18.9.2019Audi e-tron review
Audi's e-tron has quite a bit resting on its shoulders. Not only is it the launch model for the entire e-tron electric sub-brand, but it also entered the market with direct competition already established with more on its way soon - that's still relatively unusual in the EV market. Having driven the e-tron on its UK launch, NGC now gets the chance to find out what its like to live with for a week.
Review by Chris Lilly
Performance is as you would expect from an electric SUV; brisk to say the least. Two electric motors combine to produce 265 kW and 561 Nm of torque, powering all four wheels. Grip is excellent thanks to Audi's quattro system, and the power available is good for a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds - though that's only in 'normal' driving. Audi has added an over-boost function to the e-tron, upping power temporarily to 300 kW and torque to 664 Nm. It reduces the 0-62mph time to 5.7 seconds, and is ideal for overtaking slow moving traffic for example. Compared to it's main rival - the Jaguar I-Pace - the e-tron doesn't feel as quick, which is borne out by being around a second slower in the traditional sprint. If you're looking for outright pace then, the e-tron doesn't quite cut it when compared to rivals. It would be churlish to say that the e-tron isn't quick however, and the Audi will certainly pick itself up and shove itself forward with some enthusiasm, letting the electric motors pull hard at just about any speed. Of course, the motors work brilliantly around town at lower speeds, with no gears to interrupt power-flow. It potters around urban environs comfortably and feels just as refined on the motorway. For what is a large and fairly heavy car, the e-tron has far more pace - and usable performance at that - than you would expect.
Considering the e-tron is a new direction for Audi, the firm's first pure-electric car feels very, . . . well, Audi. The suspension set-up will be familiar to any one that has driven an Audi SUV in recent years. The e-tron is neither supremely comfortable nor particularly sporty, but it does well in both respects and offers a good deal of composure to proceedings. It's set up as a fine all-rounder, excelling at nothing in particular but performing well across the board. Pitch the e-tron down a country road and you can feel the weight shift around as you enter the corner, but the car gives drivers an air of confidence, and as mentioned before, there is plenty of grip. In built up areas the e-tron shrugs off pot holes and speed bumps with ease, though it is on faster roads where the suspension performs best. It settles the car down nicely at speed, and offers a good balance of suppleness over undulations with enough control to prevent the e-tron bouncing around after encountering anything but the smoothest surface. It's a car that can deal with long-distances brilliantly, and that includes both faster and more scenic routes. For outright driving fun, I'd prefer the I-Pace, but the e-tron suspension set-up makes a lot of sense as a daily driver for most.
The e-tron is a good-looking SUV, with a relatively clean design but enough about it to distinguish it from the rest of the Audi range. The surfaces have a surprising amount of detailing to them when you really start looking at the e-tron, but it is the headlights and grille that really distinguish the EV from the range. Unlike the Jaguar, the e-tron is a conventionally proportioned SUV - the I-Pace has the looks of an SUV, but the height and footprint of a large hatchback. It's considerably more compact than the huge Tesla Model X too, and will only really go toe-to-toe with the forthcoming Mercedes Benz EQC in terms of conventionally-styled but electrically-powered SUVs. This means the interior is very spacious, and feels more so when compared to the I-Pace. Boot space is good too, and there's a load area up front under the bonnet. It's not as easy to access as offerings from Jaguar and Tesla, with a catch required to open the bonnet and a cover to lift over the load area, but it's there nonetheless. Occupant space is excellent, with oodles of head, leg, and shoulder room for four adults or when kitted out for a family.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
If the handling is familiar fare to Audi drivers, the interior continues that theme. Looking at the instruments, dashboard, and centre console, it's clear that the e-tron belongs to the same family of cars that has produced the A6 and A8 for example. The only real difference is the gear selector, which looks good, acts as a wrist-rest for the lower screen, and has a side-mounted switch to pick drive. The left thumb pushes it forward, and the index-finger back. It's a good set-up that's different, but still works - as opposed to designs that are alternative for the sake of it, but fail to perform as well as normal features. Audi's twin-screen dual MMI infotainment system is a good one too. There are few physical buttons available to users, which tends to require looking away from the road longer for drivers. However, Audi's haptic feedback mitigates this to a degree, with users requiring a 'press' of the screen, rather than just a touch to activate a function. It's a well thought through system, and looks great - as does the rest of the cabin. It's as you would expect from an Audi interior, but that's no less impressive, with the manufacturer rightly famed for it's excellent cabins.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Audi's outright driving range isn't as good as rival offerings, coming in at 'only' 241 miles. I use quotation marks as you can get cheaper, mainstream EVs with longer ranges, where once a range of around 250 miles was the preserve of premium EVs. The e-tron's range is still considerable, and more than enough for daily use many times over. On the commute - a 90 mile round-trip - the e-tron was able to cover the journey twice without charging comfortably, and still had range in reserve. Considering many drivers' average trips are less than half this distance, the range shouldn't be an issue for day-to-day use. Covering longer distances, the e-tron performs well if not exceptionally.
