First Drive: Audi’s e-Tron Crossover Will Threaten Gas Rivals

December 12, 2018 by Jaclyn Trop, @jaclyntrop

Audi’s first electric vehicle, the 2019 Audi e-Tron, has finally hit the road, heating up a fledgling market for premium, battery-powered SUVs.

If the Tesla Model X and just-launched Jaguar I-Pace pioneered the all-electric luxury crossover segment, the e-Tron – on sale this spring starting at $74,800 – portends a surge in consumer demand. Together, the trio challenge skeptics by showing that an EV can travel hundreds of miles on battery power, provide the space and security of an SUV and still perform like a sports car.

During our test drive in Abu Dhabi early this month at Audi’s invitation, the e-Tron performed as robustly as its gasoline-powered rivals, handling a variety of terrain while whetting the appetite of the luxury crossover customer. Propelled by a 95 kilowatt-hour battery and a pair of electric motors, the SUV comes standard with the brand’s quattro all-wheel-drive system and a 4,000-pound towing capacity.

Audi has not announced range estimates for the new model, but its performance is likely in line with the I-Pace, which delivers an estimated 204 miles on a fully charged battery. (Depending upon the battery size, the Model X achieves roughly 235 to 295 miles of electric range.)

Nearly a Q5 clone

Despite its cutting-edge chops, the five-passenger e-Tron looks like any other luxury German crossover and could be mistaken for another midsize crossover – the Q5 – were it not for the discreet charge port tucked under driver’s side front fender.

That’s by design, according to Audi’s head of design, Marc Lichte. Radical change, especially for first-generation models, can alienate shoppers on the showroom floor. “We are a brand with millions of customers, and they have to follow us,” Lichte said during a media roundtable at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.

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Slightly smaller than Audi’s Q8 full-size SUV and slightly shorter than the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, the e-Tron provides enough head and legroom to satisfy taller adults and 57 cubic feet of space when the second row is folded flat.

During a day of driving Abu Dhabi’s highways, sand dunes and rocky outcroppings, the e-Tron proved smooth, powerful and eerily quiet inside and out. Assisted by a low center of gravity, 50:50 weight distribution and instant torque, the car uses paddle shifter-controlled regenerative braking to prolong its range.

On pavement, the crossover is capable of 400 horsepower, a top speed of 124 mph and 0-to-60 acceleration in 5.5 seconds. Off road, its traction-control system determines which speed individual wheels should turn, with sensors calculating 10,000 times per second. The e-Tron’s “Off-road” mode lifted the chassis 1.4 inches to crawl over obstacles, whether in the dunes or on rockier terrain.

The e-Tron sports Audi’s well-known grille. (Photo: Jaclyn Trop/Trucks.com)

The exterior showcases Audi’s hallmark single-frame grille and sleek, muscular profile. Instead of side-view mirrors, the e-Tron uses cameras that feed real-time video to high-definition screens embedded in the front doors. Once confined to far-out concept cars, the digital displays feel unfamiliar at first but ultimately prove helpful, eliminating blind spots and shaving a few inches of width from the SUV.

Comfortable day of driving

The cabin feels expansive and comfortable, even for a full day of driving Abu Dhabi’s roads and bumpy trails. Inductive phone charging, four-zone automatic air conditioning and optional massaging seats contribute to the comfort. The dual-screen infotainment system runs the latest version of Audi Connect, which includes a feature for locating and connecting to available charging stations and the brand’s all-new MMI touch response with handwriting recognition and natural language recognition.

The e-Tron’s cockpit (Photo: Jaclyn Trop/Trucks.com)

Though the $74,800 Premium Plus base model comes generously equipped, the e-Tron’s upper trims provide additional luxuries. Starting at $81,800, the Prestige trim adds a head-up display, massaging seats, Audi’s full suite of driver-assistance features and dual-pane windows for an even quieter cabin. The top-of-the-line First Edition trim, which begins at $86,700, includes 21-inch wheels and night vision.

