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First UK drive: Audi e-tron. Image by Audi.

First UK drive: Audi e-tron
The future's electric, the current's (sorry...) SUV - so here's an electric SUV from Audi.

 



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Audi e-tron

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Our first chance to try the Audi e-tron electric SUV here in the UK takes place up hill and down dale in the glorious scenery of north-west Yorkshire. How does the big Audi EV fare?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi e-tron
Pricing: e-tron from 71,520, e-tron Launch Edition from 82,270
Engine: twin electric motors, delivering 265kW (300kW in Boost mode)
Transmission: quattro all-wheel drive, single-speed reduction gear
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band 0g/km: 0 first 12 months, then 320 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 0 annually thereafter)
WLTP consumption: 24.2kWh/62 miles (e-tron), 25.5kWh/62 miles (Launch Edition)
WLTP combined range: 241 miles (e-tron), 227 miles (Launch Edition)
WLTP city range: 268 miles (e-tron), 253 miles (Launch Edition)
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 6.6 seconds (without Boost mode), 5.7 seconds (with Boost mode)
Power: 360hp (without Boost mode), 408hp (with Boost mode)
Torque: 561Nm (without Boost mode), 664Nm (with Boost mode)
Boot space: 605-1,755 litres rear; 60 litres front

What's this?

The Audi e-tron, which in the usual hierarchy of the German brand's SUVs, you might think would have gained the Q6 nomenclature - given that it does, on sort of size and price terms, slot in neatly between the Q5 and Q7. It's one of a new breed of purely electric SUVs: Jaguar got in first, with the incredible I-Pace, but hot on the heels of the e-tron will be the Mercedes EQC and then the BMW iX3. And don't forget Lexus has been offering at least part-electric SUVs for some time, now...

Anyway, back to the e-tron. Audi has used this terminology on A3 and Q7 models, but those are both plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). There's no such combustion-engine fallback in the e-tron SUV. A 95kWh lithium-ion battery pack, mounted in the floor for packaging and centre-of-gravity/weight distribution reasons, powers two electric motors (one on each axle for 'quattro' AWD) that nominally deliver 265kW (360hp) and 561Nm from the off. That's enough to punch the 2,490kg e-tron from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds. But a time-limited Boost mode swells those numbers to 300kW (408hp) and 664Nm, to drop the benchmark sprint to 5.7 seconds.

That's some way off the Jaguar I-Pace's performance from similar numbers (mainly because the I-Pace is 357kg lighter than the e-tron and it has almost 700Nm of torque available all the time), but Audi won't care too much about such things. Just two models are available, the basic e-tron and then a Launch Edition, which throws in a load of bells and whistles equipment as standard-fit; be warned, though, that its bigger wheels and extra toys affect its quoted power consumption and range (see Tech Spec, above). The interior is typically Audi-superb, with the three-screen array seen in the grander A6, A7 and A8 ranges, albeit adapted in terms of graphic displays for the e-tron's purely electric drivetrain, while it gets its own form of gear lever, which is a large fixed item with a rocker switch to control the single-speed reduction gear transmission. Outside, bespoke front DRLs that are specific to the e-tron family and a full-width rear light band are standout features on a body that is unmistakably an Audi, albeit one which doesn't immediately scream 'SUV' despite its considerable size and mass; the company has managed to style the e-tron to make it look quite svelte.

Perhaps its biggest talking point, or points (we should say), are the Virtual Mirrors. These are standard on the Launch Edition and a 1,250 option on the regular e-tron, and they're a feature straight from the 'How to Build a Concept Car for a Motor Show Stand' handbook. Instead of glass in a housing, a small, rearward facing camera on each side of the car is located in a blade-like structure sticking out of the Audi. Two digital touchscreens, located inside the e-tron near the door handles, broadcast each camera's rear-view and can be adjusted for scope from the driver's side, just like 'real' mirrors. They work very well and the resolution is terrific on them, but it's a bit unusual to keep looking at the door card, instead of the exterior 'mirror'. A funky yet needless gimmick, then, or a new way of checking your blind spot? Whichever you think, fitting them gives the e-tron its best coefficient of drag of 0.27; the regular glass items are less aerodynamic and therefore increase this figure to 0.28.

How does it drive?

The first thing to strike you about the e-tron is the steering. It's heavy. During the first, low-speed encounters with the electric Audi, you wonder why it doesn't have more assistance, as it feels pretty robust about the dead-ahead. This is the first indication you get about the e-tron's overriding characteristic, which is that it feels hefty at all times. When braking for corners, while manhandling it around curves, the feeling of full-bore acceleration in Boost mode - it's all not quite as sharp and as punchy as you might expect, and it's notably a dulled, slower experience than you'd get in an I-Pace. That's what you get when there's 2.5 tonnes of metal, leather and electric to be shoved about the place, and as a result the Audi EV SUV does not feel dynamic or exciting in the slightest.

Maybe that's why Audi didn't call it Q6 and thus confer any unintentional sporty vibes onto it ahead of customers driving it. However, the e-tron is not a disappointment; far from it. All the eerie yet positive qualities of an electric vehicle are preserved in the Audi SUV, so it whirrs off near-silently down the road - note to pedestrians: the e-tron does not broadcast one of those keening sci-fi noises at low speeds to let you know it's on the move - and has a seamless delivery of power through its EV drivetrain. The lack of moving mechanical parts also leads to no vibrations, so it's effortlessly serene during motorway cruising, where the only sound you can hear is a muted, acceptable level of background tyre roar. With well-calibrated controls and a lack of any weird feeling from the brakes as they're doing their best to harvest kinetic energy during deceleration, to drive the e-tron is wonderfully urbane, refined and pleasant.

It will therefore be perfect for short-use urban and suburban families, who rarely take it on long motorway treks. Admittedly, if they do and they can find a 150kW rapid charger, they'll be able to get 80 per cent of the e-tron's battery capacity back into it in just half-an-hour, but on lesser chargers (regular public points or a domestic wall socket) the Audi will need much more time to recuperate. And so, to range. Our test drive of the e-tron took in a reasonable cruise up the A1, before heading off into the majestic Yorkshire Dales. Thus, it was an up-and-down route not conducive to an EV returning its best possible range, and yet the e-tron managed 115 miles with another 78 still showing in reserve. Therefore, 200 miles or so looks doable, without you needing to turn off all the electrical drains on the battery or resort to hypermiling tactics.

Verdict

Audi's first-ever pure electric vehicle is, as you would expect, an accomplished effort. Its weight has a serious impact on the performance and handling of the e-tron, so it doesn't feel particularly engaging to drive, but it is quiet, refined and beautifully built. It also looks like it will get close to its official 241-mile zero-emissions range on a regular basis. It's therefore a solid start to Audi's electric future and an SUV that deserves careful consideration for the eco-conscious buyer with a big family.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 13 Apr 2019









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