Audi’s EV push begins here, with its first full battery electric vehicle. There are plenty more following on, but we assess how the first one stacks up
On the road
On the road
The E-tron represents a seismic moment for Audi as it at last dips properly into the electric vehicle world. But the car won’t be lonely for long (see In Context, left), because a whole swarm of Audi EVs is coming over the next 18 months as the industry dives headlong into the next stage of propulsion.
The key stat with any electric vehicle is range, and the E-tron hits a figure of 241 miles on the official WLTP test cycle, which is a distance that doesn’t seem unrealistic with some sensible driving. Electric vehicles aren’t fond of longer runs at higher speeds, and the Audi is no exception as the range plunges quicker than distance travelled increases, but if lots of motorway trips are on the car’s worksheet, then an electric car possibly isn’t the right move yet.
But with a more balanced driving life, the E-tron can be expected to comfortably reach more than 200 miles between charges, which is up with what its rivals, can offer. Tesla can offer a longer-range Model X with more than 300 miles of range, but that’s an additional £9100 over the version that best aligns on price with the E-tron.
That E-tron price is a hefty £71,520 for the entry trim level, with the highly specced Launch Edition car adding more than £10,000 to that figure, although the good news is the Government’s £3500 grant applies to the purchase price, if not the P11D figure. It’s also worth noting that the Launch Edition’s larger wheels knock 14 miles off the official range figure of the regular E-tron.
Power comes from a 95kWh battery feeding an electric motor on each axle to offer four-wheel-drive capability, and it equates to 408hp, enough to get a car that weighs almost 2.5 tonnes from 0-62mph in a scant 5.7 seconds.
There is a useful AC charging point on each side of the car, although the only DC one for fast charging is on the driver’s side. It’s positioned behind the front wheel, which is handier than the nose for anyone preferring to reverse into a space.
The E-tron’s looks clearly place it within Audi’s family of SUV and crossover models, but if anything it carries the look better than any of its siblings, with a more squat, lower stance making for a stylish and reasonably understated appearance. Apart from the E-tron name etched into the chrome ring around the grille there’s little to mark the car out as an electric Audi, which is probably what EV Audi drivers are looking for.
The same is true on the inside, where the E-tron ticks all Audi’s regular boxes. It has the dual touchscreen layout of 10.1-inch upper infotainment screen and 8.6-inch lower climate control screen, but with the clever haptic feedback, where the screen clicks like a conventional button when you press it. It works well, eliminating the traditional problem of not knowing if you’ve hit or missed the switch on a touchscreen, although old-school buttons are more user-friendly to use when you’re driving. Audi’s excellent 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit dashboard is standard, complete with a new EV-specific screen that shows the driver what the powertrain is up to.
The interior quality is excellent, too, and there’s a huge central stowage area that houses the wireless charging pad, as well as big door bins.
Rear passengers will have no complaint with head or legroom, and the battery is packaged to offer minimal boot intrusion; the luggage area in the rear is a spacious 660 litres, well up on its rivals’. There’s also a useful storage box under the bonnet to stash the charge cables, rather than having to put them in the boot with your luggage, or under the floor where they’re inaccessible if you then fill the load area. That’s doubly handy when they’re wet.
Equipment levels are reasonable, although there is plenty of money to be spent by dabbling in the options list, which is a shame when a car already starts at over £70,000. The regular model gets 20-inch alloys, a seven-mode Drive Select system, heated electric memory leather seats, powered tailgate, LED headlights, and driver-assistance systems including front and rear parking sensors, rear camera, lane-departure warning and collision assist. The Launch Edition upgrades to 21-inch wheels and adds privacy glass, matrix LED headlights, front sports seats, panoramic roof, adaptive cruise control and safety kit including collision assist, town assist, exit assist and traffic sign recognition.
It also gets Audi’s undeniably clever Virtual Mirrors. Replacing traditional door mirrors, the cameras project an image onto the screen at the top of the door panel. The advantages are claimed to be efficiency gains that could be as high as 10% thanks to the reduced aerodynamic drag, and much better vision at night, where the screen does minimise the dazzle effect of headlights behind. But they take plenty of getting used to, as your brain adjusts to the different position of the screen and the difference in image. There’s also the issue of not being able to lean for judging parking, for example, where a little movement by the driver would change the angle of view without having to actually adjust the mirror’s position. One camera also briefly failed on our test, and the cameras will have a repair cost impact if damaged. They’re a £1250 option on the regular E-tron, but at this stage they don’t feel worth ditching conventional mirrors for.
