The Audi e-tron is a highly desirable and practical Audi SUV, which is extremely refined to drive, and it just happens to be electric.
We’ve already driven the Audi e-tron on the UK launch event and we were impressed. However driving a car for a few hours isn’t the same as living with it for a week, so what else did we discover when driving it around the country over a longer period?
We think Audi has got the styling just right with the e-tron; it looks like an Audi SUV but it also has enough differentiation from other models in the range. The interior is the normal Audi mix of premium design, high quality materials and latest technology. There’s lots of space in the cabin, and a huge (660 litre) boot, with additional space below, and there’s a compartment under the bonnet which houses the charging leads.
The powertrain is comprised of a 95 kWh lithium-ion battery and two electric motors – one at the front and one at the rear – which deliver 306 PS (408 PS with boost) and a very healthy 561 Nm of torque (664 Nm with boost). The e-tron can even tow a trailer up to 1,800kg.
When you climb into the Audi e-tron it feels like a normal Audi SUV. The dashboard looks similar to that in other petrol and diesel models, and the overall interior is a very upmarket environment. You can even get a good driving position – something that isn’t guaranteed with all EVs.
The gear selector is a slightly unusual arrangement; you rest your hand on the top of a leather pad and pull the selector on the right towards you to select Drive. Pull it twice and you select Sport. It can seem a slightly strange system at first but it actually works well. You can also increase or decrease the amount of brake regen using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, which aids the driving experience, especially on twisty, hilly roads. There are also a number of drive modes to choose from: Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual, Off Road and All Road.
Progress is extremely refined, and aside from the electric powertrain, it seems that all other aspects of the car have been engineered highly effectively with the help of Audi’s Noise, Vibration and Harshness department. As well as being smooth and quiet, the e-tron also has an extremely comfortable ride, helped no doubt by the air suspension.
You can’t really describe the e-tron as agile, as it weighs 2,490kg, but the handling is impressive for such a heavy car. The battery sitting low down in the floor helps with a low centre of gravity. Performance is good, but again, at two and a half tonnes, this is no sports SUV. However grip from the all-wheel drive quattro system is impressive, especially in the wet.
If you see an e-tron on the road it will probably look like a large estate, sitting close to the ground (with ground clearance of 172mm), but you can raise the suspension by 76mm for venturing off-road. The tyres don’t have any form of mud and snow tread pattern, but the 21-inch wheels are so big you’ll probably be able to drive over most off-road obstacles.
However the e-tron is designed for motorways more than green lanes, and it’s a very pleasant, refined and comfortable place to be at 70mph. You can even switch off the dreaded lane departure warning system relatively easily with a quick press of the left-hand stalk – although you do have to do this every time you start the car.
The infomedia system is excellent overall. There’s a very high definition touchscreen in the centre console, with a home screen to help you find your way around, and when you click on buttons on the screen you actually feel a physical click to give you confirmation that the screen has actioned your request. You can enter an address in the satnav using a keyboard, or by writing the address by hand on the screen. There’s also a digital instrument display in front of the driver, the appearance of which can be changed to display a number of different things including the satnav, there’s a head-up display, and there’s a further high definition screen under the main touchscreen for the climate controls.
Another thing that you usually don’t get the chance to test on launch events are headlights; we can now report that the e-tron’s Audi Matrix LED headlights perform in the dark as well as the rest of the car.
So it’s all good, and there are genuinely very few complaints about the e-tron. However driving it for a week around the country did throw up one issue (again) – that the UK’s public charging network is still not fit for purpose – for ‘EV early adopters’, and especially for the 99% of motorists who haven’t yet made the switch to EVs.
The official combined WLTP driving range of the e-tron is 241 miles, but this was varying between 200 and 220 miles in real-world driving. We had to travel to an event that was a 230 mile return trip, so the real-world driving range wasn’t sufficient to get us there and back. But there are now rapid chargers at all motorway service stations so this shouldn’t have been a problem.
Except that the first rapid charger we turned up at wasn’t working (the charger’s display screen stated that DC charging was ‘unavailable’). So we drove to the next services. The rapid charger there wasn’t working (the message on the app said “Sorry. This pump is currently out of order.”).
Running out of time, we had to go to the event. We then attempted to try to charge again on the way home. And guess what, the first rapid charger wasn’t working. So we had to head up the motorway to the next one, which, amazingly, did appear to be working. So we left the car and headed into the services only to find on our return that the charger had ceased working (the display screen on the charger said “End of charge due to charger error”). Thankfully it had dispensed 18 miles of range into the car before it broke down, which meant that – with careful driving and an absolute maximum speed of 70mph – we got home with 15 miles of range left in the e-tron. So after four out of four rapid chargers weren’t working, the conclusion is that, due to the unreliability of the UK’s public charging infrastructure, if you’re planning to undertake long motorway journeys, you ideally need an EV with a range of 300 miles.
The e-tron’s driving range on the combined cycle on the new, more realistic WLTP test is 241 miles. 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 – when you can find one.
There’s a button next to the charge socket to open it, and you press the same button to unlock the cable after charging. A neat touch is that the charge socket cover then automatically moves back into place by itself. And there’s a light inside the charge socket, which is very helpful when charging in the dark.
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. It’s worth noting that you can specify ‘virtual mirrors’ with digital cameras rather than conventional mirrors, which hopefully might improve the aerodynamics sufficiently to deliver a few extra miles of range.
The Audi e-tron is a very impressive car – especially as it’s the first all-electric offering from the brand. It’s spacious, practical, very refined to drive, and has a very high quality interior. Overall it’s certainly a very desirable car, and it retains the 10 out of 10 Green Car Guide rating that it was awarded after our first drive at the UK launch event.
Aside from the price, the biggest issue is that many people say they want 300 miles of range before they make the change to an EV – and the e-tron falls short in this department – both in terms of the official WLTP range, and the real-world driving range. The e-tron’s range would be less of an issue if the UK had a reliable public charging network, but our week with the car has shown – again – that this isn’t the case. The network is not fit for purpose for existing EV drivers – many of whom are early adopters and are willing to persevere with charging challenges – but the 99% of drivers who haven’t yet made the switch to EVs simply will not put up with chargers not working, or the hassle of having to download an app for every different charging network.
So having said that the main way to improve the e-tron is to give it more range, what has Audi done? It has brought out a new model of the e-tron with less range – called the e-tron 50, with an official combined WLTP range of 186 miles. This brings the price down, which is good, but we’re looking forward to the e-tron gaining more electric range rather than less.