model. audi e-tron 55 quattro
as shown. $82,795
battery type: lithium-ion
battery energy content. 95 kWh
range. ~259 miles per charge
seats/style. 5-passenger SUV
high-speed charging. 80% in 25 minutes
at-home charging: 100% in 8-10 hours
words. Rebecca Lindland
photos. Rebecca Lindland
***This review first appeared on Forbes.com***
I’ve studied consumer acceptance of electric vehicles for the better part of eight years now, including over two years spent living and working at a think tank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. When Audi said they were hosting the global launch of the e-tron all-electric Quattro all-wheel-drive SUV in Abu Dhabi, UAE, I was eager to attend.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to host hundreds of journalists for an electric vehicle in the land of oil, the reality is the Emirates as well as Saudi Arabia need to practice oil conservation. Even amongst significant efforts to diversify the economy, every barrel of oil used domestically in the region is a barrel of oil not available for sale to buying partners, and oil is a finite natural resource. The sooner the Middle East starts conserving oil the better, for their people, their economy, and the land. Likewise, the sooner we get electric vehicles that are appealing to the masses, the better for our environment and emissions.
In developing the e-tron, Audi’s first priority was delivering a vehicle that is authentically Audi Quattro, with elegant lines, taut, highly responsive steering, AWD and cutting-edge technology, and the e-tron easily delivers. This particular offering just happens to be an electric vehicle. A modern and high-tech five-seater, the e-tron offers a very clear view into a zero-emission mobility future. And that future is delightfully, blessedly normal.
Utilizing a pair of electric motors, the e-tron is truly fun to drive, powerful, emissions free, and nearly eerily silent in its output. It has a towing capacity of nearly 4,000 pounds and a top speed of an electronically-limited 124.3 MPH, and a 0-62 MPH in 5.7 seconds. Not necessarily world-class, but certainly enough torque to get you off the line in short order.
While the EPA hasn’t released the exact range of the e-tron, (we drove German-spec version) the 95 kWh of energy, 396 volts nominal voltage battery should deliver about 200-210 miles for the German engineered, Brussels-produced crossover. What does that mean for typical usage? The need to charge just once a week if you drive about 11,000 miles a year, about the same as filling up a tank of gas weekly.
As identified in “Overcoming Barriers to Electric Vehicle Deployment,” a National Academies of Science report for which I contributed while living overseas, one of the hurdles to EV adoption is range anxiety, basically the fear of a dead battery with no access to fast recharging. But Audi has largely overcome that fear, offering a variety of charging options.
In the U.S., the first and fastest option is a high-speed charger, which will recharge the e-tron battery about 80% in just thirty minutes. These chargers are found in public spaces and Audi’s parent company, VW Group, is investing upwards of $2 billion in the next ten years to expand the network through Electrify America.
The second is an at-home option, utilizing a 240-volt household outlet, the same as a clothes dryer, which recharges in as little as 8-10 hours. The third is a 110-volt, which is a trickle charge and admittedly will take days versus hours to fully recharge.
Even for multi-family dwellers in apartments and the like, or for urbanites without a dedicated parking space, recharging the e-tron will only get easier as the infrastructure expands. While it’s still not the ten minutes or so needed for topping up a gas engine, recharging won't require a stop at a gas station and it’s not the hours upon hours for minimal range seen in earlier examples of EVs, and is more in line with Tesla, which set the standard for battery technology, infrastructure, and range.
With the barrier of range anxiety largely out of the way, the e-tron itself is a terrific, fun, confident vehicle to drive. While there are some visual cues that the e-tron is all-electric, including the lack of tailpipes, the reality is the vehicle looks and feels like any other Audi SUV with the sportiness and responsiveness of a sedan. Our European-spec vehicles were equipped with aerodynamically friendly virtual exterior mirrors which are not available in the U.S., but otherwise were representative of models coming soon.
We picked up the e-tron from Masdar City, a zero-carbon footprint city some 30 minutes outside of Abu Dhabi, driving nearly two hours to the Oman border. During this time, I found the e-tron to be comfortable and intuitive, with very little a driver needs to do to maximize the range and driving enjoyment of the electric vehicle. Although incredibly quiet, the e-tron felt like a typical vehicle from the very minute we set out on our journey to the very end nearly eight hours later, although the aforementioned virtual mirrors were challenging to get used to and not something I will miss whenever I get a chance to drive a U.S. spec e-tron.
