If you’re reading CleanTechnica, then you probably know all about the Audi e-tron. After all, this is the German automaker’s big push into all-electric mobility. It’s an easy-to-live-with electric SUV that should appeal to any Audi fan, and it’s proof positive that Audi is trying to woo ICE drivers into the electric fold without any big compromise. If you like electric vehicles — and we assume our readers do — then strategies like this are what will make driving electric the norm, someday.
With all of this in mind, I won’t rehash too many e-tron basics here. I recently returned from spending a few hours in the sleek SUV in the mountains between Napa and Lake Tahoe, and wanted to go through some thoughts on how the e-tron is well suited for turning new buyers — especially new Audi drivers — into EV fans.
I’ve been able to drive the e-tron twice, one day in the dry, hot desert and one day going up and down snowy mountains. Both trips were uneventful in the best way, since the e-tron handled both sandy and wet surfaces without trouble. Audi engineers knew that they couldn’t offer potential buyers an EV that’s anything less than what they’d expect from a gas-powered SUV, which is why the e-tron has a four-wheel drive (quattro) — thanks to a motor on each axle (a 165-kW unit on the rear axle and a 135-kW unit on the front) for a total of 355 horsepower (402 in boost mode). That’s enough oomph for a 5.5-second 0–60 time (again, with boost engaged) and a top speed of 124 miles per hour.
But those track numbers don’t much matter on the highway, which is where the e-tron performs just about perfectly. This is not a surprise whatsoever. Audi has proven that the e-tron can handle off-road driving with official test drives in Namibia and Abu Dhabi, but the beast feels right at home on the boring, multi-lane highways where it will likely spend most of its time. The at-home feeling is intensified if you turn all of the nanny features on so that the e-tron will do its best to protect you from an accident. Standard safety features on the e-tron include pre sense basic (rear and city), side assist with rear cross traffic assist, and lane departure warning. Optional safety features are adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, active lane assist, and traffic sign recognition. An air suspension with five different modes is also standard.
Once off the highway and on the more exciting mountain roads east of Sacramento, the e-tron didn’t skip a beat, but it also didn’t feel like it was in its natural environment. The all-season tires and quattro system handled the unexpected (for mid-May) sudden snowfall and wet surfaces, but even on the dry corners at lower elevations, the e-tron felt heavy. Not too heavy to scare away your average SUV shopper, but enough to notice. Again, it’s not a surprise, since it’s impossible to hide that much battery weight in a midsize CUV.
Speaking of the battery, the e-tron has a range of 204 miles. An EV’s range in relation to whether it makes sense to buy is going to be a point of discussion and contention for probably another decade, at least, but this distance is more than enough for most people on most days. Now, could a Tesla with 250+ miles or the Jaguar I-PACE with 234 miles of range attract more attention? Sure, but for anyone who remembers the heady days of the first-gen Nissan Leaf or the GM EV1, these numbers sure feel like people are quibbling over the last piece of a delicious cake. That doesn’t mean range questions aren’t important – and I’d wager that many Audi shoppers DON’T remember those old EV days — but I believe that having at least 200 miles gives Audi salespeople a strong talking point when selling the e-tron. What they do with that information remains a big point of uncertainty, but it sure seems like an eager salesperson has the tools to succeed here.
The e-tron will start at $74,800 in the Premium Plus trim and $81,800 for the Prestige trim. That’s not nothing, but Audis are not exactly cheap no matter what powertrain they use. To wit, let’s compare the e-tron to its closest gas-powered Audi relatives, the Q5 and the Q7. These SUVs start at $42,950 and $53,550, respectively. A difference of over $30,000 is real, but when you look at the comparable trim levels (always a favorite tactic of automakers), you get MSRPs of $49,950 (Q5) and $56,900 (Q7) for the Premium Plus levels. Figure in the $7,500 federal tax credit, which will drop the e-tron Premium Plus trim down to $67,380, and you’re looking at a more modest difference of just over $10,000 for the Q7. Again, this isn’t zero, but it seems well within the means of someone considering a new Audi. You can even spec out a Q7 to over $93,000, which makes the Prestige trim e-tron a bargain by comparison. My point is, the price of the e-tron seems reasonable for the target customer.
4.) Refueling. I mean, charging.
To introduce e-tron drivers to fast charging, Audi is giving 1,000 kWh of charging at Electrify America DC stations within the first four years of e-tron ownership. That means, at most, 10½ charges of the 95-kWh battery over the 48 months. This isn’t a lot, but with 200+ miles in a full pack and the ease of home or work charging, it seems like a decent compromise. It’s not as good as Nissan’s No Charge To Charge (which gives new Leaf buyers two years of free DC charging at participating stations), but it’s only part of how Audi is helping new EV drivers go electric. Audi is also partnering with Amazon to get buyers a home charger installed, with the online retailer handling the vetting of the installers and scheduling a time for them to come and install your level-2 charger. You have to have your own, but — hey, look at that — Amazon will sell you one. (To be fair, Nissan does something similar with Amazon.)
While you’re on the road, the e-tron’s navigation system offers a dynamic map showing you a blue ring that encloses the distance the car can go with the current state of charge in the battery. The nav system is also tied into networked DC fast chargers run by Electrify America* to tell you when and for how long you’ll have to get some on-the-go charging to reach your destination. (*The group that was created in the settlement of VW’s dieselgate scandal to promote electric vehicles. VW AG owns the Audi brand.)
5.) Infotainment and technology.
There’s really no difference between the high-tech features in the e-tron and those found in any other new Audi. From Amazon Alexa to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to Virtual Cockpit Plus, it’s all here. Audi has debuted one new feature in the e-tron, the Integrated Toll Module, which will make driving on toll roads a bit easier. The ITM uses one payment account to pay for tolls across the U.S. While the e-tron gets ITM first, it will be rolling out to other models soon.
From the outside, there are no obvious clues to the general passerby that the e-tron is an electric car. If you know what to look for, you’ll see a grill that’s closed off (since the powertrain doesn’t need as much airflow) and the charge port subtly placed just in front of the driver’s side door. But if you just glance at an e-tron next to a Q5, say, you’ll be hard pressed to point out any major differences. This is a good thing, I believe, since — again — Audi wants to attract luxury car buyers to try driving electric, not make a statement that EVs have to look any particular way.
Audi didn’t really set out to design the best EV possible. It set out to make a solid, easy-to-drive electric vehicle that would appeal to someone considering a Q, a Q5 or a gas/diesel SUV from another brand. For these potential new EV recruits, gobs of instant torque are not as important as a reasonable range, Audi’s quiet luxury, and a smooth transition to zero-emission motoring. If I’m right, then Audi’s about to show the EV world a smart way to increase the size of the EV pie, not just cut itself a larger slice.
Another CleanTechnica review of the e-tron: The Future Is Now: The Audi e-tron In Perspective