Without doubt, the 2021 Audi E-Tron’s strongest selling point will be the fact that it looks, and feels, like any other Audi. That is, its design is classy, its styling sharp and on brand, and its execution is premium. In other words, it’s just like any other Audi product – except for the method of propulsion employed.
As we hurtle toward a non-fossil-fuel-burning future, one of the recurring themes when we speak to potential buyers about electric cars is their reticence to move into a segment that looks and feels weird to them, beyond simply the higher cost. And despite the obvious attraction. Many are interested, but prefer the idea of an electric car that doesn’t look like, well, an electric car.
The Audi E-Tron will start to change that perception.
Beyond the fact that it looks like an Audi, it has another trick up its sleeve. It happens to be an SUV, which the majority of Australian buyers are interested in. No silly doors, no weird body style, cabin ergonomics, or strange design flair, just an SUV – both conventional and Sportback – that sits between the Q7 and Q5 in terms of size. An Audi EQ6 then perhaps?
On that subject, the E-Tron is 4901mm long, 1935mm wide and has a luggage capacity of 660L (or 615L for the Sportback). Q5 is 4663mm long, 1893mm wide and has 550L, while the Q7 is 5063mm long, 1970mm wide and has 740L (behind the first two rows of seats). Clever underfloor storage in that rear section will accommodate a small backpack or laptop bag to keep gear out of sight. Fold the second row down, and the E-Tron will easily accommodate a bicycle.
You can read our pricing and specification guide for all the details; however, the E-Tron 50 Quattro starts from $137,700 before on-road costs, while the E-Tron 55 Quattro starts from $146,700. There are then Sportback variants of each and a First Edition variant of each. Audi is calling the ‘regular’ body style the SUV to differentiate it from the Sportback.
At launch, I spent my drive in the E-Tron Sportback 55 Quattro, which starts from $157,700 before on-road costs. If you take a look at the Q7 range, for example, you can get into a 50 TDI S-Line for $119,900 before on-road costs, or the SQ7 TDI for $161,500 before on-road costs.
The 55 model has a (400-volt, lithium-ion) 95kWh battery pack with a claimed WLTP range of 400km. The 50, on the other hand, has a 71kWh battery pack (also 400-volt, lithium-ion) and a claimed WLTP range of 300km. That positions the more expensive variant as the smarter road trip proposition, but the 300km claimed range will still suit plenty of city buyers who don’t need to take their SUV on longer trips.
We’ll test the range closely when we spend more time with the E-Tron, because its forte will be around-town stop/start driving. On the motorway, electric vehicles can chew into their range pretty aggressively, which is no surprise, so on longer trips it goes without saying that you will still need to plan ahead for charging if you’re going longer than a charge will take you in a day, for example.
Our 55 launch E-Tron makes 265kW and 561Nm from a dual-motor set-up, with a ‘boost’ mode delivering 300kW and 664Nm. Instant urge, with no lag, means you can get off the mark rapidly without the Audi feeling crazily fast. The 50 model makes a still decent 230kW and 540Nm combined between its two motors. Both power options are mated to a single-speed automatic transmission.
The 50 gets from 0–100km/h in 6.8 seconds, while the 55 can make the run in 5.7 seconds. Interestingly, and perhaps acknowledging the lifestyle buyer in this segment, Audi rates the E-Tron at 1800kg for braked towing. Handy enough for small boats, jet skis and the like, then.
|Audi E-Tron Sportback 55 Quattro|
|Power and torque||265kW, 561Nm (300kW, 664Nm in boost mode)|
|Drive type||all-wheel drive (primarily rear-wheel drive)|
|Boot volume||615 litres in rear (seats down not listed), 60L in front|
|Turning circle||12.2 metres|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2019)|
Vehicle: 3 years / unlimited km, Battery: 8 years / 160,000km
|Motor count||2 (one front, one rear)|
|driving range||more than 400km|
150kW fast charger: 30 minutes to 80%, 45 minutes to 100% / 11kW wall charger: 8.5 hours to 100%
|tow rating braked, unbraked||1800kg braked, unbraked not listed|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-Benz EQC, Jaguar I-Pace, BMW iX3|
As we state in just about every electric vehicle review, the rollout of more extensive public charging infrastructure (paid or otherwise) will make electric vehicle ownership easier and more flexible. Audi promotes the use of 350kW fast chargers, which can give the E-Tron an 80 per cent hit in around 15 minutes.
