September 2015 will go on record in Volkswagen Group (VAG) history for two apparently unrelated events. Those events signaled a significant change of direction that now allows Volkswagen Group to be the most promising legacy OEM when it comes to electromobility.
These events were, on one hand, the Frankfurt Auto Show presentation of the Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan concept cars, and on the other, the Dieselgate scandal.
When faced with the perfect storm of negative press and falling sales that followed Dieselgate, Volkswagen Group made a rare change of direction. All of a sudden, the Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan (“Mission E” at the time) were no longer just concept cars for a distant future, but instead the first representatives of VAG’s newfound faith in electric vehicles.
Looking back, that momentary fall into the abyss ended up being a blessing in disguise for the German conglomerate, because thanks to that early (and forced) bet on electromobility, VAG is now the legacy OEM with the most developed and ambitious EV plans, and the best prepared to face the EV revolution.
All of this is meant to explain the importance of the pioneer Audi e-tron, not only for Volkswagen Group, but also for electromobility. After all, in 2019, Audi’s BEV (fully electric vehicle) was Europe’s 7th best selling pure electric model, and the #1 full size plug-in model, with over 18,000 units registered. That means it outsold Tesla’s Model S and Model X … combined.
Throughout 2019, many readers questioned: “But, how it this possible?!?!? Teslas are far better than the e-tron! … Why are Europeans preferring the e-tron to Tesla? …”
I was also wondering this, so I was really glad when I had the chance to try it for a few days as we headed down to a nature reserve in Barrancos, Alentejo, South of Portugal, to learn more about Audi’s first 100% electric model.
Getting inside the dark blue e-tron at VAG headquarters near Lisbon, I found it was a pleasant surprise. The big Audi showed all of its well known brand qualities — a plush design, a chunky feel, and more than enough space.
Well, this “yacht” is expensive, but at least it feels that way.
Day 1 — Lisbon—Evora
We left VAG HQ late in the afternoon, but because the e-tron wasn’t fully charged and we still had a highway drive to Evora, we decided to charge at a nearby fast-charger, and there we had a good surprise, because closing in on a 100% charge, the charging rate was still at 40 kW. (The fast-charging network in Portugal — Tesla Superchargers excepted — has only 50 kW chargers, so it wasn’t possible to take full advantage of the e-tron’s 150 kW charging capabilities.)
“Not bad,” I thought. “This way, it’s worth charging it to 100%.”
While I was waiting for it, I checked the owner’s manual to get to know the extensive equipment this unit had, like the LED Matrix headlights, driving aids, a head-up display, air suspension, etc., etc., etc.
With a fully charged battery and 306 km of electric range, we left for Evora, connecting the driving aids — namely, the active cruise control — since the e-tron was jumping to over 140 km/h all too frequently and I didn’t wanted to lose my driver’s license just yet…
Once we got to our destination, at the Evora Eco-Resort, we had about 140 km electric range, and knowing that the hotel had 22 kW AC chargers, I was sure to have the battery full again by the next morning.
Or so I thought. All 3 plugs of the Tesla Destination Chargers, which I couldn’t use, were operational, but the remaining two plugs for non-Tesla electric vehicles were down.
Like Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!!!”
Day 2 — Evora—Barrancos
The next morning, we went to the only fast-charger in Evora to charge, and while at it, we found that our e-tron could charge above the 50 kW rate of the charger. Even at 80%, it was still charging at 54/55 kW.
Because our EV already had enough range to get to our destination, and with two other EVs already waiting to charge, we finally got on our way.
With the Audi rolling through well paved, straight one-lane roads*, we enjoyed the e-tron’s strongest advantage, the sublime comfort that this vehicle provides. The immediate torque was more than enough to surpass anything that stood in our way, while the panoramic roof helped to bring some light and joy in, even as outside the sky was dark and rainy. (*For reference to our American readers, this area of Portugal is somewhat reminiscent of Reno, Nevada.)
Yet, every time we had a stretch of winding road, the e-tron’s large weight made itself noticed. The big Audi lacked the agility that other vehicles would have. Although, I guess this would have to be expected in such a vehicle — after all, we are talking about a 5 meter crossover, with two and a half tonnes. Physics does have limits.
So, when it comes to exploring winding roads, it’s best to enjoy them with a Tesla Model 3, or a BMW i3.
Back to the e-tron, we stopped at the Monsaraz Castle, and we went on an off-track drive along the Guadiana shores, which had plenty of foreign RVs and retired couples preparing to see the sunset with a bottle of (local?) white wine as a companion.
Once in Barrancos, we made our last and most demanding part of the journey, 12 km in wet dirt tracks, in order to reach Noudar’s Nature Park.
