Zero-emissions, all-paw SUV leads Germany’s charge to electrification

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For Audi, the arrival of its very first fully electric series-production model can’t have come soon enough. And unusually, the urgency had relatively little to do with the launch diaries of rival manufacturers and more with the wider well-being of the company.

Jaguar and Mercedes might also recently have put luxurious electric mid-sized SUV models, rich in zeitgeist appeal, onto the road, but Audi has other concerns. Its role in the Volkswagen Group diesel emissions scandal inflicted a good degree of reputational damage on the brand, and alongside helping to meet strict future average CO2 emissions, cars such as this week’s road test subject will be essential in repairing that damage.

A recurring design theme among new Audis is the rear light bar. As on the A6, A7 and Q8, it stretches across the entirety of the E-tron’s rear end. Suitably futuristic.

Over the next four years, Audi says it will put sustainability at the forefront of its product strategy, investing as much as €14 billion (£12.5bn) in electric mobility and autonomy. The E-tron, with electric motors made in Hungary, a battery pack from Poland and assembly in Belgium, is the car that kick-starts this revolution – and will, at least in the short term, define how the public perceives Audi as a maker of electric cars.

On paper the E-tron looks like a strong offering. Performance, range and price all look competitive in principle, while the E-tron’s charging capabilities are class-leading. Moreover, the designers have cautiously adapted the same instantly recognisable aesthetic that has driven the brand’s sales successes elsewhere.

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But where, then, does Audi’s most innovative product arguably since the Ur-Quattro of 1980 truly sit within this incipient but important class? Just how revolutionary does it feel out on the road, and can it offer the usability and refinement to justify a £70,000 asking price, or perhaps even driving enjoyment where many would still least expect to find it? Let’s find out.

Price £71,520 Power 403bhp Torque 490lb ft 0-60mph 5.4sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 2.3mpkWh CO2 emissions 0g/km 70-0mph 45.0m

The E-tron range at a glance

The E-tron launches with a solitary powertrain option consisting of an electric motor on each axle, both of which are fed by a 95kWh lithium ion battery pack that sits within the wheelbase.

Audi has yet to announce any further models in the line-up, though in line with its recent change in nomenclature, one might reasonably expect a cheaper E-tron ‘45’ to become available in the future, with less power, a smaller battery pack and a shorter driving range.



Audi E-tron 55 Quattro 2019 road test review - front bumper

Unlike Jaguar and, to a lesser extent, Mercedes, Audi has resisted the urge to endow its first series-production EV with a design that could be described as radical.

A fleeting glance reveals a purposeful face dominated by a large, hexagonal single-frame grille, and an expansive light strip across its rear end – both design features we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on Audi’s existing models. The more reserved mode adopted here will surely be motivated by a desire to coax more conservatively minded buyers into the all-electric SUV; a more outlandish one, though, might have given the E-tron more distinctive presence on the road.

Audi’s decision to install a charge port on both sides of the E-tron’s front end didn’t require any genius, but it’s highly effective. No longer will you have to stress about the length of your charge cable.

That said, the E-tron’s form played a crucial part in allowing Audi’s aerodynamics engineers to achieve their targets. The car’s shape – combined with a completely flat underbody, trick alloys, a controllable cool-air inlet in the front grille and optional camera-based wing mirrors – sees the E-tron’s drag coefficient drop as low as 0.27. The Jaguar I-Pace manages a figure of 0.29 by comparison.

This all sits on an adapted version of the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform. At 4.9 metres long, the E-tron lies between the larger Audi Q7 and smaller Audi Q5 in terms of size, but at just 1.6m tall it’s lower than both.

The layout of its electric powertrain makes for familiar reading. Two slightly differently packaged and powered electric motors, one at each axle and each driving through a slightly differently geared epicyclic transmission with a fixed ratio, combine to form the E-tron’s all-wheel-drive system. A 95kWh ‘skateboard’ battery sits in between the axles and beneath the floor.

