It's great to see a brand remaining faithful to its heritage when undergoing change. Audi's promise to continue with its signature Quattro nameplate, despite pivoting to electric vehicles, is just that.
I'm sure that anyone who's ever shopped in the premium segments knows about Quattro. It's so synonymous with the brand – a sporty, all-wheel-drive system that enables fierce all-weather traction and sure-footed confidence.
As Audi's commitment states, the future looks bright. It claims its latest twin-motor electric vehicle set-up has been calibrated to emulate a 'virtual' all-wheel-drive system despite such motors not being intrinsically linked.
Furthermore, this system can augment itself faster than any mechanical system could ever dream of. It can react in just 30 milliseconds to promote handling in both regular and dynamic situations.
We'll be exploring that today with our 2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback 55 Quattro First Edition. Long name parked, the E-Tron is Audi's first fully electric vehicle offering in Australia.
It comes in two body types, SUV and coupe SUV, and with two variations of electric driveline. Our test car is the most expensive of the lot, being a fully loaded First Edition model complete with the most powerful driveline and the more expensive body type.
It starts from $169,350 before on-roads and there are two options to pick from – metallic paint ($2300) and an opening panoramic sunroof ($3400). Only one box was ticked with our test car, 'Antigua blue' metallic paint for those interested, which lifted its pre-on-roads cost to $171,650.
|Audi E-Tron Sportback 55 Quattro First Edition|
|Power and torque||265kW, 561Nm (300kW, 664Nm in boost mode)|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive (primarily rear-wheel drive)|
|Boot volume||615L in rear (seats down not listed), 60L in front|
|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, 180kg ball weight (unbraked not listed)|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-Benz EQC, Jaguar I-Pace, BMW iX3|
The cheapest ticket into the range is a more conventionally styled SUV version, with lesser power, from $137,700 before on-roads. If you wish to understand the wider range in detail, check out Trent Nikolic's launch review here.
For this review, we will focus on living with our particular test car over a weeklong loan.
I'll square up against the biggest concern upfront – infrastructure.
It all started at the CarAdvice Sydney office. The car had been driven for photography purposes, so its range was (give or take) down to half, showing 199km left to go. We have a Tesla wallbox at the office fitted with the usual Type 2 charging plug.
Weeks before, we'd charged two Mercedes-Benzes from this same wall box. Months before, we'd charged a host of others. No issues there.
However, the Audi refused to play ball. Upon plugging in, we were greeted by a red flashing light. I say 'we' because myself, Trent Nikolic, Josh Dowling, and Rob Margeit all fettled with it in an attempt to make it work.
I resorted to the manual, which offered a rather crude solution of "lifting the charging cable upward for 10 seconds if charging does not engage". That did not work either.
We spun the car around, totally undermining the premise of dual charging ports, which are incredibly handy, mind you. No luck. Fair enough, it was plugged in via a 240-volt conventional wall socket as a token gesture to add some range until we charged it elsewhere.
That night, we tried another Tesla wall box located nearby. Directions to this location were provided by the Chargefox app, which is charging infrastructure that Audi grants all buyers of its E-Tron free access to for six years.
Once plugged in, we had a white light and an initialising status shown on the vehicle's digital gauge cluster. Upon returning back, zero range had been added to the car. Strange. I then took it upon myself to trial a handful of different Type 2 chargers, generally Tesla chargers, that I found through the Chargefox app.
Some worked, some didn't. We ended up with a hit rate of a third. This is no fault of the car, more a genuine real-world experience of what it's like publicly charging an EV in these still early days of the technology's growth. We've encountered this issue with other electric cars, so we're not inclined to single out our Audi test car.
Indeed, we spoke with Audi later, and its spokesperson offered: "The E-Tron checks a range of charging criteria before it accepts charge from a charger, or it could also be that the chargers you were using are preventing the E-Tron from charging for some reason".
As our own Susannah Guthrie reports here, it can sometimes be a bit of a puzzle to ensure your EV is actually charging.
Something else worth mentioning is that electric charging ports in public locations are poorly signed. In one instance, I found myself driving around the facility for 3–4 minutes trying to locate the charging station. After accepting futility, I asked an employee of the premises to enlighten me. To my concern, they were located far away in a corner, dirty and dusty.
If anything, the Audi E-Tron demonstrates how good EVs can be built when backed by a fully fledged, established manufacturer. And thus, as a nation, we need to gear up infrastructure in order to bloody use them properly.
The quality and design of this e-SUV, both inside and out, are phenomenal. We do expect that from Audi, but its Germanic take on the nuances of electric vehicles is above others in the class.
Firstly, as mentioned, dual charging ports. A clever thing, all EVs should have this. Second, is its approach to design. It hasn't gone full-bore lairy in an attempt to stand apart for no good reason. Instead, aero has been the main objective here.
Some specific tweaks you do notice, such as its closed-up front grille and those unique replacements for conventional side mirrors. Others you don't notice, such as recessed bolts on its huge undertray. Its final drag-coefficient figure, when fitted with virtual side mirrors, is 0.27.
In order to achieve the same driving range result without these design elements, engineers would've had to strip half a tonne (500kg) from the car. Quite a feat to achieve this while keeping it looking stylish and not kitsch.
A point for those shopping the wider range – the S-line exterior styling kit you see here comes standard only on Sportback models. It remains unavailable on the regular SUV body type.
So, those side cameras. They cost $3500 on the regular car, but come as standard on the limited-run First Edition trim, as we're testing. If you want a detailed account, watch the video at the top of this story, as that focuses on what mirrorless life is like.
