As an established player in the SUV sector, does Audi’s all-new fully electric e-tron move the game on? Discover EV test it for the first time in the UK to find out
‘Electric has gone Audi’. That is the tagline for Audi’s e-tron marketing campaign. It sounds a little awkward and something you might hear Yoda say, but it’s quite apt. While Audi did not invent the electric car, it is adding its DNA to the segment. It has the power, capability, handling and digital technology one expects from an SUV wearing the four rings but it’s all electric. More conventional looking than the Tesla Model X (not to mention a lot cheaper) and more practical than the Jaguar I-PACE – it makes no statement about being an EV which should convince a mainstream audience to make the switch. Not convinced? Read on.
Based on the MLB platform, it isn’t ground-up new but it has been heavily modified to underpin the e-tron and next year’s Spotback version. It is similarly sized to the Q7 but bears little resemblance underneath with an electric motor on each axle, the rear slightly more powerful than the front for a total of 360hp and 413.8lb-ft of torque in D mode, and a 700kg battery back in between. Shift into S with boost function and it offers a short-term increase (eight seconds) in performance to 408hp and 489.7lb-ft of torque and shaves the 0-62mph time to 5.7 seconds. With the I-PACE doing the same dash in 4.8 seconds it’s a lot slower but it is more than adequate for a big SUV, and it is in the interest, Audi says, of prolonging battery life.
The Audi e-tron is the heaviest of its key competitors at 2490kg, but that said it still manages to handle better. On the motorway it offers a refined and comfortable drive with lightly weighted steering making short work of long journeys. There is some wind noise at high speed, although we were driving a conventionally mirrored model; it’ll be interesting to see if Audi’s new virtual door mirrors actually improve aeroacoustics as the car maker claims.
On the B roads, it hides its weight well, gripping and changing direction better than most regular SUVs. It doesn’t pitch and roll too much in the corners, which is the benefit of a low centre of gravity but that nicely controlled ride is also a result of Audi’s adaptive air suspension and quattro variable all-wheel drive. The body height can adjust by up to 76mm, so at speeds above 74.6mph (presumably for German owners who use the Autobahn?!) the vehicle is lowered by up to 26mm from 172mm for improved aerodynamics, efficiency and handling.
The e-tron has seven modes of driving: auto, comfort, dynamic, efficiency, individual, allroad, and offroad. Yorkshire threw us plenty of challenging stretches of tarmac and it was a good test for the Audi e-tron. While putting it in efficiency mode (or even auto) would have no doubt given us more range especially over the steep climbs and descents, putting it in dynamic mode made lighter work of the sharp bends. Sadly we didn’t get the chance to try out the off-road mode, which raises the e-tron up to 35mm for ground clearance, but Audi held its worldwide press launch in the desert of the United Arab Emirates where journalists tested it on rocky, sandy terrain and there were no complaints.
At up to 0.3 g of deceleration, the e-tron recuperates solely via the electric motors and can gain back 30 per cent when coasting or braking. Beyond that point it switches to the standard hydraulic discs, and it is impressive how seamless the transition is, especially having experience the grabby brake system of so many hybrid and electric cars.
Audi’s energy regeneration control system allows you to tailor the amount of retardation through the shift paddles. Tap the + paddle to increase resistance and energy recovery, and pull the – paddle for less. It makes sense to have it behind the wheel as it’s a form of engine braking but it didn’t feel wholly intuitive. It is nowhere near as harsh as the I-PACE either which makes single pedal driving almost impossible –perhaps a deliberate attempt from Audi to make it feel as ‘normal’ as possible. It is clever enough to know a roundabout is approaching however, and gently start the slowing for you which is smart.
The 95kWh lithium-ion battery yields a range of more than 241 miles on the WLTP driving cycle. That’s a figure which has been criticised by the press, as it’s less than the I-PACE and Model X, but unlike its competitors, that figure is not wildly inaccurate. So, for example, when we jumped in our test car it showed up as having 190 miles of range – after 118 miles of spirited driving across the Yorkshire moors, stopping and starting to take video footage, and left mostly in Dynamic mode, we had 59 miles left. Not bad.
