The Audi E-tron Sportback’s LED headlights aren’t US-legal, but we got to test them anyway

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November 19, 2019 09:15 PM

The Audi E-tron Sportback’s LED headlights aren’t US-legal, but we got to test them anyway

The sleek e-tron Sportback EV showcases Audi’s latest lighting tech ahead of the LA Auto Show.

Ben Stewart

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The 2020 Audi E-tron Sportback gets new adaptive headlights that can display patterns, symbols and even animations on the road ahead.

The California sun has long since dipped below the horizon and the bright lights of downtown LA have sparkled to life. It’s a clear night sky and a particularly dark one too. That’s a good thing. We’re out on the town with Audi, riding shotgun in the new e-tron Sportback the evening before its official reveal at the LA Auto Show. Why would we be sampling Audi’s newest EV in the dark?
The headlights.
Audi is launching the e-tron Sportback with optional advanced Digital Matrix LED headlamps. Okay, spoiler alert: just like Audi’s cool Virtual Side View Mirrors (which the Sportback we’re riding in also has) these lights aren’t actually legal in the US and won’t be available on the e-tron Sportbacks we get next year. But Audi is working to get them approved for the future.

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi is launching the e-tron Sportback with optional advanced Digital Matrix LED headlamps.

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The system only works above 37 mph (60 km/h) right now. And that’s fine with us.

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European models that have these headlamps will be able to choose between five “welcome home” animations.

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Imagine a future where an autonomous Audi could project a message onto the pavement indicating an intention for the rest of the automotive environment to see.

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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“We’re an innovation company and we’re extremely focused on lighting technologies,” says Greave. “As we get further into the autonomous driving world, where vehicles will need to communicate, we anticipate this technology will play a large role.”

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi says the slick new bodyshell drops the coefficient of drag from .27 in the conventional e-tron to .25 in the Sportback.

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Beneath the slippery new skin, the mechanicals are identical to the conventional e-tron.

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Audi shrunk the e-tron crossover into a sportier Sportback

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Get too close to another car and the system temporarily shuts off for safety. Similarly, as you drive over a blind crest, it switches off to save other drivers from being flashed.

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The level of brightness is actually created by layering the high beams over the low beams.

Ashley Gleave, the exterior lighting designer for e-tron, is in the driver’s seat of our Sportback and explains how the Digital Matrix LED lights work.
“You have the source LED at the bottom that’s reflected onto a plate of micro-mirrors,” he says. “These micro mirrors are then adjusted with a magnetic field and projects images through lenses onto the street.”
Essentially each one of these mirrors (and there are a million of them) create tiny points of light that can be turned on, off or moved with such incredible precision they can instantly light certain sections of roadway or even create animations.

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The system only works above 37 mph (60 km/h) right now. And that’s fine with us. Gleave points the Audi’s nose towards a relatively empty I5 freeway and turns the system on. The strip of freeway directly in front of our e-tron is immediately lit like a runway of light. It’s like following a high beam spotlight the width of our lane. The level of brightness is actually created by layering the high beams over the low beams. And within that bright carpet of light are small dark chevrons the width of the e-tron’s track that are also projected down to the road. These subtle markings are there to let you know the path your tires are following. Gleave says they can help the driver know if they might hit an obstacle, like a pothole in the road, or clear it.
We’re in the middle lane and Gleave turns on the Sportback’s right turn signal and begins to move into the right lane. At first the new lane and our current lane are both lit at the same time. This provides other motorists (in this case another e-tron next to us) with advanced warning of our intentions just like the turn signal. As we glide over, our old lane goes dark and only our new lane is illuminated by the vivid white light. As we close in on the back bumper of another e-tron, the light pattern moves too and changes. It keeps the road lit but never fills the other car’s rearview mirrors. Get too close to another car and the system temporarily shuts off for safety. Similarly, as you drive over a blind crest, it switches off to save other drivers from being flashed.

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European models that have these headlamps will be able to choose between five “welcome home” animations. These can be configured in the e-tron’s infotainment system and will project a short light show of sorts. The system knows if it’s in front of, say, a garage door or if the roadway in front is clear. If it detects a wall of some sort, the animation will project onto it. If the road is clear, the animation will play about 30 feet out from the car on the street. This is a fun stuff for sure. But the real reason for perfecting this tech is coming years from now.
Imagine a future where an autonomous Audi could project a message onto the pavement indicating an intention for the rest of the automotive environment to see. Seems very plausible.
“We’re an innovation company and we’re extremely focused on lighting technologies,” says Greave. “As we get further into the autonomous driving world, where vehicles will need to communicate, we anticipate this technology will play a large role.”

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The lighting is certainly bright. But hey, the rest of the Sportback is cool too. Line one up next to a regular e-tron and you’d find that both vehicles are the same length and width. However, the Sportback is about two inches lower. The swoopy roofline looks sharp in person—like a tall A7. But be prepared to sacrifice a little room. There’s 6.8 fewer cubic feet of space for luggage with the seats in place (21.7 cu ft.) compared to the standard E-tron. And if your family of four often takes big suitcases to the airport, that could be a deal breaker. The swanky roof also cuts about an inch of rear seat headroom, but honestly unless you happen to be an aficionado of tall hats, you won’t miss the clearance.
 
Audi says the slick new bodyshell drops the coefficient of drag from .27 in the conventional e-tron to .25 in the Sportback. And that contributes to a small increase in driving range. On the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) the regular e-tron delivers a range of 255.4 miles. The Sportback will boost that number to 277.1 miles. What that means for US consumers is anyone’s guess because we use the EPA’s methodology. And here, the E-tron is rated to deliver 204 miles of range. Both E-trons tested on the WLTP used Audi’s Virtual Side-View Mirrors, which have a positive impact on drag. So, expect that 20 extra miles of range gained by the Sportback to be less on US cars.
Beneath the slippery new skin, the mechanicals are identical to the conventional E-tron. And that’s no bad thing. Our experience from the passenger seat suggests that the new e-tron Sportback will treat its owners to a completely serene driving experience. The Sportback just as quiet, smooth-riding and beautifully furnished as the regular E-tron—it’s just cloaked in a far more seductive wrapping. Look for this latest E-tron to arrive in the middle of next year. Fingers crossed that Audi’s smart new headlamps will won’t be too far behind.

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Source:https://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/audi-e-tron-sportbacks-led-headlights-arent-us-legal-we-got-test-them-anyway

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