First Drive: Audi e-Tron is a Road Warrior

June 07, 2019 by John O'Dell

EVs don’t like cold or wet. Rain messes with aerodynamics. Cold diminishes battery performance, slashing EV range.

Imagine the consternation in corporate circles when it both rained and snowed three weeks ago on the day Audi introduced the U.S. version of the 2019 e-Tron crossover.

The drive already was designed to stress the EV with a battery-draining climb of more than 7,500 feet from California’s Napa Valley to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.

It could have been a debacle. Instead, the drive showcased Audi’s first all-electric model. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow, even combined with the steep climb, deterred the all-wheel drive e-Tron.

2019 Audi e-Tron

Snow-slicked roads were no problem for the e-Tron’s electronic all-wheel drive. (Photo: John O’Dell/Trucks.com)

The Audi has an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 204 miles per charge. Cold and a steep climb lower that range. But we never feared being stranded. The e-Tron has a speedy charging system, and the route included a topping-up stop before we began the ascent to South Lake Tahoe.

ON THE ROAD

The 178-mile course included rain-slicked roads that became covered with a thin dusting of snow as we approached Lake Tahoe. The e-Tron’s electronic all-wheel drive system proved itself equal to the well-regarded mechanical system on Audi’s non-electric models.

The e-Tron has dual motors, one at each axle. They produce a combined 355 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque in normal operation. Extra pressure on the accelerator will boost that to 402 horsepower and 490 pound-feet for a burst of up to eight seconds.

Audi rates the e-Tron at 5.5 seconds for a 0-60 mpg dash in boost mode.

Though pretty numb in the feedback department, the eTron’s electric steering was accurate and took the crossover where it was pointed. The plush cabin was comfortable and exceptionally quiet.

Standard air suspension made for a smooth ride with little body roll on even the tightest curves. It will raise the e-Tron up to 2 inches for off-road travel. It automatically lowers the e-Tron an inch at highway speed to improve aerodynamics.

The 1,500-pound battery pack is placed beneath the floor to lower the center of gravity and improve stability.

UTILITY

The e-Tron can tow up to 4,000 pounds. Among competing luxury electric crossovers, Jaguar’s I-Pace isn’t rated for towing, and Tesla’s Model X can pull 5,000 pounds. Mercedes-Benz hasn’t revealed hauling capabilities for its upcoming EQC electric crossover.

2019 Audi e-Tron

The midsize e-Tron’s cargo hold can handle a dozen carry-ons and doubles in size when the rear seat backs are folded down. (Photo: John O’Dell/Trucks.com)

A panoramic sunroof eats up more than an inch of headroom, but there’s still plenty of space inside for five.

Cargo space is a generous 28.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, enough to stack a dozen airline carry-ons. It swells to 57 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.

WHO’S IT FOR?

Audi needs the e-Tron to succeed. It is the first of a string of electric and plug-in hybrid models the company is bringing to market over the next half-decade. The road will be rough if its first model fails to satisfy.

The 2019 Audi e-Tron is designed primarily to pull part of the automaker’s customer base into the EV world. Audi also hopes to attract some of the growing number of car buyers shunning sedans for the spaciousness of SUVs and crossovers.

HOW MUCH, AND WHEN?

The base e-Tron Premium Plus starts at $75,795 before incentives. That’s halfway between the $70,495 I-Pace and the $81,000 Model X Standard Range.

The Prestige trim starts at $82,795. Prices include Audi’s mandatory $995 destination charge. There are a handful of options – notably a $2,850 package that gives the base model most of the Prestige’s advanced safety features.

The e-Tron qualifies for the full federal income tax credit of up to $7,500, making the cost comparable to the base Q8. State and local incentives can shave off a few thousand dollars more for those who live where they are available.

The e-Tron is on sale now in all 50 states, but customers have to order their cars. Delivery speed depends on color and equipment choices.