The main downfall of this system is the way it reproduces vision. The picture it presents is flat and not convex at all, which results in a shallower viewing angle. In turn, you may find yourself tweaking the view as situations change, which has a whiff of becoming a chore.
If you're willing to adapt to technology, which is probably the case considering you're reading an electric car review, I'm sure you'll have no issues. Personally, I'd opt for regular mirrors, which excludes this First Edition from my fantasy garage.
That's not a throwaway line either, as I'd love to home this SUV. The cabin experience is top-shelf stuff – subtly differentiated from the regular Audi range.
The usual items are there, such as its digital instrument cluster, as well as an excellent dual-pane infotainment system complete with haptic and acoustic feedback. I've said this before in previous Audi reviews, but I believe it's up there with the modern-day bests when it comes to vehicular human-machine interfaces.
Audi has successfully applied a level of tactility to a digital screen that makes it easy to use while driving. It's actually quite fun, too. Watch to your amusement as it genuinely confuses first-timers – they furiously yet lightly touch the screen not realising that it's more of a press-screen than a regular touchscreen.
The First Edition crams in plenty of bonuses as standard, including four-zone climate control, multi-colour ambient lighting, matrix LED headlights, and a brilliant Bang & Olufsen 16-speaker sound system. Given how quiet the car is, there's no better automotive cabin to enjoy the benefits of such high-end audio. The system is excellent, with fantastic clarity and well-articulated roll-off becoming stars of the show.
As mentioned earlier, sections of the E-Tron's cabin are unique. The centre console has been redesigned due to a lack of transmission tunnel. What transpires instead is a large multi-purpose storage area complete with a smartly designed sideways-facing wireless charger and covered cubby with flip-out cupholders.
Aside from that, and an interesting sliding drive selector (park, reverse, drive, et cetera), it feels much like an Audi Q7. Out in the second row, space is top-notch. Behind my driving position, I found 10cm of knee room, excellent foot room, and equally great head room.
The seat bench itself is comfortable. From here, occupants have access to two of the vehicle's four zones of climate control, as well as individual fan speed settings for either side, too. Rounding out the technology offering is a pair of USB ports and a 12-volt power outlet.
This is Audi truly taking advantage of electrification. Not having to deal with internal-combustion nonsense sees it empowering its dedicated platform with brilliant packaging and thus excellent cabin dimensions.
As for child seats, there's stacks of room. The door aperture itself is well proportioned, which made slotting a two-year-old into a large, forward-facing convertible seat a treat. In rearward-facing mode, you don't lose much in the way of front passenger space, either. It received a big tick from this family.
Boot space is excellent, with 615L in play with all seats in use, and a further 60L up front in the 'frunk'. There's also another clever storage tub under the boot floor, which adds give or take another 30L to the total count. The division of storage area is smart, meaning you can store charging paraphernalia in the rear storage tub if you feel more comfortable doing so.
I'd suggest that the front storage tub is reserved for cabling only, and not much else, given it sits over the electrical infrastructure of the vehicle. In the rear, however, dimensions are as expected, and a stroller has no issue slotting in lengthways, which allows for three to four suitcases to be stacked neatly behind it.
The way the E-Tron moves on the road continues its stand-apart theme. Electric cars are usually heavy, and the E-Tron is testament to that. With a kerb weight of 2555kg, it wouldn't have been easy for Audi's engineers to instill archetypal levels of dynamism, or as we humans call it, sportiness, into the drive.
In saying that, they've gone and knocked this one out of the park. As standard, all models receive air suspension, which is a huge proponent to its discipline levels. It remains remarkably composed, and most importantly comfortable in both metro and outer-metro environments.
Even two hours out of town, on a patchier rural-esque road, it lapped up those rippled outer edges of bitumen often found here. There are multiple suspension settings to choose from, and I found myself torn over which was best.
I found Comfort paying the best return overall, whereas Dynamic was fun yet perhaps a distraction in what is a large SUV. That doesn't mean Dynamic is bad, however, as it remains the preference on a faster piece of road. Overall, it's exceptional considering the weight and that it still retains the classic Audi performance edge.
Regardless, despite it counteracting initial assumptions of being a lead-tipped arrow, we all know this sort of e-SUV will spend the majority of its life in the big smoke. As a result, Comfort takes the cake.
The steering differs, however. In its regular setting, it remains too light and relaxed for my tastes. I found that creating an individual profile to have everything supple, bar the steering, was an ideal set-up.
Performance is just a few centimetres of pedal travel away. As expected, instantaneous torque means it moves out on the roll. You do notice its mass initially from a standing start, but once you're past 40km/h, it's fast.
If you tap the drive selector back once into 'S' mode, a small section of its tacho-replacing electric power meter extends. 'Boost' mode is now enabled, which gives you access to 300kW/664Nm of performance for eight-second stints.
It was fun before, but hilarious now. The extra performance is seriously noticeable, and eight seconds is more than enough to have your fun. As for efficiency, it used around 24.9kWh on the freeway, and around town give or take 29–30kWh. We saw a final figure of 27.4kWh on the long term. Audi's official (European-market) combined-cycle claim is 26.1–22.2kWh/100km.
Power top-ups do take some time, so factor that into your movements. If you find a regular-style Tesla wall charger that works, you'll find it flowing just over 1km of range per minute, as a 30-minute charging session crammed in 35km of range.
As a nation, we need some genuine guidelines in place regarding the rollout of public electric charging. Not just privatisation leading it, but a genuine government-led effort for all matters EV. Something as simple as signage protocols is an easy win, which I can't believe I'm even suggesting.
We need to start, because if this Audi E-Tron is what established brands are currently achieving in terms of electric vehicles, then we need to be sure we're in a position to adopt a whole lot more.