Audi quotes a combined electric power consumption of 24.2 kWh/100km (62 miles). According to UK Power the average cost of electricity per kWh is 12.499 pence per unit. Using Zap Maps home charging calculator that means it will cost £12 to charge the Audi e-tron from a 3kWh source. Fuel for a typical petrol or diesel car costs around 12p per mile – so the cost for driving the same distance would be around £28.90, giving you a £17.03 saving.
It will take you over 31 hours though to charge from a 3kWh source, but most EV drivers keep some charge in their battery and are either prepared to plug in and charge at a service area (retail park, supermarket or pub even) and / or just top-up when they get home. It’s a new way of driving and requires a different mindset that’s for sure.
A full charge from zero takes 50 mins at 150kW rapid charging stations, Ionity are the first to bring these to the UK and they are currently being built (with 400 planned stations across Europe by 2020). While we wait for those there is some good news, as charging at 50kW stations will take 70 minutes to get to 80 per cent, while up to 11kW AC charging (which you might have at home) enables a full charge from empty in 8.9 hours so good for leaving overnight on a cheaper tariff.
Audi have partnered with Pod Point so customers looking for a home installation can choose from a range of wall box units. Most UK homes will be able to install a 7kW wall box, while larger homes may be able to host a higher-powered 22kW unit, and they can even manage the OLEV home grant scheme on your behalf saving you £500. Download the myAudi app and you plan and manage the charging process conveniently, access specific information, such as electric range, charging status and remaining charging time, and open and close it remotely.
The e-tron is covered by Audi's standard three year / 60,000 mile manufacturer guarantee, while there’s an eight year / 100,000 mile policy for the battery. As it’s over £40,000 the e-tron doesn’t benefit from exemption of road tax that the more affordable zero-emissions cars does, instead owners will have to pay £320 annually for five years from the second year the car is taxed, but after that the bill drops to zero again. Residual values are predicted by CAP Gold Book in April 2019 at 65 per cent after three years / 30,000 miles (I-PACE 59 per cent, Model X 58 per cent) so overall it’s a strong purchase proposition.
There’s a familiarity to its look which is a deliberate effort, Audi don’t want to scare off its current customers so there’s no gull-wing doors or cab-forward profile, but that said aerodynamics still play a big part in the shape of the car. Those aforementioned virtual door mirrors for example boast a best in SUV class drag coefficient of 0.28 (for more information on these, check out our video review of the e-tron and interview with Product Manager Chris Batty). The inlets in the front bumper direct air past the wheels, which have been aerodynamically optimised by the way, while plastic louvres hidden behind the grille stay closed when additional cooling air isn’t required. They’ve even used aerodynamic screw fixings on the fully enclosed underbody.
Other more noticeable EV styling elements include the two ports positioned on each of its front wings (AC and DC charging access on driver’s side, AC charging access on passenger side). Audi tells us it’s a first on EV cars and from first-hand experience it’s a really useful touch. The way the covers propel smoothly downwards at the touch of a button is pretty cool, too.
The octagonal front grille and air intakes, horizontal light signature integrated into the headlights, the wide light strip connecting Audi’s distinctive LED rear lights and badging are also unique to the e-tron. Talking of which the ‘55’ in 55 quattro is Audi’s designation for cars with 333-408bhp and its famed four-wheel-drive system. One would assume varying power outputs will be along shortly, but the product manager remained tight lipped on this subject. Combined with distinctive SUV design cues with wrap-around shoulder line, Quattro blistered wheel arches, long roof spoiler and pronounced D-pillars, it’s a good-looking electric vehicle, that’s also very Audi.
The new e-tron maybe pricey just coming under the £70,000 mark with the plug-in grant but it is well-equipped. Standard specification includes ambient LED lighting, navigation (with 3D city models), 36 month subscription to Audi's online infotainment services, DAB digital radio, 10 speaker sound system including a six-channel amp, wireless phone charging and an array of safety features. Even higher levels of luxury are available on the Launch Edition which will set you back £82,270, and Edition 1 models although these were restricted to a limited run of 30 cars for the UK and according to Audi were ‘snapped up’.
