100% renewable, 100% electric. We test drive the Audi e-tron

Linda D. Klein

Audi has become the latest auto company to release a fully electric model into the Australia market, with its Audi e-tron SUV. Last week, Audi invited The Driven to a test drive for the e-tron, taking it from Canberra to Sydney.

First impressions of the e-tron. It looks flash. And that’s because it is flash. This isn’t a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt. The e-tron is Audi’s invitation to those already in the luxury SUV market to go electric.

This car is lined up to compete with the Mercedes EQC, the Jaguar I-Pace, and Tesla’s Model X in what is an increasingly competitive luxury SUV electric car market.

Before we go into the details about the e-tron, let’s take a step back and talk about the significance of Audi’s latest release. It’s the first fully electric Audi on the market, and Audi says it’s the first of many to come. In fact, 30 electric models by 2025. Audi sees the release of the e-tron as a big moment which signals the company’s commitment to sustainability.

This is partly because the e-tron release also coincides with a commitment to 100% renewable energy from 2021. This will be accredited through GreenPower and primarily sourced from the Capital Wind Farm precinct near Canberra.

“Our 100% renewable energy commitment, as a business, is in-line with what we believe should be the expectations placed upon us as a leader in sustainable mobility,” said Paul Sansom, Managing Director of Audi Australia.

“The arrival of our first electric vehicle, the Audi e-tron, makes this the right time for us to make such a commitment; however this is not the end by any means, rather just the start. It’s the beginning of our journey in zero-emissions motoring, and we plan to build and develop our contribution in the years to come.

Audi also notes that all e-tron vehicles are produced in Brussels, which it says is the world’s first certified carbon-neutral large-scale production plant in the premium segment. “This will be an important part of our future success in Australia,” says Sansom.

We started our trip from Canberra to Sydney early on a Friday morning. First stop was the Capital Wind Farm, where it was in fact windy. And at the top of the hill where we had our brief stop was located possibly the most isolated mobile coffee cart on the eastern side of Australia. We were glad to see it though.

By this time we had driven about an hour in our e-trons. There were 4 of us, each with an e-tron of our own, and accompanied by an entourage of Audi staff in a procession of Audi vehicles.

Unfortunately I did not have a model with the virtual exterior rear view mirrors (more on that soon), but I did have a sportback 55 model with a 95kWh battery. Who was I to complain?

Audi e-tron
Storage under the hood

First thoughts from the first hour was just how smooth it was to drive. This isn’t the first electric vehicle I’ve driven. I’ve had the pleasure of driving Tesla’s Model S and Model 3, so the quiet cabin that you enjoy from absence of controlled explosions under the hood was not completely new to me.

Still, I found the e-tron offers a new level of silence in the cabin. It was almost like the wheels were hovering just about ground level. Dips and potholes were almost unnoticeable. If peace and quiet is something you want in your vehicle, then the e-tron could well be your golden chariot. It’s very hard to emphasize enough just how quiet this car is.

audi e-tron
Image courtesy of Audi

Another thing that struck me was that if felt a lot more like a car. That may sound like a strange thing to see, considering it is a car. What I mean to say is when driving a Tesla, it was like nothing I had driven before in terms of the interior cabin. You could be forgiven for mistaking the interior of an e-tron for an Audi A6 or Q8.

And that’s the plan from Audi. The e-tron offers a more seamless transition from the traditional luxury car cabin. There are buttons, there are touch screens, you have a digital dashboard behind the steering wheel. For those who might not fancy transitioning from your traditional car cabin to a wheel and a large screen like a Tesla, then the e-tron might be a nice compromise.

That’s not to say it doesn’t host some impressive technology though. Without going through the entire list, these are just some of the features you’ll find in the e-tron:

A virtual cockpit with 12.3” display, adaptive drive assist with lane guidance, comfort pre-airconditioning system, adaptive air suspension, autonomous emergency braking, collision avoidance system, turn assist, 40zeon climate control, colour interior, Qi charging, Bang & Olufson 3D sound system with 16 speakers, a head-up display with speed, navigation and assistance information, 360 degree parking assist, and much more.