Combined, the motors develop 355bhp and 414lb ft – but switch to Boost mode and these figures temporarily rise to 403bhp and 490lb ft. Under WLTP test conditions, this set-up allows for a claimed range of more than 241 miles – some way short of the Jaguar’s 292-mile theoretical range and less, even, than Mercedes’ rival, the EQC. Audi says that up to 30% of this range is a product of the car’s energy recuperation system, however, which harvests kinetic energy when the driver lifts off the throttle or presses the brake pedal via a segment-first ‘by-wire’ braking system.

Air suspension and adaptive dampers are standard, while a multi-link suspension architecture is employed at both the front and rear axles. Audi claims a kerb weight of 2490kg to DIN, with weight being split 50:50 front to rear. Our test scales put the E-tron at a hefty 2569kg, split evenly.


Audi E-tron 55 Quattro 2019 road test review - cabin

In a similar fashion, the design of the E-tron’s cabin doesn’t represent a great departure from the sort of architecture we’ve previously found in models such as the new Audi A6 and Audi Q8. But that’s no bad thing – those cars have all received praise for their levels of perceived quality and sensible ergonomics. And in the E-tron, much of the same applies.

Admittedly, our car doesn’t make quite as much use of the attractive brushed metal surfacing that featured so abundantly on the A6 Avant we tested last year, but what brightwork that’s included is complemented smartly by glossy piano black panelling. Cream upholstery lends an airier feel than some of its more monochrome rangemates, too. The use of plainer soft-touch finishes seems to be wider and more noticeable in the E-tron than in other large Audi models – and so, next to the likes of the Jaguar I-Pace, the E-tron’s cockpit does look slightly ordinary, but not so much that you would criticise it for any lack of premium appeal.

You could quite happily be ferried about in the back seats of the E-tron: there’s more than enough space back here. Four-zone climate control is a nice touch, too.

As with nearly all new-generation Audis, the dual screens of the MMI Navigation Plus infotainment suite are housed smartly within the central dashboard fascia and angled towards the driver. The dash-top’s stepped levels then rise above, within which reside a pair of oblong air vents. A not-entirely-convincing open-pore ‘wood’ veneer has been applied to the lower step, perhaps as a nod to the E-tron’s green credentials.

Like all of Audi’s larger new-generation models, the E-tron makes use of the latest MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch infotainment hardware. Fitted as standard, this set-up comprises a 10.1in primary screen, which is complemented by a smaller 8.6in display beneath. The graphical sophistication of both is highly impressive and the software the system employs is easy enough to learn your way around.

As before, though, the fact that these screens control virtually all of the E-tron’s features can make for tricky going when on the move. Still, haptic feedback does at least confirm your finger has found a part of the screen that actually does something. Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit is also included in the asking price.

The optional Bang & Olufsen sound system fitted to our test car is well worth the £800 asking price. The E-tron’s well-isolated cabin really enables you to enjoy its rich sound quality, and without deafening yourself.

The centre console, meanwhile, houses the smart-looking new gear selector and is operated with a simple prod from your thumb or forefinger. Pleasingly, the task of putting the E-tron into drive or reverse is a simple, tactile experience.

With the E-tron’s wheelbase stretching some 2.9m, passengers who find themselves sat on the rear pews won’t feel as though they have drawn any short straws. There’s plenty of space back there – our tape measure recorded a typical leg room figure of 780mm, with head room coming in at 960mm. That’s more than a Jaguar I-Pace can manage, if only just.

Boot space, meanwhile, comes in at 660 litres, which is also marginally greater than the Jaguar’s.


Audi E-tron 55 Quattro 2019 road test review - engine bay

The E-tron’s propulsive vital statistics wouldn’t have embarrassed a super-saloon a decade ago. That the car doesn’t quite perform like one has a lot to do with its weight; it’s considerably larger and heavier than the Jaguar I-Pace we tested last year, and heavier even than the seven-seat Tesla Model X 90D we tested in 2017. And yet still it feels a long way from slow.