The e-tron has seven modes of driving: auto, comfort, dynamic, efficiency, individual, allroad, and offroad. I spent the majority of my time in auto and dynamic, but ventured into offroad for a bit of, well, offroading, including sand driving and some light rock and trail driving. In auto, comfort and dynamic, the steering was tight, obedient, and predictable, while offroad was significantly and appropriately much looser.
Within each of these profiles not only does the steering change but the standard adaptive air suspension changes as well, automatically adapting to driving and road conditions. The ride height of the e-tron can vary by as much as 3” with the standard setting of 6.8” and lowering by a full inch at highway speeds. Venturing offroad increases ground clearance by 1.4” and activating the “Lift” function provides an additional six-tenths of an inch for “gentle offroad terrain” as Audi describes in its press materials.
The Quattro all-wheel-drive provides confidence in any driving situation, whether on wet or dry roads, sand, or snow. In fact, the low center of gravity of the e-tron’s battery, installed between the axles beneath the passenger compartment, provides the stability of a sedan with a nearly 50:50 load distribution balance.
Historically, driving an EV involved getting used to the feel of regenerative brakes, which tend to be harsh, grabby, and can even dramatically lurch a vehicle to a stop. This was not the case with the e-tron. The regenerative brakes, which provide nearly 30% of the 200 mile range, are again incredibly normal thanks to one of the e-tron’s unique features, which Audi says is first-to-market, is the recuperation braking. Driving at an aggressive clip up the deliciously winding Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road and back down again, I experienced the different stages of recuperation available: coasting, coast recuperation, brake recuperation, and the least efficient, hydraulic deceleration, when hard braking is needed.
Regenerative or recuperation braking is standard on most electric vehicles. “Coasting” is achieved by simply releasing the accelerator such as going downhill, while brake recuperation is achieved by depressing the brake pedal, ideally in a smooth and steady manner, such as approaching a stop sign. In both cases, the e-tron’s electric motors function as a generator, refueling the tank as it were, and recouping range. The actual wheel brakes are only engaged when hard braking is required. The e-tron’s onboard electrohydraulic brake control system automatically decides how to brake, whether using the electric motor, wheel brake, or a combination of the two. Thankfully, this is all blessedly transparent to the driver, a significant feat of German engineering, and contributes to the very normalcy of driving the e-tron.
I’ve used “normal” a lot in this article, deliberately, to convey what it was like to spend the day with the e-tron. If you’ve recently driven a new Audi, you’ll find the interior of the e-tron familiar. The driver-oriented cockpit, the navigation, Bluetooth, and other interfaces are all familiar. Really, everything about the e-tron is just familiar in a modern, technologically advanced manner of acquiring a brand-new smartphone. You may spend a few hours getting used to it, but by the end of the day it’s an extension of your hand. Driving the e-tron is much the same way. It just happens to be fully electric.
I haven’t always been very optimistic about adoption of electric vehicles, as they require a change in consumer behavior and mindset: overcoming range anxiety and recharging instead of refueling. Buyers readily adopt technology that is better than what they previously had, and up until recently, EVs didn’t offer a compelling narrative for literally 99% of new car buyers, even as people recognize the need to minimize carbon footprint. With more recent offerings, car manufacturers are launching EVs with fewer compromises, significantly longer range, and the ability to recharge in short order, overcoming range anxiety. Even for a bit of a cynic like me, the e-tron is an EV I am absolutely considering buying, and that’s not a statement I make lightly. But I finally see a future where EVs are the expected powerplant, not the exception. And that’s very exciting.
When the e-tron comes to the States in the spring of 2019, two trim lines will be available: the Premium Plus at $75,795 and the Prestige at $82,795. Both will have 255/50 tires with 20-inch rims, or more efficient 19-inch wheels with 255/55 tires with no price change. Eventually, 21-inch rims mated to 265/45 tires will be an option. If you're considering a mid-size SUV, the e-tron deserves a drive.