UK Drive: The Audi e-tron is a genuine Tesla rival
What is it?
It’s been more than four years since the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal broke, bringing with it a pivot towards eco-friendliness and sustainability within the group. Given the long production cycles that new vehicles require, it’s no surprise we’re only just starting to really see the fruits of that change.
The Audi e-tron, then, is a pretty big deal. The German firm is at the forefront of the VW Group’s switch towards electrification, so this first effort needs to show it means business. With a premium SUV being one of the most profitable segments in the market, it’s no surprise to see that’s where Audi has gone first – but with rivals such as the Jaguar I-Pace, Mercedes-Benz EQC and Tesla Model X already on the market, it needs to hit the ground running.
While many manufacturers – including the VW Group – are building electric vehicle-specific platforms, others are adapting existing ones to fit big battery packs. Currently, that’s what Audi’s doing, with the e-tron utilising a heavily modified version of the existing Q7 SUV platform.
The styling is obviously Audi but with EV twists, such as the closed off grille, while the all-wheel drive system has been adapted for e-tron use, an electric motor has been fitted to each axle and a battery fitted beneath the floor. Our test car also had the digital mirrors fitted too… but more on those later.
What’s under the bonnet?
The twin motors have a combined output of 402bhp and 664Nm of torque, with 0-60mph coming up in 5.5 seconds and the top speed electronically limited to 124mph. Battery capacity is 95kWh, which, thanks to recent updates, provides a range of 271 miles, with pre-November 2019 cars getting about 250 – good, but not quite up to par with the Tesla and Jaguar. The fact it can be fast-charged up to 150kW is impressive, though.
Audi Drive Select lets you choose whether you’d like a performance-, comfort- or economy-focused powertrain. Opt for economy and the motors feel slow to respond, though perfectly adept to most driving scenarios, while the more dynamic setting provides the kind of instant thrills we’ve come to love from EVs. On journeys where range isn’t an issue, we found customising the settings to make everything comfort-focused while keeping the dynamic powertrain to be the best do-it-all combination.
What’s it like to drive?
Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay the e-tron is that it’s wholly unremarkable. The novelty is starting to wear off with EVs, so the idea that owners need to shout about their green credentials is waning to the point where silent, zero-emission motoring becomes the norm.
To this end, the e-tron takes all of what makes Audis so appealing and improves them. Cruising at motorway speeds is quiet and comfortable, making long journeys a breeze, and while it does feel big and heavy in corners, the punchy motors make pedal-to-the-floor maneuvers great fun.
With Audi’s automatic gearboxes becoming frustratingly sluggish in combustion-engined models as the firm tries to hit strict emissions targets, the e-tron is all of the firm’s positives with the key negative removed.
How does it look?
The e-tron doesn’t want to shout about the fact it’s electric, instead preferring a fly under the radar approach – your average motorist probably wouldn’t distinguish it from any other Audi SUV out on the road. With the firm’s design language translating well to SUVs, that means you get that familiar subtly imposing stance with a clear sense that this is a premium product.
What makes this e-tron unique, though, is the closed off grille, with the grey details unique to the EV. The LED headlights have the e-tron-specific horizontal slats within the daytime running lights, while blanked off plates within the rear diffuser are designed to draw attention to the fact there are no exhausts.
What’s it like inside?
Inside, it’s more typical Audi fare – which is a very good thing. The double-stacked infotainment screen in the centre console look fantastic, and while we still would prefer a few buttons for ease of use on the move, this Audi set-up works better than most.
There are also plenty of high-quality materials used throughout, and the cabin is suitably spacious – you can thank the diminutive proportions of electric drivetrains for that.
However, we’d highly recommend not opting for the digital wing mirrors. Any range benefits are negligible, and they make judging what’s behind you far less natural than a traditional mirror and therefore it takes longer without ever inspiring confidence.
What’s the spec like?
Prices for our ’55’ model start at £70,805, and standard equipment includes 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive air suspension, LED headlights, leather upholstery and heated front seats. You also get Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit in place of a traditional instrument binnacle, twin-touchscreen infotainment systems and a suite of driver aids.
Our test car was kitted out with almost £12,000-worth of optional extras, including a head-up display for £1,450 (a great upgrade but that’s a bit pricey), LED lights all around for £1,350, and a £1,895 comfort and sound pack, which adds an upgraded Bang & Olufsen sound system, 360-degree camera and an LED interior lighting pack.
The aforementioned digital wing mirrors cost £1,250, should you really want to spec them.
Audi has been making great premium products for years, so it’s no surprise that its first dip into all-electric vehicles is a brilliant one. The e-tron looks smart, has plenty of on-board technology and more than enough range for most.
Its closest rival, the Jaguar I-Pace, is sportier to drive with a longer range, but for those looking for a classy and comfortable companion, the e-tron fits the bill.