Audi's e-tron offers a very Ingolstadt-style take on how to do a fully electric large SUV. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Wisely perhaps, Audi took its time in creating its first fully electric car. Ingolstadt sat and watched others battle with inferior battery technology. Only in 2019 did it act to try and redefine the standard when it comes to this kind of BEV and the result proved to be this car, the Audi e-tron. Unsurprisingly, it's an SUV, an obvious genre choice, first because that's what the world's most lucrative markets now most want these days - and second because a Crossover's high-set practical body shape provides plenty pf space to squirrel away all the electrified engineering without it intruding into passenger room in the cabin. The liquid-cooled 95kWh lithium-ion battery in the '55 quattro' and S variants delivers a WLTP-rated up to 274 miles of range and the e-tron drives, Audi says, like a car, not some kind of automotive appliance. Which is nice.
Electric cars may have come on quite a lot since you last looked. With this e-tron, there's a choice of three variants: most choose either the 71kWh '50 quattro' mainstream model, which offers a total output of 313PS and 540NM of torque. Or the '55 quattro', which offers 408PS and 664Nm of torque. Alternatively, there's a potent 'S' model with three electric motors that mobilise up to 503PS of power and 973Nm of torque. With the ordinary '50' and '55' models, you get an electric driveline with two asynchronous motors, one up-front and the other at the rear. They're electronically linked and together deliver 4WD. With the S, there are two motors out back and a big one at the front. With the '55' and the 'S', max power is only on offer in the performance-orientated 'Boost' mode that would decimate the WLTP-rated driving range (WLTP-rated at up to 212 miles for the '50', up to 274 miles for the '55' and up to 232 miles for the e-tron S). Which you'd never get near if you frequently replicated the performance figures (a 0-62mph time of 7.0s for the '50', up to 5.7s for the '55' or 4.5s for the S). Or approached the claimed top speed of 118mph ('50'), 124mph ('55') or 130mph (S). The development team just about managed to get this car to lap the infamous 20.8km Nurburgring Nordschleife race track twice at full tilt. It's much more realistic to think of driving in 'Normal' mode, which sees overall power drop quite a bit. Still, the performance on offer isn't bad for a car that tips the scales at around 2.5-tonnes. Air suspension is standard with all e-tron variants and the ride height can be adjusted, with the 'Efficiency' mode lowering it by 27mm and 'Off-road' mode (yes, there is one) raising the car by 52mm. The steering's Q5-derived, while much of the suspension uses Q7 bits. As with other electric cars, the low centre of gravity should help in reducing body roll.
Design and Build
There are two e-tron body styles, this boxy SUV which is our focus here and the sleeker coupe-SUV e-tron Sportback. Both ride on an electrified version of the Volkswagen Group's MLB Evo platform, the same underpinnings already used by the Audi Q5 - that shares similar exterior dimensions to this car. And the brand's Q7 model - that shares similar levels of interior space to an e-tron. You'd certainly know this was an Audi if you removed the badgework; design elements like the octagon chrome-framed front grille and the elongated rear lamps connected by a light bar fit perfectly in with Ingolstadt's current styling language. Inside, at the wheel, there's the brand's usual digital 'Virtual Cockpit' virtual instrument binnacle screen as you would expect, plus the centre-stack twin-screen infotainment set-up familiar from the A6, the A7 and the A8. As a result, this electric design shares the button-free uncluttered cabin feel that characterises the interior of those models. What else? Well like the Q5 and the Q7, the back seat is comfortable for two but not really for three. There's a decently-sized 660-litre boot. And you get an extra little carriage compartment at the front where the engine would normally be, though it's mostly taken up by the charging leads. You could put a laptop or a small bag there though.
Market and Model
The e-tron now comes in three forms. There's a base '50 quattro' 71kWh version, which costs from around £60,000 and is available in four trim levels - 'Technik', 'Sport', 'S line', 'Black Edition' and 'Vorsprung'. Then there's the '55 quattro' 95kWh version, offered with the same spec choices from around £71,000. And there's the more potent e-tron S, which has three electric motors and 370kW of power and costs £87,000. To give you some competitor perspective, a Jaguar I-PACE sits in the £65,000-£80,000 bracket. And a Tesla Model S costs from around £84,000. Audi also offers a sleeker looking version of this car, the alternative e-tron Sportback body style, which sells at an £1,800 premium over the normal SUV body shape. This e-tron has two party pieces, starting with its 'Virtual Mirrors' - a pricey option you'll probably want. Here, 'L'-shaped pods replace ordinary door mirrors and transfer footage of what's happening behind to screens integrated into the doors where door handles would normally be. It'll be a real talking point for your passengers. As will the optional digital matrix headlamps with their movie-style animations. Across the range, the Audi Smartphone Interface, Audi Phonebox wireless charging, MMI navigation plus and internet-based Audi connect infotainment services are of course included as standard.
Cost of Ownership
Electric cars are going to be able to go considerably further once someone designs a battery that doesn't weigh them down like a brick. This model's 95kWh lithium-ion lump may be current state of the art but it tips the scales at 700kgs - which means it accounts for nearly a third of the weight of the whole car, this model tipping the scales at around 2.5-tonnes. Anyway, let's get to the info you'll need here. Those battery cells can be charged using a 150kW fast charger to 80% of capacity in just 30 minutes - but good luck finding one of those unless you're at an Audi dealer. For charging at home, you'll need an 11kW charger, which can replenish the battery in 8.9 hours. The claimed WLTP operating range for the e-tron 55 quattro model with its 95kWh battery pack is rated at up to 274 miles, which is a useful increase on best possible 212 mile figure of the e-tron 50 quattro variant with its 71kWh battery. It's up to 232 miles for the 95kWh three-motor e-tron S variant. How close you'll get to the quoted range figure will have a lot to do with you proficient you get with using Audi's energy regeneration control system, which allows you to tailor the car's retardation depending on driving circumstances and road conditions. There's everything from a free-wheeling mode with no retardation at all to maximum regeneration that when set, really pulls you up (by 0.3g) when you come off the accelerator. When you're driving your E-tron with the latter feature set, you'll hardly ever have to use the brakes at all.
And in summary? Well if you like the idea of a mid-sized or large premium-badged large SUV but can't stomach the thought of such a vehicle's impact on greenhouse gases, then this e-tron model will be right up your street. It's a slightly more imposing thing than Jaguar's I-PACE - and from the next technological era on from a Tesla Model S. In short, you could imagine your top management colleagues being impressed at your decision, should you take the plunge, ignore a lot of more conventional but very desirable luxury machinery and decide to run an e-tron. We still think driving range will be a dissuading issue with some buyers though. In this day and age, you should be able to take a full-electric luxury segment car of this price and be able to embark upon a five hour round trip without a moment's thought about driving range. You still can't do that with this Audi. But to some extent, that's not Ingolstadt's fault; it's where the technology currently is. Given that, this is, without doubt, state of the art.