It has taken a while and the big hints have been dropped mercilessly but Audi has finally launched its all-electric SUV into a market that Iain Robertson describes as more than notionally open to conversion, although there is more to it than meets the eye.
Having received the great ‘warding-off’ threats from the far from quiet EV brigade in respect of battery range and its associated recharging anxiety levels, the upwards escalation of the archetypal EV is starting to appear unrelenting. Mind you, without wishing to kickstart another ball-rolling exercise, where my original concerns of less than five years ago (a maximum of 80-miles genuine range) have now reached 120-miles anxiety levels with several leading EVs, there does appear to be a near-300 level for those persons wishing to invest (heavily) in the latest top-end examples. Yet, in truth, I would feel much happier with a 500-miles range and more readily accessible recharging posts. The anxiety is now a less pressing concern.
Of course, some EVs are less expensive than others but, as long as the battery technology remains as costly as it is, entering the EV scene is still a list-price-conscious activity. The Audi e-tron in 55 Quattro form, with 95kWh battery pack, you see here, is priced at £68,020 (after the government grant is subtracted but prior to possible dealer discounts being applied). The larger and more practical, if not quite as high quality, Tesla Model X, which Audi needs to topple from its lofty perch, is £82,350. However, if you are tempted by the Audi, a Launch Edition version of e-tron is available for just £80 less than the Tesla. Coincidence? It may well be.
Make no bones, with the London ULEZ now operational and set to expand by 2021, with many other UK major conurbations following suit and the government pushing the market like fury, the EV sector is fast becoming a hot bed of hyperactivity. Yet, it is an understandably nervous market, which holds no surprises, especially when you are forced to accept that, while Tesla has been developing its recharging infrastructure furiously, Audi’s is virtually zero in the UK and is building glacially in its German domestic market. To be fair, the Ionity system to which Audi adheres has the potential to become much larger, not least because it will accept multiple vehicle choice…but, it is a slow burn and is not available broadly at present. Concern becomes worry.
Capable of a posted range of 249 miles, although a truer 200 miles is probably nearer the mark, the 402bhp, 489lbs ft e-tron power unit, which drives all four wheels using dual electric motors, through a single-speed automatic transmission, is capable of despatching the 0-60mph sprint in around 5.4s, before reaching its restricted top speed of 124mph. Intriguingly, almost as if Audi is looking out for our best interests, you can only access its maximum potency for around eight seconds, although 335bhp of it is on-tap for about 60s. Driven at street legal speeds, the Audi tempers a modest 134bhp to your right foot, which does extend its battery life a wee bit.
However, when you contemplate those headline figures, 402bhp in a normal petrol-engined car, which I appreciate needs to be serviced regularly etc. etc., would be capable of whisking it from 0-60mph in less than 4.5s and its top speed would not be restricted as much. Okay. So the electricity cost less notionally (it would be better, were it not fossil-fuel derived in the UK), but in sheer potency terms, tell me if I am wrong, I struggle to see any vibrant advantage. Again, okay, the Tesla can offer its ‘ludicrous’ mode (0-60mph in 2.4s) but it is not really practical, when you consider the reduction margin levied on the battery pack for indulging in ‘hyperformance’. When you take the list price into account, the balance tips in favour of internal combustion.
Naturally, e-tron is as quiet as a churchyard to drive, with the exception of a teensy amount of tyre noise, allied to a minor rush of wind and its exhaust emissions are stated as ‘zero’. The handling and roadholding envelope is very much an Audi remit and, despite the technological advancements, the e-tron feels pretty much the same as any other Audi in the A4/Q5 class. It rides sublimely well, grips like certain materials to a blanket and both stops and steers accurately. Yet, apart from a largely blanked-off radiator grille, because the Audi does not need conventional cooling, an e-tron looks like little more than a twice-as-expensive A4/Q5 model. Do not get me wrong, it is beautifully built and impeccably detailed but so too are the £40k+ lesser variants. Therein lies an on-going concern. As long as EVs are priced at premium levels, their uptake rate is going to be stymied, regardless of preferential lease rates and increasing residual values.
Semi-finally, there are still post-acquisition issues in respect of maintenance to be dealt with. While I am aware of a broader range of training exercises open to the non-franchised dealer sector, there are still one too many EVs parked-up awaiting mechanical work, because of insufficient and inadequate manufacturer support. After all, they just want to sell the things…if they break, well, it is probably due to consumer neglect, so they can wait…until the rest of the industry catches up.
While many of us have now experienced Audi’s clever digital dashboard, I would not give consideration to the digital door-mirrors, because I believe that however technically-advanced they might be, a camera and screen set-up is not a substitute for real mirrors. Avoid them like the plague! As to the e-tron’s interior, it is neat, stylish and every millimetre an Audi, which is a dependable safe ground. The e-tron is also packed with the customary gaggle of driver safety electronics and helpful technology aids and its connectivity levels are right at the cutting edge.
It is inevitable that a Tesla comparison will be made but Audi has performed a masterful task of reaching deeply into Tesla territory with its e-tron. When you come to making that EV decision, do consider your options very carefully. Due to various bodies rushing EVs to market, some aspects are not quite as clear as they ought to be. Do not get caught in an EV ‘trap’.