Analysts expect the e-Tron, along with the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz EQ C and BMW iNext, to help spark demand for midsize luxury electric crossovers.

Sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. are projected to make up 6 percent of the new-vehicle market by 2025, up from 1 percent today, according to analytics firm IHS Markit. More than half of those will be SUVs.

“In some cases, the electric SUV can become the primary vehicle in certain households, because it can accommodate more passengers and feature more utility space,” said Devin Lindsay, an analyst with IHS Markit.

Automakers are investing billions in the ramp-up. Audi pledged to deliver a dozen fully electric models within the next seven years, while parent Volkswagen Group is investing $48 billion to build more than two dozen electrified models by 2023. Audi’s sister brand Porsche has $7.4 billion earmarked to electrify half of its portfolio by 2025.

BMW plans to offer 25 hybrid and electric vehicles by 2025.

Early signs are promising: Audi sold all 999 of its limited-build First Edition models for the U.S. market within hours of the e-Tron’s public launch in September.

Charging stations

To eliminate range anxiety, Audi is partnering with Electrify America, a Reston, Va.-based EV charging network slated to include 300 highway locations and 650 metro locations by the end of 2019. The network will offer DC fast-charging capability of 150 and 350 kW. The high-speed public charging stations can charge up to 80 percent of the e-Tron’s battery in a half hour.

Audi said the highway chargers will be located an average of 70 miles apart, with no stations more than 120 miles apart. Electrify America’s app provides real-time charging information to show which stations are available.

The partnership also provides e-Tron customers with 1,000 kilowatt-hours of charging over four years, equivalent to about 2,000 miles of driving, and around-the-clock customer support.

Amazon, another partner, will provide e-Tron buyers upfront pricing to install 240-volt home-charging setups in their garages. Customers also can charge their vehicle’s batteries using a standard 120-volt household outlet.

“We believe we have a very good formula that checks all the boxes,” said Audi spokesman Mark Dahncke.

Read Next: First Drive: Jaguar’s i-Pace Is Poised to Disrupt Tesla’s Dominance

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One Response

  1. Aye kaye

    Very poorly written article, obviously biased against tesla. An all AMERICAN company that is killing the market.

    So this article keeps in line with other recent articles about audi and jaguar. So great Yada Yada and tesla so bad.

    Where to begin?

    First, I own a model x and love it!
    Second, both audi and jag are beautiful cars.

    1. Now, these articles, this one included all tout 4000 towing for audi. Great! model X tesla has a 5000 pound towing capacity. Why no mention anywhere?

    2. There is no charging infrastructure!
    No mention of both the jag and audi being city cars. Where are you going to drive them? A bit over 200 mile ranges. Audi is expected to be much lower than the promised figure of 240…. Given highway speeds it’s not even enough to get from Philly to NYC.

    Tesla has a very very robust supercharger network. Thousands of chargers. Everywhere.

    Yes yes. I keep hearing of this new VW electrifying America stuff. Hearing it for years. They finally built one. ONE! Somewhere in US. When it’s built then let’s talk. Until then and for many years to come it’s tesla. This article says 2019 lol. Yeah right. Let’s see it.

    3. The battery efficiency is horrible!
    90 and 95 kwh batteries. Less mileage than teslas 75kwh battery.

    4. AUTOPILOT! No where does it mention that teslas have been driving themselves, sitting in gridlock traffic, coasting on highways and side roads, all by themselves on autopilot. Yes the driver needs to pay attention but it’s such an incredible feature.

    Oh audi a8 MIGHT come out with their traffic jam thing. Great! Upto 35mph. Lol. Good job! And jag forget about it.. Nudging even close.

    No mention of that anywhere…

    Is it that hard to have an unbiased article? Mention the good things of audi and jag. But give tesla credit where it’s due. Please.

    Oh and little other things. Model X doors close and open automatically. Yup no more reaching and opening or closing doors. Huge super sensitive touch screen. Over the air updates. Constantly improving car.

    Reply

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