Using the “Allroad” mode of the air suspension, the e-tron went the final kilometers with ease, and even steep climbs with loose rocks seemed like a piece of cake for the Audi. While going down, it became fun to play with the regen paddles as we went along.
Speaking of regen paddles … would it be possible to have a “High Regen” mode? One that allowed for one-pedal driving?
On one hand, it’s understandable that Audi wishes to make the transition to EV as seamless as possible for its ICE (internal combustion engine) customers by opting for low levels of regeneration, but the automaker should remember those customers for whom the e-tron will be already their second or third EV, and many (most?) of them prefer high levels of regeneration, especially in urban environments. Something like an “e-Pedal” switch, like the Nissan Leaf has, would be ideal. Just a thought, Audi…
Once at our destination, we got the e-tron charging immediately on the 220V (only) available plug, which would take forever (as in, 48 hours) to have the battery fully charged again.
Day 3 — Barrancos
After a morning walk in the Nature Park, hoping to find deer or the occasional Iberian lynx (we ended up finding just bull herds and one grumpy wild boar), we used the e-tron to explore the whereabouts — namely, Noudar castle and the flowery meadows that surround the several dirt tracks around it.
Day 4 — Barrancos—Pulo do Lobo—Lisbon
With the Audi at 90% charge and 280 km electric range, we were ready for the longest stretch of the trip, the one that would take us from Barrancos to the Pulo do Lobo rapids, and then back to Lisbon to return the e-tron to Audi HQ.
In total, it would be 370 km, so we would necessarily have to stop at a fast-charger, so we chose the Aljustrel fast-charger on the A2 highway.
On the way to Pulo do Lobo, the e-tron’s efficiency hit its best, reaching 19.5 kWh/100 km, which falls a bit behind the 18 kWh/100 km that the Tesla Model X can do.
Anyway, we got to Pulo do Lobo with 20.6 kWh/100 km average consumption and 231 km of range.
The last hundred meters to the rapids included a very (very!) steep downhill. At first, I thought about doing it with the e-tron, but then I thought: “Naaah … If s*** happens, how will I explain this to Audi? Mmmm … I guess it’s better to go on foot.”
After returning to the e-tron, we were detoured by Serpa for a lunch made of local cuisine specialties, and then we headed off to Aljustrel to join the A2 motorway and fast-charge.
Once again, the e-tron charged above 50 kW (it got to 58 kW), but more importantly, it did it with a pretty flat charging curve — at 94% it was still charging at 57 kW. Then, it started to drop, but still, with 97% charge, the charging rate was still at 47 kW. With this being the case, it’s no sweat to charge up to 100% every time you fast-charge.
Heading back to Lisbon, the e-tron’s high-speed comfort once again shined. This is where the big Audi feels at home. It is a real highway cruiser, eating km in grand style. But for the picture to be perfect, it needed to have a bigger electric range (some 500 km should be enough, instead of the current 300-ish km). If the e-tron had that last piece of the puzzle, it would be the ultimate electric Gran Turismo.
Leaving the highway, the toll collector asked us: “Is this an Audi Q8?”
“No, it’s the Audi e-tron, a new model, fully electric.”
“Oh … at first it seemed like the Q8, but looking at it closely … it does seem different.”
This is one of the most striking characteristics of the Audi e-tron — its design doesn’t shout “I’m electric!” Unlike a Tesla, a BMW i3, or a Jaguar I-PACE, it blends in within the rest of the Audi lineup (which is vast). Its major originality is that it’s halfway between the brand’s SUVs, like the Q8, and the raised suspension station wagons, like the A6 Allroad. In this case, the moniker “Crossover” makes total sense.
This is a deliberate move from the brand. With a “standard Audi” design, the German maker wants above all to keep their faithful customers as they move into electromobility.
The upcoming Sportback body of the e-tron, which in some angles reminds one of an Audi A7 in heels, has a (slightly) more daring design, that could bring some new customers to the brand, helped by the fact that the Sportback will have a bit more range, thanks to better aerodynamics.
Also, the recently launched “50” version, with a 71 kWh battery, will be much cheaper (about €73,000) and could be an interesting option for people who do not have range as priority.
In fact, I guess that is part of the secret of the e-tron’s success — for people who do not have range as the priority, or have 150 kW fast-chargers in their vicinity, the e-tron is a lot of car crossover for the money … and it’s coming from a brand they know and trust.
- Space for passengers, big trunk and frunk.
- Ride quality and general comfort.
- Interior design.
- Driving aids.
- Flat charging curve.
- Multiple driving/regeneration modes…
- … But it lacks a “one pedal” drive mode.
- Poor efficiency: Range is small (real-world range around 310 km) considering the battery size (95 kWh).
- With a comfort-tuned suspension and being quite heavy, the e-tron is not the most agile vehicle on the road.
Article originally published on Blueauto magazine.
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