The E-tron enjoys that electric vehicle punch of immediate acceleration and serene progress, although there is a noticeable electric whine under deceleration. The standard regeneration setting is also too mild; many electric cars will noticeably brake when you lift off the accelerator to recoup energy into the battery, but the E-tron doesn’t. You can adjust the levels using the paddles, but not to the level of some rivals, where most of a journey can be conducted without the driver even using the brake pedal, feeding more energy back into the battery.
Despite the big 20-inch wheels, the E-tron rides well, although you can feel it’s a heavy vehicle when it’s pushed into bends. It’s not particularly comfortable with swift changes of direction, and the near 400kg of extra weight over Jaguar or Tesla rivals makes itself known, and it feels like it has quite some momentum to slow down when you’re pushing on at swifter speeds.
But the electric vehicle benefits are huge in tax terms, something that will multiply next year. Compared with a £64,775 Audi Q8, a car that is just 85mm longer and has a 55-litre smaller boot, the E-tron starts to make a lot of sense. A 40% taxpayer will be hit by £799 per month on the 178g/km Q8, and £381 on the E-tron. But next year, when the new EV bandings finally kick in on company car tax, the Q8 stays the same, while the E-tron drops to just £47 per month, 1/17th of the cost. Which makes the prospect of top directors going into electric company cars almost a no-brainer. And the company’s national insurance cost over three years is £9922 on the Q8 or less than £2000 on the E-tron, while the fuel versus electricity cost will be around one-fifth for the E-tron.
So financially, the E-tron makes sense. Its range is acceptably long for most users, although Tesla drivers will benefit from a better public charging network, particularly around the pretty shambolic motorway infrastructure. Otherwise, the E-tron takes everything Audi is good at, including high-quality interior, understated elegant design and a comfortable driving experience, and puts it into an electric vehicle. It’s really quite expensive, but so are all premium electric SUVs at this stage, but for a company driver this, like most electric vehicles, make so much sense.
Audi has been using the E-tron branding for a decade, since the R8 E-Tron concept car (pictured) was unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show to showcase an electric sports car. The name has also adorned several other electric show cars before being adopted as Audi’s plug-in hybrid branding with the 2013 arrival of the A3 E-tron. It was sold until a WLTP-related demise, as was the case for several plug-ins, in 2018.
The second production E-tron model was the Q7 E-tron plug-in hybrid SUV, which launched in summer 2016. However, when Audi dropped PHEVs from its line-up, it switched to using the name for its full electric models, the first of which is known simply as E-tron.
But that will get potentially more confusing when three other electric models launch in the next 18 months; there will be an E-tron Sportback coupe-styled version of the E-tron, the E-tron GT saloon and the Q4 E-tron, which was previewed by a concept version at the Geneva motor show in March 2019. All should arrive before the end of next year.
There will also be four new plug-in hybrid models this year, with petrol-electric versions of the Q5, A6, A7 and A8 all imminent.
What they said
What They Said
“The E-tron puts a new stake in the ground for Audi as our first ever full EV, and we have pitched this car perfectly."
For business users who are perhaps setting foot in an EV for the first time it will look and feel like very familiar Audi territory, and it’s this pragmatic approach to the unfamiliarity of electrified driving that is one of the car’s greatest strengths."
"The EV aspects of the package are so carefully considered that it’s often easy to forget that you’re driving the first of four new electrified Audi models. For customers leaving their TDI and TFSI comfort zone, that’s as it should be.”
James Buxton, head of fleet, Audi UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
It’s useful having a specific under-bonnet storage area for the cables
Audi has cleverly fitted AC charge points to both side of the car
The wireless charging pad is neat, laying the phone on its side
...And one we don't
At best, the jury is still out on cameras replacing the traditional door mirrors
It’s got that instant shove that all electric cars have, and is classy and comfortable to pilot, but isn’t a sporty drive and feels heavy.
A range of well over 200 miles on the WLTP test is well and truly replicated in the real world, as long as you drive sensibly.
Decent interior and boot space, as well as plenty of cabin stowage up-front, make the E-tron a sensible and spacious machine.
Given it’s a £70,000 SUV, there’s still plenty of chance to add extras - our test car had more than £10,000 of options fitted, including some that could have been standard.
The styling is classy and understated, it fits into Audi’s SUV design family, but possibly carries it off better than any of its siblings.
Comfort and refinement 10/10
No complaints on either front. The car rides well and the only noise is that battery electric whirr.
Typically Audi, with high-quality materials used throughout. A big central stowage bin is useful, and it’s all a lovely place to be.
The twin-screen system seen in new Audis appears, and features the clever haptic touch feedback. The climate controls aren’t as easy to use as actual buttons though.
Whole life costs 9/10
Great residuals help with the high price, and the company car tax plunges to less than £50 a month for a higher-rate payer from April 2020. Plus the EV fuel savings.
CCT opinion 8/10
A good, understated, if not sparkling, first EV from Audi.