The 2023 Audi Q4 Sportback E-Tron is a fine example of this, with its difficult-to-define categorization. Is it a sport utility? A sporty hatchback? An electric vehicle (EV)? Yes – to all that and more.
The trend of coupe-inspired SUVs has admittedly been lost on me, but there’s no denying their popularity, and like so many other fashions my teenage son tells me I just don’t understand, I can at least accept that Audi’s stylists have done a good job giving this jacked-up five-door some interesting styling elements. For starters, the deep blue paint of this tester is accented boldly by the matte-aluminum slash along the lower door that helps break up the visuals and give it a sleeker profile. The fastback roofline is punctuated by a subtle spoiler that bisects the rear window, and the fenders are flared just enough to give it some sportiness.
The originators of the oversized grille many years ago, Audi’s toothy smile looks downright subtle compared to some of the other facades out there these days. With this being an EV, there’s no need for a gaping vent to suck in air, so there’s a silver-painted plastic panel up front instead. In all, the Sportback has a slippery design that cuts through the air with a coefficient of drag of only 0.26.
It’s contemporary inside and finished with plenty of quality materials, walking a perfect balance between high-tech and sporty. But there are a lot of strakes and angles fighting for visual attention, too. Overall, it’s an exciting if not elegant cabin.
Too often these fancy crossovers put fashion above function, but in a case of don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover, the swoopy Sportback variant actually offers slightly more cargo space than its boxier non-Sportback cousin behind the back seats – 736 L versus 708 L – that expands to a decent 1,529 L with the back bench folded (versus 1,500 L). That rear seat is a bit tighter than you’d find in some of competitors, with both head- and legroom at a premium.
While not as spacious as some other compact SUVs out there, the Q4 Sportback’s seats, both front and rear, are widely adjustable and very supportive. Significant bolstering helps keep occupants in place during cornering. The Q4 offers multiple drive modes, but changing between comfort, efficiency, and dynamic had very little appreciable effect on the suspension’s suppleness. Even still, while taut in a typically European way, the ride is never harsh. And while EVs tend to be very quiet without any engine noise, the Q4 Sportback also quells road and wind noise very effectively, too.
With seats covered in supple leather, the initial impression is a well-contented interior. The expected niceties are here, like a heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charger, baked-in navigation system, and a large expanse of glass in the roof, but there are no ventilated seats, and many of the tech features are part of an optional package. The stereo upgrade is a nine-speaker affair from Sonos, a company best known for home audio, and the engineers have done a fine job here tuning the sound system for inside a vehicle.
Audi has been doing a digital gauge display for years, and it remains one of the best – even as competitors now offer their own versions of the theme. The large round gauges are easy to read, and the navigation system map can be nestled between them, but it’s the head-up display that utilizes augmented reality to project directions in front of the driver, helping keep eyes on the road.
Rather than using a traditional volume knob for the sound system, Audi employs a circular touchpad that serves double-duty as the power on/off switch, track skip, mute and volume; the latter simply requires a swirl motion of the finger on the touchpad to activate. It’s a clever piece of user-experience design that works better than expected. Similarly, the recessed slide switch for the gear selector is also very intuitive and is far better than the convoluted push-button units found in some competitive models.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
The squared-off steering wheel looks great and is probably the nicest-feeling wheel I can remember, but it’s attached to an electrically boosted steering system that’s absent of road feel. Even still, the Q4 Sportback is an adept handler, managing to tackle corners with decent speed and without losing its composure, even when fitted with winter tires. The Q4’s low centre of gravity afforded by the weighty battery compartment in the floor helps it feel planted and mask the car’s 2,215-kg (4,883-lb) mass.
The braking is also rather numb-feeling, and while there are multiple levels of regenerative braking settings, there’s no true one-pedal drive mode, which is disappointing having now grown quite fond of it in other EVs.
The 82-kWh battery pack juices two motors – one driving the front wheels, the other for the rear. Combined, the output is rated at 295 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque, and if all these specs sound familiar it’s because it’s the same motivation system found beneath the Volkswagen ID.4. Due to the instant-on nature of an EV’s torque delivery, the Q4 is pleasingly swift in its acceleration, effortlessly getting across an intersection quicker than most other traffic. There’s also enough power to get it up to merging speed on the highway, and for quick passing moves.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
With an official combined rate of 2.5 Le/100 km, the Q4 Sportback is more efficient than the Genesis GV60 and Volvo XC40 Recharge, which are arguably two of its closest competitors. That equates to a published range of 389 km which, again, is greater than those two competitors, but somewhat less than the Audi’s Volkswagen ID.4 cousin. The mainstream Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 both surpass that range by a fair margin, too.
The Q4 is rated for up to 150 kW fast charging, which is short of the Genesis GV60 that offers much quicker charging times. Of course, these are theoretical, and finding a charger that actually delivers on its ultra-fast charge promise is like finding a leprechaun.
Amidst a snowy week, the Q4 Sportback showed a battery-conserving 80 per cent charge when I picked it up, indicating a range of only 278 km. After a full charge, the calculated range went up to 330 km, and with a fair bit of winter highway driving, that looked to be optimistic.
The Q4 Sportback is loaded up with plenty of advanced driver aids including lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. The not-for-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has granted the Q4 a Top Safety Pick+ rating.
When compared with other premium brand models from Volvo and Genesis in similarly opulent trim, the Audi represents a competitive value, slotting in at just over $76,000 as tested. A comparably equipped Tesla Model Y is notably costlier. Still, each of those competitors offer significantly more power and performance than the Q4 Sportback, and it’s hard to ignore its Volkswagen cousin that’s at least $10,000 cheaper, albeit with an interior that’s not nearly as nice as the Audi’s.
The 2023 Audi Q4 Sportback E-Tron represents a decent offering in the premium EV segment, even if it isn’t class-leading in any respect. It’s a stylish machine that drives well and should suit an Audi owner with a Q5 considering the jump to an EV with its familiar Audi looks and switchgear. Even still, there are new offerings coming to market all the time, many of which provide greater range, more power, or better value.
|Engine Displacement||82 kW battery pack|
|Engine Cylinders||Dual electric motors|
|Peak Horsepower||295 hp|
|Peak Torque||335 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||21.0 / 23.4 / 22.1 kWh/100 km, 2.4 / 2.6 / 2.5 Le/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 389 km est. range|
|Cargo Space||736 / 1,529 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Audi Q4 Sportback 50 e-tron quattro|
|Price as Tested||$76,540|
$6,140 – Metallic blue paint, $890; 20-inch wheels, $1,000; Tech Package, $1,600; Technik Package, $3,000; Phonebox Delete Credit, -$350