The range available in real-world driving doesn't get as close to official figures as I would expect. In all other EVs driven, the WLTP-derived ranges have seemed comfortably attainable, and tend to work out in normal driving - for me, with plenty of faster, motorway, or hilly work - as only being 5-10% out. The e-tron was more like 15% out, and that's without pushing the performance. As I say, it's still plenty for most, and the e-tron does have a benefit over its rivals when covering long distances, but more on that later. I reckon a reasonable expected average range of 190-200 miles is about right for the e-tron - a bit less in the winter and in excess of 210 possible with economical driving or sticking to town work. Over the 900 miles driven in the Audi, the average energy usage was 2.3 miles per kWh and often saw a range of 190 miles displayed on a 100% charge.
That benefit for e-tron owners mentioned above is the Audi's charging capabilities. It's ahead of the curve a little in the UK, but the charging infrastructure is catching up. What I'm talking about is the ability to charge at up to 150 kW on ultra-rapid chargers. This is more than Tesla currently offers for its Model X, and half as quick again as the 100 kW Jaguar has equipped the I-Pace for. You may not be able to go as far in the e-tron on a charge than the I-Pace, but you can recharge considerably quicker - swings and roundabouts then.
Putting the e-tron on one of the few ultra-rapid chargers in the UK at the time of publication, the Audi was drawing more power than expected. I plugged in at the Ionity chargers at Milton Keynes - capable of providing 350 kW - and the e-tron was charging to its maximum potential. Plugging in with a relatively low state of charge, the e-tron drew 71 kW in just 21 minutes. That's more than 80% delivered in as much time as it takes to charge an original Nissan Leaf 24 kWh - but with around 180 miles of range added. Charging tailed off after this as expected, and I unplugged after 29 minutes with 79 kW delivered, the battery at 97%, and very impressed. Charging is carried out via the CCS standard, found on the off-side front wing, though there's a second Type 2 connector on the near-side wing too. Charging can be carried out on AC at up to 11 kW, meaning the e-tron will charge almost as quickly as possible wherever you find a charge point - only the 350 kW ultra-rapids are ahead of the Audi's capabilities.
Other green features include a brake energy recuperation system that apparently recuperates up to 30% of the car's range, controlled via paddles behind the wheel or by leaving it to sort it out automatically. It worked fairly well, and potentially better than the I-Pace and Model S systems, but I prefer the outright control of the Hyundai and Kia set-up. There is also the usual Efficiency mode for more economical running, the air suspension will lower at speed for improved aerodynamics, and Audi is the first manufacturer to offer rear-facing cameras rather than traditional wing-mirrors - again improving aerodynamics. These weren't fitted to the test car, but I've tried them before, and didn't get on too well with them - mainly down to placement of the screens - but admit to only having a short stint to test it out. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 35.
Audi's standard specification for the e-tron is very good, though the list of options is extensive to say the least. Fitted as standard are 20-inch alloys, adaptive air suspension, quattro all-wheel drive system, Audi Drive Select with seven modes, LED headlights, leather seats, electric and heated front seats, MMI Touch Duo with 10.1-inch ad 8.6-inch screens, 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel, wireless phone charging, and a comprehensive suite of safety systems. Move up a trim level and 21-inch alloys are added, as are Audi Matrix LED headlights with Audi Beam, a panoramic glass sunroof, front sports seats, Virtual Cockpit Plus with two additional settings, predictive efficiency assist, and virtual door mirrors (cameras rather than conventional wing mirrors).
The e-tron manages to perform well as an electric SUV, though in a very different way to its main rivals. The Jaguar is smaller, more agile, and more efficient; the Tesla larger and with a greater range available. Audi's offering is altogether more Audi. It's stylish, beautifully built, spacious, and with great practicality - particularly when thinking of recharging it. The range is more than enough for many drivers, and with the e-tron badge set to become increasingly prevalent across the Audi range in the next few years, this initial offering shows great promise.
Model tested: Audii e-tron 55 quattro
Engine / CO2: twin electric motors / 0 g/km
Trim grades: 55 quattro & Launch Edition 55 quattro
On-road price: From £67,990 (inc. grant)
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars