The Audi e-tron is the first all-electric offering from the brand and it’s a very capable, desirable yet also practical product.
We’ve had the Tesla Model X and the Jaguar I-PACE, and now there’s the Audi e-tron. All three are pure electric, and all are SUVs. So Audi may not be the first to market with an electric SUV, but the brand is certainly up there amongst the leaders in the field, and the e-tron offers an option that is full of Audi DNA. It’s also the first of the new generation of EVs from the Volkswagen Group, and based on our initial drive, other manufacturers should be worried.
The e-tron looks like an Audi SUV. It could be petrol or diesel – but it’s all-electric. There are a few minor styling details that set this apart as an EV, but overall, buyers will have an upmarket Audi sitting on their drive, regardless of what powertrain people might think is underneath.
It’s a similar story on the inside; the dashboard shares many features with other Audis – this means upmarket design, high quality materials, and lots of technology (such as two touchscreens as well as the digital instrument display, along with a head-up display in our test car). The satnav includes an e-tron route planner which features charging stations.
Because this is an SUV there’s lots of space, with five seats, 660 litres for luggage in the boot – and 1,725 litres with the rear seats down. The e-tron sits between the Q5 and Q7 in terms of size. In our view, this means it is very practical – it’s not as huge as a Tesla Model X, but has more rear luggage space (660 litres) than a Jaguar I-PACE (505 litres).
The main powertrain component is the large, 95 kWh lithium-ion battery, which sits in the vehicle floor. This is heavy – contributing to an overall kerb weight of 2,490kg – but because of its position, the car has a low centre of gravity.
There are two electric motors – one at the front and one at the rear, delivering 300kW between them – which enable the e-tron to feature quattro all-wheel drive.
One interesting feature is that the e-tron is the first production car to be available with cameras rather than traditional door mirrors. The ‘virtual door mirrors’ display an image onto a digital screen on the inside of the door. These are an option on the e-tron, but the Launch Edition has the technology as standard. The benefit of the cameras is that the aerodynamics are improved, reducing the drag coefficient from 0.28 to 0.27 Cd.
The e-tron can even tow a trailer up to 1,800kg.
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The Audi e-tron shares the qualities of many other electric cars: you drive off in virtual silence, with all the torque being instantly available, resulting in smooth and responsive acceleration, and the entire driving experience is extremely refined.
With all that torque (561 Nm or 664 Nm with boost), the risk is that under enthusiastic acceleration a front-wheel drive EV will have lots of wheelspin and torque steer, and a rear-wheel drive EV will be squirming around trying to put the power down. Because of its quattro all-wheel drive, the e-tron exhibits no such dramas. Our route through the Yorkshire Dales took in hills, tight corners, gravel surfaces, and even a mild off-road test, and at no stage was there any issue with loss of traction.
As well as being securely planted to the road, performance is strong, and if you need to get past a slow moving item of agricultural machinery, there is instant response. However if you want the quickest reactions (and the ability access extra power and torque boost) it’s advisable to be in Dynamic drive mode, and you can also pull the gear selector towards you to select Sport mode. The other drive modes are Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Individual, Off-Road and All-Road.
One other feature that is particularly useful when driving in areas such as the Yorkshire Dales is the ability to increase the level of the regenerative braking via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Apart from helping to maximise the driving range, this comes close to simulating changing down a gear when going into a corner (but of course there are no gears to change).
The e-tron’s ride was perfectly comfortable throughout our drive, and the handling was impressive bearing in mind that the car weighs 2,490kg; the low centre of gravity due to the position of the battery certainly helps the e-tron go round corners in a more confidence-inspiring way than would be the case in an SUV of similar mass with a tall internal combustion engine under the bonnet.
The e-tron’s ground clearance is 172mm but it has adaptive air suspension as standard, allowing the ride height to be increased by 76mm for off-road excursions, or dropped by 20mm at motorway speeds.
The key figure that everyone wants to know about an EV is the driving range, and in the case of the e-tron this is 241 miles, on the combined driving cycle on the new, more realistic WLTP cycle. We weren’t able to test the real-life range on the launch event. Combined electric power consumption is 24.2 kWh/100 km (62 miles).
The e-tron comes with an 11kW onboard charger, with the option to upgrade this to 22kW. There are charge ports on both sides of the car – for a Type 2 connector for home AC charging on the passenger side, and the same port together with a CCS connector for DC public rapid charging on the driver’s side. The e-tron has the ability to charge from 0 to 80% capacity in around 30 minutes at a 150kW charge point.
The e-tron costs £71,520, with the Launch Edition costing £82,270 (excluding the £3,500 plug-in-car grant in both cases). Our test car had a fairly vast array of options, some of the more notable of which were front sport seats (£2,000), Tour Pack (£1,950), Comfort and Sound Pack (£1,895), panoramic glass sunroof (£1,475), head-up display (£1,450), Audi Matrix LED headlights with LED rear lights and dynamic front and rear indicators (£1,350), City Assist Pack (£1,125) and 21-inch alloy wheels (£950). With all the options, the total price of our test car, after the plug-in car grant, was £88,315. Phew.
The Audi e-tron does lots of things very well. It delivers a very polished and enjoyable driving experience, with strong performance. The interior is bristling with all the very latest Audi technology. And all this comes in a spacious and practical SUV body style.
What about any downsides? The WLTP driving range of 241 miles is good, but potential buyers are likely to be more reassured to make the switch to an EV if that figure was 300 miles+. And at £71,520 – before Audi’s premium-priced options – it can’t really be described as one of the more affordable EVs.
However overall this is a highly impressive product for the first of the new generation of EVs from the Volkswagen Group. In fact there aren’t really any major faults with the e-tron – it’s a highly desirable, zero emission transportation solution. Therefore the Audi e-tron is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.
The e-tron is a very welcome addition to the range of choice of EVs for consumers, and Audi has more EVs coming – three more pure EVs by the end of 2020, and 30 plug-in vehicles by 2025 – and the Volkswagen Group as a whole has even more on the way. If the e-tron can play a part in getting more people to start the switch to EVs, when they realise how good the car is to drive, it’s likely to open the floodgates to sales of the other – more affordable – EV models that the Volkswagen Group is bringing to market.
Audi’s EV product offensive comes at a time when there is ever-increasing focus on local air quality, and the next European fleet average target for manufacturers of 95g/km CO2 is rapidly approaching, so there will be more encouragement for motorists to make the shift to EVs. Based on our initial e-tron drive, Audi, and the rest of the Volkswagen Group, is likely to be in a good position to take advantage of increased demand for electric cars.