HOW IT LOOKS

In the Audi lineup, the e-Tron slots just below the Q8 crossover, with which it shares a lot of its sporty looks. That includes muscular rear haunches and a slightly raked roofline. The e-Tron is first and foremost an Audi. The company took pains to avoid an overt “I’m electric!” design.

2019 Audi e-Tron

The design is all Audi, with few tell-tale signs to show that the e-Tron is an EV. (Photo: John O’Dell/Trucks.com)

The e-Tron’s main areas of difference are its badging, the body-width taillight array, a cascade of thin light bars below the headlights, and horizontal strakes above the rocker panels.

Inside, the e-Tron is all Audi, with a cockpit best described as country club meets starship.

Leather seats are thick and well-bolstered, and the front buckets are heated and ventilated. Everything that should be wrapped in leather is, and a real walnut insert travels the width of the dash. Two center-mounted touch screens serve as control central for just about everything.

Instead of the shift lever that usually dominates a center console, the e-Tron uses a thumb-activated switch for engaging reverse, park, and two forward drive modes – normal and sport.

TECH OVERDOSE

Unfortunately, Audi has done away with most other control knobs and switches. The two touch screens using Audi’s MMI interface run nearly everything. So the driver must momentarily shift eyes off the road until the screen layouts are embedded in memory.

2019 Audi e-Tron

Touch screens replace most knobs and dials in Audi’s first electric crossover. (Photo: Audi)

In what may be a sign that cars really are getting too complex for the ordinary human, Audi says there are nearly 700 settings in the MMI system. Each can be customized for up to seven different people.

CHARGE ON

Audi realizes that 204 miles of range isn’t much to brag about. But it insists – correctly – that it is plenty for most purposes. It is just a shade less than the competition: 234 miles for the I-Pace and 235 miles for the standard range Model X. Almost 90 percent of e-Tron’s 95 kilowatt-hour battery pack is usable power. It will recharge overnight on a 240-volt home-charging system.

For trips exceeding the e-Tron’s range, Audi installed super-fast 150-kilowatt “Level 3” fast-charge capability that can top up a depleted battery at a pace of abut 5 miles of range per minute. Faster systems are coming, but for now Audi tops the heap.

Electrify America, established by Audi’s parent, Volkswagen, has committed to installing public EV chargers in 2,000 locations across the country by the end of 2022. Most will have the 150 kW capacity.

2019 Audi e-Tron

Segment-leading 150 kilowatt fast-charge capability speeds the e-Tron out of the charging station and back onto the road. (Photo: John O’Dell/Trucks.com)

Almost 500 of those stations are set to be installed or under construction by midsummer. Except for Tesla’s Supercharger network, the e-Tron can use other providers’ stations as well.

PLANNING

The e-Tron’s navigation system will plan a route with charging stations spaced to make a long trip possible.

Audi also provides e-Tron buyers an Electrify America card good for 1,000 kilowatts of power at Electrify America stations. That’s more than 2,000 miles of travel in most cases.

On our drive, we started charging at a Level 3 station in Sacramento with 56 percent of battery capacity remaining. We drove away 25 minutes later with 99 percent capacity and 189 miles of range on the indicator.

Illustrating the impact of climate and terrain conditions, we had only 36 miles of range left when we arrived in South Lake Tahoe 100 miles after the Sacramento top-up.

And if we’d drained the battery before arriving?

E-Tron owners get up to 10 free “out-of-charge” tows per year for the first four years.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event at which Audi USA hosted travel and lodging.

Ryan ZumMallen April 6, 2018
A trip into the mountains in a Tesla Model X P100D proved that it’s possible to go electric in winter weather.

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One Response

  1. bob

    “EVs don’t like cold or wet. Rain messes with aerodynamics. Cold diminishes battery performance, slashing EV range.”

    What a dumb thing to say. All cars take a performance hit with rain or cold, or (as mentioned later in this article) going up hill.

    Clearly written by someone who knows nothing about EVs

    Reply

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