Audi has used the e-tron name for its hybrid road and race cars already, but now we have the first fully electric e-tron model in the shape of an SUV. Simply named ‘e-tron’, this new EV sits between the Q5 and Q7 in size, yet it’s not such a radical departure despite its electric power.
Rivals like the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X make a determined effort to distinguish themselves from other SUVs in the market. The Audi, on the other hand, could easily be mistaken for one of the larger Q models. For some, that subtlety will be a small disappointment, but for others it will surely be part of the charm. Given the launch edition of the e-tron sold out very quickly and there’s a queue forming for the model, it’s fair to say most buyers fall into the latter camp.
Audi has harnessed all of the advantages of battery power
What they get is an SUV that works superbly as a luxury car first and foremost, while being a plug-in EV is secondary. Audi has been extremely clever to harness all of the advantages of battery power – silent running, instant torque and impressive acceleration – and build an SUV that stacks up very strongly against all other rivals regardless of what fuels them.
This means the e-tron’s rivals are as diverse as the obvious Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X, through to the Range Rover Sport P400e and Lexus RX to the likes of the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE and EQC. That’s a lot of cars to take on, but Audi has channelled all of its considerable know-how into the e-tron and come up with a car that can stand the comparison.
A supremely smooth ride
It’s longer, lower and wider than the Q5, so the e-tron has a more purposeful look on the road. It can still raise its air ride suspension by as much as 52mm for off-road driving, but this isn’t a 4x4 for serious dirt-defying stunts. The all-wheel drive transmission, courtesy of a 221bhp motor driving the back wheels and a 181bhp motor for the front pair, is aimed much more at on-road enjoyment. There’s an electronic ‘virtual’ propshaft connecting both motors so power can be apportioned as needed depending on traction.
In the usual mix of driving around town, country roads, motorways and link roads, you won’t be aware of which end of the car is doing more work. It’s supremely smooth and seamless in the way it juggles which axle is doing the work. Press hard on the throttle from a standstill and the e-tron will see off 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds when Sport mode is engaged, or a little longer in the default Drive setting. Either way, it’s no slouch.
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A relaxing car to travel in
More importantly, the Audi smooches along in a bubble of near silence even at higher motorway speeds. The e-tron has a drag coefficient of 0.27Cd, so it slips through the air effectively with little disturbance. You can also opt for the virtual mirrors to knock another 0.01Cd off, though we found the screens for these rearward facing cameras mounted a little too low to work at a glance.
With any kerfuffle from the tyres also quelled, the e-tron is a very relaxing car to travel any distance in. Ona full charge, it has a range of up to 249 miles, which is less than some rivals’, though a rapid charger can top up the battery to 80% in 30 minutes. A full charge on a domestic wall unit will take around eight hours and there’s a hand storage compartment under the bonnet for all of the cables.
The battery pack itself weighs 700 kg, which goes a long way to accounting for the e-tron’s 2.5-tonne kerb weight. However, it never feels this heavy as its heft is carried low in the frame to give good handling. It’s easily a match for the Jaguar I-Pace on corners and the steering and brakes both give good feel.
From the driver’s seat, the e-tron is every inch the luxury SUV. The dash is very much in the style of all current Audis but has a few twists, such as the unique gear selector. You get a digital display for the main instruments that’s the same as the TT’s Virtual Cockpit and it can be configured with your preferred spread of information. There is also a 10.6-inch touchscreen for the infotainment and smaller 8.6-inch screen for the heating and ventilation.
A luxury car for passengers and drivers
Space for passengers is as generous as it is for the driver, while the boot comes in at a decent but not class best 600-litres with all five seats in use. Tip and fold the rear chairs down flat and it frees up a total of 1725-litres. So, the e-tron doesn’t sacrifice practicality at the altar of battery power, helped by its reworked platform derived from the present Q5.
That sums up the e-tron: it’s a great luxury Audi first and an electric vehicle second. Handsome looks, great to drive and supreme refinement are the prime reasons to choose the e-tron, while zero tailpipe emissions are almost a happy bonus.
Words: Alisdair Suttie