Marking “a new era for Audi.”
German carmaker Audi has finally, finally pulled the wraps off its long-awaited electric SUV, the e-tron. Making its global debut in the States, the e-tron is Audi’s first-ever fully-electric model (and not an ICE car with an alternative powertrain) and is aimed unforgivingly at fellow zero-emissions family wagons like the Jaguar I-Pace, and Tesla Model X.
Despite boasting relatively modest measurements (4.9m long, 1.935m wide, 1.6m high, or broadly similar to an Audi Q5), the Audi e-tron offers full-size limousine-levels of space, thanks to clever packaging and making full use of the all-electric architecture. With a 2.928m wheelbase, the e-tron provides ample accommodation for 5, and 660L of space behind the rear seats means they can pack a kitchen sink each.
Of course, the highlight of the e-tron is undoubtedly its powertrain, which Audi reckons is just the kick up the backside that the company needs to really get shifting towards green(er) motoring. There’s a 95kWh battery packed into the design, made up of 12 60Ah cells, sitting in a structure that was developed with crash structure safety in mind. And to aid refinement, that battery cell includes cooling circuits that utilise thermo-conductive adhesive and gel that fill up all the space between the battery modules.
That battery feeds power to two electric motors (one on either axle), resulting in a total system output of 265kW and 561Nm. Badged as the e-tron 55 quattro, the setup results in a 0-100km/h time of just 6.6-seconds in standard mode; The system is however capable of temporarily increasing output to 300kW and 664Nm for a few seconds, and when it does, the century sprint time drops to just 5.7-seconds.
But if you don’t bury your foot in the throttle incessantly, you should be able to do over 400km on a full charge (according to WLTP estimations).
It was in 2015 that Audi first revealed its e-tron quattro concept, and we’re glad to see that previous little has been lost in the gestation period between concept and production. You’ll find a large Singleframe grille up front which features active grille louvres that open and close to either optimise aerodynamics or improve system cooling, flanked by sleek headlights that feature a unique, segmented design to them that create a look unique to the e-tron. Beneath those you’ll find angles and creases that have been specifically worked into the design to funnel air through the air-breathers on either side of the bumper (to aid brake cooling), while the low central intake is used to cool all sorts of other paraphernalia.
We don’t often talk about the profile of a car, but the side-on view of the e-tron reveals a gorgeous physique. Strong haunches around the wheel arches lend the suggestion of a cat ready to pounce, while the roofline takes a less dramatic approach and tapers gently towards the steeply-raked tail. On either side just behind the front wheels, you’ll find charging flaps with e-tron badging on them, which hide the dual-charge system for the big EV.
Oh, and you can opt for your e-tron to forgo exterior mirrors too, instead using cameras mated to a pair of OLED screens inside the cabin, that you can pinch-to-zoom and swipe-to-pan. All in the name of aero. But at the rear, you’ll find a bold LED light bar with a unique T-shaped ‘cap’ on either-end, which we’re made to understand features some sort of light show when you lock and unlock the car, as is the way with all new Audis.
Step inside and you’ll be blown away by just how normal it all looks. While the exterior gives you hints and clues to the powertrain beneath, the interior really doesn’t. It’s all clean lines, high-quality materials, and familiar switchgear from other Audi models. This includes the new dual-screen infotainment system that was first debuted on the Audi A8, as well as the big limo’s steering wheel (which still looks a little odd, even in this application).
There is however, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit all-digital instrument display, which has been tailored specifically for its use in the e-tron.
While the cabin might not look futuristic, its packaging has clearly been optimised for use in this all-electric SUV. The e-tron lacks significant stowage space in the centre console, though there are plenty of cubbies dotted throughout the cabin that make up for it. There’s a new trigger-like gearlever here too, which also acts as a comfortable resting spot for one’s wrist when trying to operate the touchscreen infotainment system; This will prove handy on the move.
Charging the Audi e-tron is something that Audi’s spent quite some time sorting out, and we reckon they’ve come up good. For home-charging there’s the basic Charging System Compact option that’s rated at 11kW for Europe (which can charge up the car full in just 8.5-hours), while US-market chargers are rated at 9.6kW (which provides a full charge in just under 10-hours). For faster juicing you can opt for the Charging System Connect, which supplies a 22kW feed to the car, with full-charge achieved in 4.5-hours. Connect can be, uh, connected to the myAudi app, so you can monitor the charge rate & levels of your e-tron live.
But as the e-tron supports the Combined Charging System standard, the third charging option is fast DC charging. With a 150kW public fast-charger, the e-tron can allegedly be able to replenish 400km of range (or 80% battery charge) in just 30-minutes. Those fast-chargers will be part of Audi’s e-tron Charing Service, which unifies European charging networks and allows e-tron customers to charge up at over 72,0000 charging stations operated by 220 different services using just one RFID card. In the US, Audi will team up with Electrify America and Ionity Europe to expand Audi-branded charging facilities (including 150kW fast chargers), with a target of over 400 stations by 2020.
The Audi e-tron will be built in Belgium, where Audi’s existing production facility has undergone an extensive upgrade in order to accommodate the futuristic new SUV. The Brussels plant now features spaces for battery-module and electric motor assembly, but the modular production method employed throws out the conveyor-belt production line system carmakers adopt.
The e-tron is on sale in the US now from US$74,800 to US$86,700 (or $104k-$120k), with the dearest e-tron available being a 999-unit limited Edition One model, which features a Daytona Grey paint finish, 21-inch unique-design allows, e-tron Orange brake callipers, and puddle lights with an ‘Edition One’ light signature.