For the moment, then, Audi is assuming that most E-Tron buyers will charge their vehicles at home overnight (with an 11kW three-phase wall box), and as such will have the requisite chargers installed at home to facilitate that. That way, you can fully charge the E-Tron in 8.5 hours. A charging port on each side makes garage parking more flexible, too.
There’s no engine, of course, so up front you get a 60L storage space for charging cables and the like. It’s a handy way of keeping them from floating around in the luggage area and keeping them out of the way.
Once you’re seated, the Audi’s cabin feels both very Audi and very up-to-date. The Virtual Cockpit screens are as expected, with two screens mounted into the centre part of the dash and haptic touch. Instead of a conventional shift lever, there’s a big hand-operated switch. It’s almost like a big rocker switch really: use your thumb to push forward for reverse, and toggle back for drive, with a separate switch for park.
The driver’s display works as per Virtual Cockpit with integrated satellite navigation and further customisation, while the centre top screen takes care of infotainment and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. On test, CarPlay worked faultlessly for us. The lower centre screen controls specific vehicle functions like air-conditioning.
The touchscreens can be prone to fingerprints, as they all are, so you might find yourself cleaning them regularly, especially when you get into the kind of light where you can really notice the marks. The only negative with touchscreens for aspects like climate control is that they simply aren’t as easy to use quickly on the move like traditional buttons and switches are. They do, however, tidy up what would be an otherwise cluttered centre stack, so there are two sides to that argument.
There’s plenty of incidental storage inside the cabin, too, with useful door pockets that will hold larger bottles, and a proper centre console that houses a multitude of different things. There are sockets for the cabled charge ports, as well as two cupholders underneath a sliding shelf, but our favourite is the wireless charging pad that does two things well.
First, it properly houses a large smartphone, but it also requires the phone to sit on a knife edge, held in place by a hinged retainer. So, the phone is never in the way, and won’t end up with anything dropping onto the screen and damaging it.
An almost flat floor in the second row adds to the comfort and practicality level back there, while you can also fit three adults across that second row without being too squeezy. There’s no doubt this is a useful family SUV.
In terms of driving the E-Tron, the only factor you will have to get used to, which doesn’t come immediately as habit, is the external cameras instead of mirrors, and the screens inside the doors that project the image. I found myself initially looking where the mirror has always been when changing lanes, for example, but you quickly get used to it. The resolution of the image itself is excellent.
We didn’t get to test them in low light or at night on the launch drive – and you can adjust the frame and field of view as well – so like a lot of the other tech, we’ll have to wait until we spend more time with the E-Tron in the CarAdvice garage to properly test the various functions and customisation.
What’s interesting when you hook into a corner in the E-Tron is the relatively low centre of gravity. It’s something electric vehicles can really use to their advantage, given the heavy battery pack is mounted down low at floor height. No, the E-Tron isn’t a sports car, but Audi has plenty of other options in its stable if that’s your inclination. It is, however, a hell of a lot more nimble and precise than you might expect on a twisty section of road.
The adaptive air suspension can adjust through almost 80mm to tailor the ride and handling to your choice or the road surface you’re on. It makes for a comfortable ride around town, too, despite the weight of the vehicle. Ride quality hasn’t always been an electric vehicle strong point, but the E-Tron is impressive. The steering is also near perfectly weighted around town, but firm on the freeway, making for a neat balance between the two.
Audi explains that up to 90 per cent of the E-Tron’s braking is done through the electric motors themselves rather than the conventional pads and rotors. That means less brake wear, but it’s also a clever way of regenerating power whenever you're decelerating – obviously most effectively around town when you’re on and off the accelerator regularly. Impressively, the transition from ‘engine’ braking to ‘real’ braking is quite natural, with no jarring or step between the two that you can feel from the cabin.
There's no doubt, then, that the E-Tron is a high-quality electric SUV, but it's also a high-quality Audi in the way that we expect every Audi to be. Audi is backing it, too, with a lengthy warranty and their six-year free charging support of the Chargefox public charging network over that duration. There are still elements of electric vehicle ownership that won't suit everyone, but as the segment grows, and as the offering changes, so too that will change.
The E-Tron is a lovely SUV to drive, too, even outside what you would think would be its comfort zone. The electric vehicle game has moved forward once again.