To get under way, you draw a slider-like shift mechanism on the centre console backwards into the default driving mode, D. This lets the Q4 E-tron coast without any perceptible regenerative braking when you lift off the throttle. Nudge the slider back a notch to select B and the new Audi automatically applies greater braking force on the overrun for additional energy recuperation.
Paddles on the steering wheel allow you select the level of regenerative braking in three stages. The lower level simulates the braking force of a conventional combustion engine while the higher setting provides greater retardation at up to 0.6g for maximum energy harvesting on a trailing throttle.
It’s a compelling powertrain, running a combination of an asynchronous electric motor up front and a synchronous motor at the rear. With 339lb ft, there is instant performance and smooth qualities to the delivery. The urgency of it all can sometimes overcome the otherwise outstanding traction with injudicious use of the throttle of out roundabouts and the like, though.
The 50 E-tron quattro Sportback certainly feels quicker than Audi’s claimed 0-62mph time of 6.2sec suggests. This is 0.6sec inside the time quoted by BMW for the iX3 and 2.7sec quicker than the Mercedes-Benz EQA. Top speed is limited to 112mph – 12mph higher than that of the 35 E-tron and 40 E-tron owing to a longer gear ratio.
Refinement is outstanding, even by electric car standards. There is a faint whine to the operation of the electric motors under load and some wind buffeting around the exterior mirrors at speed, but overall it’s very quiet and calm at typical motorway cruising speeds.
A tight, 10.2m turning circle makes for excellent manoeuvrability in city driving. The steering is light and pleasantly consistent, although the electromechanical system fails to deliver any meaningful feel or feedback.
With the battery mounted low within the car’s structure and an evenly balanced front-to-rear weight distribution, the handling is well controlled, with good response on turn-in and low levels of body roll in tighter corners. You’d never call it engaging, but the new Audi grips well, allowing it to generate quite high cornering speeds when pushed along.
The sports suspension of the 50 E-tron sits 15mm lower than the Q4 E-tron’s standard underpinnings. It can be ordered with adaptive damping control, as on our test car, in combination with a drive select system that offers four driving modes: Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic and Individual.
On optional 21in wheels shod with 235/40-profile front and 255/40-profile rear Bridgestone Turanza Eco tyres, the ride is surprisingly compliant, with impressive control over small bumps and isolation of shock over larger ones.