Audi is the newest challenger in the premium electric crossover category that is heating up across the globe.
Its new E-Tron premium electric SUV, available in the U.S. early next year, will have somewhere around 230 miles of range and start at $75,795 for the base version. The top trim will sell for about $87,000.
The German automaker, the upscale arm of Volkswagen, is taking refundable $1,000 deposits, and some dealers say they expect the car to quickly be oversold, with some buyers waiting a year or more to take delivery.
It’s unclear whether that’s due to demand alone or to lower production levels as Audi ramps up its E-Tron assembly line in Brussels, where all models will be made.
Audi priced the five-seat electric crossover “very well” relative to its main competition, the $83,000 base Tesla Model X; $70,495 base Jaguar I-Pace; next year’s Mercedes-Benz EQC; and the upcoming BMW iNext, Ed Kim, industry analyst with AutoPacific Inc., told Trucks.com.
Though the price will drop because of federal, state and local incentives, it’s still an expensive premium crossover in a market so far dominated by just one brand — Tesla.
“Although Tesla now has a number of competitors for the Model X, our data show there is a tremendous amount of buyer aspiration for Tesla, so no one knows yet” how the competition will fare, Kim said.
Audi doesn’t seem worried.
The E-Tron is the first of 20 electrified vehicles, half of them plug-in hybrids, that the automaker said it would launch by 2025 for markets outside China. Audi also has plans for an unspecified number of China-only electrified models.
Crossovers in various size classes will account for seven of the 10 all-electric models to be sold in the Americas and Europe.
The first E-Tron slots between the standard Audi Q5 and Q7 SUVs in size. It looks a lot like the Q7, but with a more sharply raked rear liftgate and smoother bodywork, including nearly flush bumpers.
Its aerodynamics include underbody sheet metal, active grille shutters and thin side-view cameras instead of mirrors — a feature not yet available in the U.S.
It is the first of four all-electric models that Audi will launch in quick succession. The automaker is eager to carve out a leadership role in the electric vehicle market after its once-popular line of diesel crossovers was engulfed in the 2016 Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal.
An E-Tron Sportback version also will debut next year, with a sleek E-Tron GT sports sedan and an E-Tron compact sedan or hatchback to follow in 2020.
Audi expects a full 33 percent of its global sales after 2025 to be electrified models, said interim Chief Executive Abraham Schot during the E-Tron’s global launch event Monday in San Francisco.
The new global electric crossover was unveiled in the U.S. because it was designed with the U.S. market in mind, Audi executives said.
The first E-Tron — not to be confused with the plug-in hybrid A3 E-Tron on sale for several years now — is a battery-electric crossover with seating for five, a posh interior and plenty of cargo space, including a Tesla-like front trunk. It has dual-electric motors, the first electric version of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive and a 95 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. It also can tow 4,000 pounds.
It looks like a standard Audi SUV, only a bit wider, and even sports the traditional Audi grille, which scoops in air to help cool the battery pack. The automaker believes that buyers no longer want an electric vehicle to look wildly different.
Audi hasn’t released estimated range, according to the official Environmental Protection Agency fuel efficiency test cycle. It has said that it expected the European version to deliver “more than 400 kilometers” per charge. That’s the equivalent of 232 miles.
The European model will have better aerodynamics, and thus more miles per kilowatt, than the U.S. model because it will use the slim rear-view cameras instead of wind-catching side mirrors.
Audi aerodynamics specialist Stefan Dietz told Trucks.com that low-profile cameras offered a significant reduction in the Tron’s wind resistance.
Audi, along with other auto and truck makers, is lobbying to persuade the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the principal U.S. safety regulator, to approve side-view mirrors.
Because U.S. tests generally return lower range estimates than European tests, the Audi E-Tron will probably land somewhere between 220 and 240 miles when EPA estimates are finalized.
On a recent 350-mile test drive of a pre-production model in Northern California — from sea level near San Francisco to an elevation of about 7,000 feet near Lake Tahoe — the E-Tron clocked 175 miles on the trip uphill and 269 miles on the downhill return leg, said Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America.
The E-Tron powertrain — which will be shared with the E-Tron Sportback —consists of the battery pack, a 181-horsepower front axle motor and a 221-horsepower rear axle motor, each with its own single-speed transmission. A small portion of the power is withheld under normal driving conditions and released as a burst of energy in a special “boost mode” when more power is needed.
The system is capable of producing 355 peak horsepower in normal operating modes and up to 402 horsepower in “boost” mode. Torque output is a stump-pulling 414 pound-feet.
In boost mode, the E-Tron can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds; it covers the distance in 6.4 seconds in normal drive mode.
An electronic all-wheel drive system shifts torque from axle to axle and wheel to wheel as conditions dictate.
Because electronic signals are quicker than mechanical links, the E-Tron’s all-wheel drive “is the best Quattro drive we’ve ever developed,” said Joachim Doerr, an Audi powertrain specialist.
The E-Tron’s large, liquid-cooled battery pack contains 432 cells and weighs in at 1,543 pounds. It’s packed in a flat aluminum safety structure under the floor and between the wheels, giving the E-Tron the so-called skateboard platform now common among EVs.
It can be charged in about 10 hours on a Level 2, 240-volt charging system. U.S. models will charge at a rate of 9.6 kilowatts per hour.
In an unusual move, Audi arranged for buyers of its electric vehicles in the U.S. to purchase home charging systems and installation through Amazon.
Audi also designed the E-Tron with the capacity to handle Level 3 rapid charging at speeds of up to 150 kilowatts per hour. That’s quick enough to charge an empty battery pack to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes. Level 3 is the fastest charging system available today.
Rapid charging is not intended for daily battery charging but rather to enable long-distance travel in electric vehicles.
Tesla previously held the record for charging speed, at 120 kilowatts per hour on its Supercharger network. Porsche is promising 350 kilowatts per hour capacity for its upcoming all-electric sports car, the Taycan, plus a charger network to support that speed.
In the U.S., E-Tron buyers will receive 1,000 kilowatt-hours of free power over a four-year period at the Electrify America network of rapid charge stations, Keogh said. That’s equal to 13 80 percent recharge sessions.
Electrify America is a nonprofit established by Volkswagen. The project is being funded with a portion of the nearly $15 billion in penalties the automaker agreed to pay to settle a federal suit over its diesel emissions cheating.
Electrify America expects to have 500 fast-charge stations, with 2,000 chargers, on major transportation corridors in 40 states by 2020.
“We are merging the new world of electric mobility with 100 years” of Audi automotive experience, Schot said in unveiling the E-Tron.
“We think it will be a good seller for them,” Kim said of the electric crossover, adding that the real test will be whether the E-Tron brings new buyers into the premium electric SUV segment, cannibalizes them from Tesla or doesn’t do either.
Editor’s note: interior photo courtesy of Audi.