Audi goes electric with all-new e-tron SUV

German auto maker introduces first fully electric models in Australia.

Competition in the premium electric vehicle sector is heating up with the announcement of pricing and specification levels for the Audi e-tron SUV and Sportback. 

Audi has released full details of its landmark electric SUVs, ahead of opening the online order books, with first deliveries to customers expected as soon as September. 

Available in two body styles and with two different battery packages, the e-tron’s starting price of $137,700 pitches it head-to-head with Mercedes-Benz’s electric SUV, the EQC 400, while the better-equipped and more powerful models are clearly targeting the Tesla Model X Long Range ($165,712).

Up until late last year the Model X had a clear lane in the prestige electric vehicle (EV) space, but in a prelude of the battle that’s to come, the German prestige brands appear to have finally got their EV big guns firing, with Porsche last week also announcing local pricing and a December launch date for its Taycan sports car.
 
The e-tron and e-tron Sportback have been years in development, having been first shown as a concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2015, with the first European deliveries in May last year.

Audi is no doubt hoping its twin-body twin-battery approach will give e-tron an edge over Benz’s singular EQC 400 model, which so far this year has sold 33 units. Tesla famously does not report its local sales but is presumed to be the premium EV market leader at present.  

Audi e-tron

The e-tron and e-tron Sportback feature what is essentially the same technical and mechanical package, with the former sporting a more conventional large SUV body style, while the latter boast a dramatically raked coupe-like roofline.

Both are sizeable vehicles, with Audi comparing them dimensionally to its full-size Q7 SUV, although unlike the Q7, the e-trons are five-seat only. 

Audi claims the full electrification of the drivetrain, with separate front and rear electric motors, takes its quattro all-wheel drive system "to the next level", thanks to the fact the system can change "as fast as a light switch," from front to rear to all-wheel drive as required.   

The elimination of a transmission tunnel also means legroom for rear seat passengers is optimised, while boot space is generous 660 litres with additional “frunk” front luggage capacity of 66 litres.

The latter is suitable for storing charging equipment, including the supplied 11kW AC home-charging kit which can be mounted at home or detached and carried in the car. 

Audi has also set out to eliminate one of the common hassles with electric vehicles, namely the location of the charge port, which can prove problematic when accessing certain charging stations.

Audi e-tron

The e-tron solution is a charging port on both sides of the vehicles, with the driver’s side featuring fast AC and ultra-fast DC charging, while the passenger side is AC only. 

As with any EV, range and performance come down to the battery, which in this case is a liquid-cooled lithium-ion unit that sits mounted low between the axles, improving the car's centre of gravity and hence dynamics.

Other nods to Audi’s renowned dynamic prowess are a three-mode drivetrain which allows the driver to tailor the performance to the conditions, and adaptive air suspension which allows ride height adjustment in a range of up to 76mm. 

Audi says the battery is made up of dozens of individual cells, designed to facilitate easy cell replacement, should the battery fail, while a comprehensive eight-year 160,000km battery and drivetrain warranty should further alleviate concerns in this regard.

Battery capacity and hence rage and performance of the respective e-tron models are indicated by the vehicle’s 50 and 55 designations, with the Audi e-tron and e-tron Sportback 55 quattro variants storing up to 95KWh of energy (divided into 36 battery modules), for a WLTP range of over 400km. The e-tron 50 variants, meanwhile, store up to 71 kWh of energy (with 27 modules) for a WLTP range in excess of 300km.  

In each case intelligent energy recuperation is key to the e-tron’s long-range capability, with the system activated automatically when braking or decelerating, and the level of regeneration also able to be manually adjusted via steering wheel paddles.

Audi e-tron graphic

Audi claims brake energy recuperation contributes up to 30% of the e-tron’s range; while the battery’s clever thermal management system is responsible for up to 15%.

Aerodynamics also play a big role in the e-tron efficiency equation with a super slippery CD value of 0.27 courtesy of EV-specific design touches like an active grille, with louvres that open and close according to cooling and aero demands, and a flat under-body covered in golf-ball-sized divots, designed to aid aero and direct airflow.

Unique wheels and an e-tron specific rear diffuser are other design touches but otherwise it sits firmly within Audi’s established design language, with the Sportback clearly the more design-oriented of the two body styles. 

Inside there's a digital dash and two fully integrated touchscreens with acoustic and haptic feedback. 

The upper 10.1-inch screen features navigation and infotainment options, as well as EV specific information such as battery charge status, range predictor, charging availability, and predicted charging time. 

The lower 8.6-inch screen has air-con controls but can also be set up with hot keys and favourites for various systems. 

Audi e-tron

For its party trick, the e-tron also boasts virtual exterior mirrors, the first passenger car in Australia to use the sci-fi tech.

The tiny high-tech mirrors are real concept-car stuff, featuring a high-definition camera that records images from outside the vehicle and displays it on an OLED screen mounted on the driver and passenger doors. 

The tech promises crisp, clear images even at night or in other low visibility conditions, with a heated lens to ensure water run-off and clarity on early morning starts. 

When it comes to performance, the e-tron 55’s 300kW/664Nm outputs see it despatch the 0-100km/h sprint in a brisk 5.7 seconds, while the e-tron 50’s 230kW/540Nm mean it covers the 0-100 km/h in 6.8 seconds.

Both figures lag the 5.1-second time Mercedes-Benz claims for its EQC400, as well as the basic Tesla Model X (4.6 seconds) and the rocketship Performance variant (2.9 seconds). Both Teslas also retain a decent range advantage over the new Audis. 

Nonetheless, Audi does claim the e-Tron’s superior thermal management system means its battery is one of the fastest-charging on the market, with the 55 said to be able to manage a 150kW DC fast-charge for a longer period than most rivals, while the 50 is capable of 120kW DC charging. 

<Audi e-tron

Using these DC charging options restores 80% of charge in just 30 minutes, or a full charge in only 45 minutes, says Audi, while both units can also be charged by the 11kW AC home-charging kit. 

Standard safety equipment contributing to the e-tron’s 5-star ANCAP rating includes eight airbags, and an extensive array of driver assistance systems, including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection. 

Other highlights include 360-degree cameras, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic assist, intersection assist, collision avoidance assist, turn assist, exit warning and tyre pressure monitor. 

An e-tron point of difference likely to catch the eye of boaties and caravanners is the fact the electric Audis boast a rated towing capacity of 1800kg, making them some of the few EVs on the market able to tow a useful-sized trailer, 

All e-trons come with six years of free public charging on the ChargeFox network, one of Australia’s largest public charging providers with more than 500 charge points. 

The e-tron also comes with six years of Audi service included, with an Audi loan car, and six-year roadside assist. Audi says all of its 42 dealers can service e-trons. 

Drive_MOTORING

A limited 70-unit run of special First Edition models in both body styles of the e-tron 55 quattro is being offered as part of the launch. 

Highlights of these model’s additional equipment includes the virtual exterior mirrors, unique 21-inch alloy wheels, orange brake calipers, Matrix LED headlights, black exterior styling elements.

Other items include the head-up display, 705W Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, S sport front seats and interior highlights, four-zone climate control, privacy glass, among other inclusions.

First customer deliveries for the First Edition models begin in September with all models available to order through the new Audi online purchase platform, at audi.com.au, from 19 June.