There was one feature which stood out to me the most, although I was unfortunately not able to test it out on the road. That is the virtual exterior rear-view mirrors. These aerodynamically mounted cameras transmit images directly to the OLED touchscreen located just about the door handle on the driver and front passenger doors. It includes kerb view, intersection view and motorway view.

Audi e-tron
Image courtesy of Audi

Audi says the benefit of these is that it makes the car more aerodynamic, and creates less wind noise, and it provides drivers with a superior view than a traditional exterior rear view mirror. The heated glass on the cameras ensures raindrops don’t get in the way, and at night it provides a much better glance at what’s behind.

After leaving Capital Wind Farm, we drive the 1 hour to Goulburn, where we stopped at the ChargeFox EV chargers, at the back of a pretty inconspicuous petrol station and diner.

Audi e-tron
Image courtesey of Audi

Audi’s partnership with ChargeFox means e-tron customers get 6 years of free unlimited charging on the ChargeFox network. This is a huge deal and something that would really excite me if I was in the market for a luxury electric SUV. Six years of Audi serviced scheduling and 6 years of Audi roadside assist is also thrown in for good measure.

What this means is that even if you are going to spend more than $100,000 on a new vehicle, the amount of money to be saved by going for an electric vehicle like the e-tron over the initial 6 year period is significant. It also goes someway to offsetting the sizeable investment of the vehicle, with a starting price of $148,700 going up to $170,000 for the 55 Quattro First Edition.

With Chargefox’s ultra-fast chargers, it took less than half an hour to charge the battery to 100% from around 40%. The range of the e-tron is of course dependent on the size of the battery you choose. There are two battery size options, 71kWh to 95kWH. Audi says with the 95kWh battery, you should get over 400km on one charge.

Audi e-tron
Image coutesy of Audi

Back on the road for the final leg to Sydney, I made sure not to miss the opportunity to test the acceleration. Electric vehicles are always going to have better acceleration over their petrol counterparts. But how does the e-tron stack up against the Tesla? Can it give me the ‘Tesla Smile’ I remember so well the first time I floored the Model S?

The answer is just about. While the acceleration didn’t leave me laughing hysterically, it did leave me about 100 metres ahead of the car that was next to me 4 seconds earlier. The e-tron Sportback offers an impressive 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds. And while it might fall a bit short of the Jaguar I-Pace’s 4.8 seconds, and Tesla Model X’s 2.9 seconds (in ludicrous mode), I can assure you it’s more than enough to effortlessly glide past your petrol peers on the highway.

Here’s a question. What’s the longest time you’ve spent driving without touching the brake pedal? I’d guess on a highway I’ve probably gotten to around 5-10 minutes without doing that. With the e-tron’s steering wheel paddle shifters, you can control the amount of deceleration using the regenerative braking system.

I timed myself at about 45 minutes without touching the brake pedal while on the highway. It may not sound intuitive, but these paddle shifters, which you’d normally find on a petrol car to shift gears, was surprisingly easy to get used to, and turned the car into effectively a one-pedal drive.

Arriving back in Sydney, with plenty of juice left in the battery after the near 200km trip from Goulburn, my half-day with Audi’s first all electric vehicle was over. So how does it stack up against its competitors?

When comparing it to the other luxury electric SUVs on offer, the Audi offers slightly less performance, but in exchange it offers a quieter cabin, and a very luxurious feel, one you’d expect in a $150,000 vehicle. Is it enough to sway customers from Jaguar and Tesla? That remains to be seen in a world of fierce brand loyalty.

Is it enough to sway Audi’s current consumer base? Absolutely. The 6 years of free charging, servicing, and roadside assist makes it an absolute must on your shortlist of upmarket SUVs.

Personally, if I was in the market for an SUV around this price range, I would not even consider a petrol car equivalent. When you take int0 account the ongoing savings from fuel and servicing, the superior performance, the way you can leave another car for dead on a highway with such minimal effort. It ticks all the boxes.

For those who may suffer from range-anxiety. Here is a link to a map of all the public charging stations in Australia put together by the Electric Vehicle Council. Don’t forget, you also have the option to plug it in anywhere where there is a power point. And there is a cable in the car to enable you to do that.

With Audi’s promise of delivering 30 EV models by 2025, you can expect more Audi electric vehicles to hit Australian shores in the near future.

 

Audi e-tron 55 quattro Sportback spec sheet.

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