Audi gives you access to the combined 403bhp and 490lb ft that the car’s motors make in somewhat qualified terms: you need to use Boost mode, which is only available with the gearbox in ‘S’ and the accelerator pedal pushed past the kickdown switch – and only then for bursts of up to eight seconds. Comply with those conditions, though, and it will hit 60mph from rest in 5.4sec and 100mph in 13.7sec – making the car slower than both the aforementioned rivals, but giving up much more outright performance to the Jaguar than to the Tesla.

Flick the drive selector towards you twice, for ‘S’, to engage Boost mode. This can also be accessed by selecting the Dynamic driving mode.

Tip-in throttle response isn’t quite as sharp as you find in some EVs, but it’s as good as perfect during roll-on acceleration. Single-speed gearing, meanwhile, makes the power delivery of the electric motors adopt that familiar, EV-typical character as part of which you get gradually less muscular responses to calls for acceleration as your prevailing speed increases. Nonetheless, having felt genuinely fast up to about 50mph, the E-tron produces a very urgent-feeling turn of pace even at motorway speeds, and keeps going strongly even into three figures.

The car’s battery regen settings are controllable through three manually selectable presets using the steering wheel shift paddles, as well as having an automatic setting that uses both navigation data and the car’s active safety system sensors to manage its propensity to coast or to recuperate as best suits what’s ahead of it. The automatic setting takes a bit of acclimatising to, but learn to trust it and you will find it makes the car behave close to exactly as you want it to, both on and off the throttle, with very few functional lapses.

The car’s wind and road noise isolation and its general rolling refinement are even more impressive. With electric motors that seem super-quiet and smooth even by EV standards, and very little wind intrusion to speak of even at long-distance pace, the car’s cabin is fully four decibels quieter at a 70mph cruise than a Tesla Model X, and two decibels quieter than a Jaguar I-Pace at the same speed.


Audi E-tron 55 Quattro 2019 road test review - cornering front

There’s a marked sense of disconnection between the size of the E-tron and its weight, this being an SUV that’s lower rising than most mid-sized options but that weighs a few hundred kilos more than most large ones. You can blame all 700kg of battery for that.

Still, it’s not something you are likely to detect in the way the car performs – and, provided the roads you drive on are fairly smooth – neither is it something that adversely affects the E-tron’s handling. Our test car rode on the standard 20in alloy wheels, and had a lateral grip level that felt more than ample, without quite giving the car a directional responsiveness or adhesiveness that you would call exciting.

It’s not distinctive styling or entertaining dynamics that marks out the E-tron from other EVs, but its rolling refinement and serene driving environment on smooth roads

It might get slightly closer to a pseudo-sporting mark on Audi’s optional 21s – but surveying the broader dynamic picture, most testers said they would be reluctant to trade any of the car’s rolling refinement for a sharper edge to the handling.

The electric all-wheel-drive system is cracked up to deliver plenty of rear-biased torque and super-fast vectoring properties – but in practice you don’t really perceive either. The car’s most striking handling quality is sure-footedness. Hurry it through a bend and you get a bit less body roll than expected, but still plenty of it, and a fairly gentle turn-in thanks to a medium-paced steering rack.

Then there’s an assured level of mid-corner purchase; a decent picture of front contact patch loading through the steering as you accelerate beyond the apex; and handling balance that never quite promises to become neutral under power but that doesn’t cause the car to head for the weeds either, therefore allowing you to carry speed easily and keep the car pointed where you intend all the while.

Throw an uneven surface into the mix and the E-tron’s understated sense of handling poise deteriorates, its air suspension plainly struggling a bit to contain its mass and maintain some suspension dexterity over mid-corner bumps. Still, for a car of this size and weight, the Audi does a creditable job of feeling wieldy, secure and precise.

If the Millbrook Hill Route were flatter, the E-tron would have emerged from it having given a slightly more convincing account of its dynamic capacities. The car has a fairly strong grip level and laudable lateral body control, both of which aren’t commonly found on two-and-a-half tonne cars. It doesn’t exactly feel keen to turn in, but is still surprisingly precise and nicely stable and obedient mid-corner with it.