The electrically adjustable, heated, leather seats with four-way lumbar support are very comfortable indeed, there is room in the back for three adults and while the centre console protrudes quite far back restricting leg room, head and knee room in the front and rear are class leading. The 660-litre boot with power operated tailgate is also bigger than the Model X and I-PACE. The front luggage space is a little small compared to its key competitors but useful for carrying the mobile charging cable, and there's no seven seat option unlike the Model X.
In front of the driver is Audi’s customisable Virtual Cockpit with a 12.3 inch high resolution LCD display, with EV-specific menus, showing the relationship between motor load and brake regeneration in real time, and a navigation system pointing out public charging points (if a top up is needed it can plot routes accordingly). At the heart of the car is the MMI touch response concept that first introduced intuitive touch screen functionality into the latest A8. It’s quick and easy to use like a smartphone and below that is a second smaller full HD touch screen colour display with haptic touch to operate the air conditioning system and convenience features. It’s lent the e-tron a much cleaner look, that’s largely free of buttons and switches.
The leather covered hand rest incorporates the shifter and the function for the electronic parking brake. You shift by tapping the modes (R, N, P, D or S) and it’s easy to use swinging over a small arc back into Drive or forward into Reverse.
Our only gripes are with the stowage compartment in the centre tunnel console, which has open sidewalls so any small items roll out when you go around corners. Also some of the plastics seemed a bit cheap – perhaps it’s because they were more noticeable being grey (to match the leather on our test vehicle). It’s a shame because elsewhere the materials are of a high standard and overall it sets new standards of quality for an EV. Oh, and the navigation system voice is not very fluid – again a very minor point.
It’s worth noting, especially given many electric cars are not rated for towing at all, that the Audi e-tron can pull a maximum braked weight of 1800kg, not quite as good as the Model X's 2250kg, but a bonus for those that need the ability for work or leisure.
As well as the recently announced e-tron S and e-tron S Sportback, Audi has simplified the regular e-tron 50 and 55 quattro range. Specification structures for both versions of the car have been brought into line, and Audi has also introduced a new 'Black Edition' for the e-tron and 'Vorsprung' trim level for both the e-tron and e-tron Sportback, which will enable buyers to get all the most sought-after kit.
Across all trim levels of the regular e-tron (Technik, Sport, S Line, and the new Black Edition and Vorsprung) and the e-tron Sportback (S Line, Launch Edition and Vorspring) the infotainment has been upgraded to the latest MIB 3 system. This offers ten times more processing power than its predecessor as well as a brand new smartphone interface including an enhanced voice control system.
An upshot of the upgrade to the MIB 3 system is an improved navigation system which learns from a driver's habits and will adjust routes in future based on previously driven routes, taking into account traffic down to a lane-by-lane level of detail. In Vorsprung trim, wing mirrors are replaced by high-definition cameras with OLED displays at each side of the cabin, albeit mirrors can be fitted if desired.
Another feature of the top-of-the-range Vorsprung models is digital matrix LED headlights – a world-first for Audi in a production car. This system projects the headlight beam based on a pixel system, enabling a huge level of control of where the light is going. By using micromirrors which can be adjusted up to 5000 times per second, the beam can be adjusted to maintain a high level of forward projection without dazzling oncoming traffic.
Other innovations on the e-tron and e-tron Sportback Vorsprung include a 360-degree camera and network of sensors to enhance safety and feed into the adaptive cruise control system. A 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system tops off the luxury. The new trim levels are available as of July 2020 with the e-tron starting at £59,900 on the road.
The Audi e-tron is an electric car but not quite as we know it. It looks like an ordinary car which will appeal to a lot of regular SUV buyers to make the EV jump; it’s well-executed, has a realistic range of 241 miles and has the capability to charge to 80 per cent in just half an hour. Several years in the making, the e-tron is an impressive entry into the electric vehicle segment and a game changer for Audi. For now it holds its own - but how will it fare when the Mercedes EQC and BMW X3 arrive on the scene? Watch this space.