There’s enough grip to be quite generous with the torque of those electric motors once you’re beyond the apex of a corner, too. The tuning of the E-tron’s air suspension and adaptive dampers doesn’t keep vertical body movement nearly as tidily controlled as roll, however, and once the car’s considerable mass is disturbed, it is rarely checked with much subtlety. But the car’s stability and traction control systems work well, and aren’t intrusive even under hard driving.


The E-tron could accurately be described as the first electric car that fully realises the potential of zero-emissions powertrain technology to take the noise out of a luxury cabin, and to put an abiding sense of calm and wellness in its place.

The likes of Tesla and Jaguar have made some progress on that score already – but only when you drive the E-tron do you realise how much untapped progress they left on the table. The car isn’t quite Rolls-Royce quiet, but the fact that, at 70mph, its motorway cabin noise level is closer to that of a Rolls-Royce Phantom than to a Tesla Model X tells you plenty. Wind noise is particularly well suppressed (and this on a test car that still has standard conventional exterior mirrors), and road noise is likewise kept to a minimum.

And so, thanks to Audi’s wider engineering attention to detail, those attracted to a luxury EV for the relaxing influence it might have on their daily motoring should certainly be pleased with what they find. The car’s comfort level, like its handling composure, is at its best on smooth surfaces.

Try to maintain the sort of pace you can easily adopt on a dual carriageway on a more testing cross-country road and the E-tron finally reveals the mass it’s been concealing, as it runs short on vertical body control without much invitation, and makes occupants a bit uneasy with head toss at times. Standard seats that seem a little bit flat don’t help to contain your backside as much as they might here, although they’re nonetheless comfortable – and betterbolstered sports seats are an option.


Audi E-tron 55 Quattro 2019 road test review - hero front

The recent announcement that BP Chargemaster will this year roll out 150kW ultra-fast charging stations at 50 sites should be music to the ears of would-be E-tron owners.

So far, the UK’s charging infrastructure has been woefully inadequate for more luxurious electric cars with relatively large batteries that don’t happen to be made by Tesla. Such stations will allow the E-tron to charge to 80% battery capacity in 30 minutes and fully charge from empty in 50 – far quicker not only than the 14 hours required with a 7kW source typically used at home, but also the 50kW and 100kW rapid chargers already dotted about our motorway network.

Audi’s brand strength is demonstrated in the E-tron’s residual value. Only the Jaguar I-Pace can get close after three years

Note also that, among rivals, the Jaguar I-Pace is limited to a charging draw less than 100kW and the Mercedes EQC peaks at around 110kW, though both could improve with updates. Tesla’s Model X, meanwhile, can also charge at 150kW, and already benefits from a nationwide network of proprietary ‘Supercharging’ stations.

In short, the Audi is right at the leading edge of usability among electric vehicles.



Audi E-tron 55 Quattro 2019 road test review - static

It’s impossible to judge the Audi E-tron without reference to what many will consider its key rival, the Jaguar I-Pace – the car that first brought an established European car brand to the luxury EV market last year. And yet in so many ways this new Audi could sit in a league of its own. It is refined and relaxing enough to break new ground for the electric car, and so practical, capable and luxurious with it that very few other similarly priced SUVs, electric or otherwise, bear comparison.

But it is also not quite a driver’s car: not, at least, in the way the Jaguar is, or in the slightly different performance-flavoured way that an upper-end Tesla may be considered one. While its performance and handling are both strong, neither is strong enough to eclipse the E-tron’s outstanding refinement, classiness or usability as reasons to buy.

A rounded, uber-luxurious addition to the premium EV niche

A day-to-day cruising range that would be tough to tease above 250 miles is a touch disappointing in light of what the very best electric cars are now bringing to market – but given the E-tron’s size, versatility and charging support, that’s still a very creditable result. And this Audi makes an even more creditable addition to the zero-emissions ranks.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi E-tron First drives