Its steel body is covered in plastic wrap, obscuring many of its finer design details. But the car you see here underneath the camouflage dreamt up by Audi’s marketing operations is the new 2021 Q4 E-Tron SUV.
Originally previewed in concept car form at the 2019 Geneva motor show, the fourth dedicated electric-powered Audi model is planned to see Australian deliveries in 2022. It joins the E-Tron Quattro SUV, E-Tron Sportback and E-Tron GT Quattro in what has quickly grown into quite a formidable line-up of zero-emission models at the German car maker.
It is not the only Q4 E-Tron model we can expect, though. As hinted to by the second Q4 E-Tron concept revealed in 2020, Audi is also set to launch a more overly sporting Q4 E-Tron Sportback featuring a sloping liftback style tailgate at the same time.
Together, they aim to take on the likes of the BMW iX3, Mercedes-Benz EQA and Tesla Model Y in what is expected to become a particularly hard-fought small-to-medium electric SUV market segment in coming years.
The two new Q4 E-Tron models are based on the Audi parent company Volkswagen’s versatile MEB electric car platform. They share their drivetrain, lithium-ion battery, charging technology and chassis among other components and functions with the Volkswagen ID.4 and Seat El Born, alongside which they will be produced in Volkswagen’s Zwickau manufacturing plant in Germany, as well as the Skoda Enyaq iV produced at Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic.
The Q4 E-Tron SUV has progressed into a pre-production phase of development with very few stylistic changes over the earlier concept. Key elements include a new interpretation of Audi’s single-frame grille, distinctive vertically stacked front air ducts, angular headlamps with LED graphics, short bonnet and heavily raked windscreen.
Further back, prominent side feature lines sit above large wheelhouses helping to add structure to the flanks, while the rear features an angled window within a tailgate that opens at a rather high bumper height and receives a prominent spoiler element to smooth airflow across the gently sloping roof. Wheels vary from a standard 19- to 21-inches in diameter.
The overall proportions are very similar to the ID.4, El Born and Enyaq – all four cars share the same hard points, though the styling is clearly Audi in character and, with a claimed drag co-efficient of 0.26, suitably aerodynamic.
At 4590mm in length, 1865mm in width and 1613mm in height, the Q4 E-Tron SUV has been conceived as an electric equivalent to the popular combustion-engined Q3 SUV. A comparatively long 2760mm wheelbase provides it with comparatively short overhangs with the base of the A-pillar set quite a way forward to maximum the length of the interior, which runs to a Q5 SUV like 1830mm in length.
Audi has put a lot of effort into ensuring its new SUV is seen as a dedicated model in its own right rather than an electrified version of an existing model like some of its key rivals. This is reflected within the interior, which receives it own unique dashboard, including a newly styled steering wheel with touch-sensitive controls, a 10.25-inch digital instrument display with unique graphics and a standard 10.1-inch (optional at 11.6-inch) MMI infotainment touch display featuring a “Hey Audi” voice control function as an option. Buyers will be able to choose between three different set-ups: standard, virtual and virtual plus.
The Q4 E-Tron SUV is also the first Audi model to feature an augmented reality head-up display. Set to be a high priced option, it reflects information, including moving navigation commands, onto the windscreen in two separate fields and with varying depth of field.
Despite similar external dimensions to the Q3, though, the Q4 E-Tron’s flat floor structure helps provides it with interior space comparable to the larger Q5 SUV, most notably in the rear which features a bench sited 70mm higher than the front seats and offers an impressive amount of leg, head and shoulder room. Without a centre tunnel running through the centre of the cabin, the centre rear passenger is easily accommodated, making the new Audi very family-friendly.
Boot capacity is put at 520-litres, extending to 1490-litres when the 40:20:40 configured rear seat is folded away. A series of compartments around the cabin, including generously dimensioned bottle holders in the upper part of the doors, also offer nearly 25-litres of oddment stowage, according to Audi.
The elevated driving position provides quite a commanding view of the road. However, you don’t feel perched up like in some SUVs owing to the high beltline, which gives you a satisfyingly enclosed feel from inside. A broad expanse of dashboard means you sit well back from the base of the windscreen on new-generation seats offering excellent support, but the controls and high set MMI infotainment display are within easy reach.
There’ll be an extended range of different Q4 E-Tron SUV models featuring both single motor rear-wheel drive and dual motor four-wheel-drive driveline set-ups in combination with either a 52kWh (net) or 77kWh (net) lithium-ion battery and a charging system supporting 11kW AC and 125kW DC recharging.
It’s the initial top-of-the-range Q4 E-Tron 50 SUV that we’re in here. It uses a synchronous electric motor mounted within the front axle and an asynchronous electric motor within the rear axle in combination with a single-speed gearbox to drive all four wheels. Together, they provide the new Audi with a combined 220kW and 460Nm of torque.
To get underway you draw a slider-like shifter mounted on the centre console backwards into D (Drive) and nudge the throttle. There’s instant response and genuinely strong accelerative qualities up to and beyond typical city speed limits, as we’ve become accustomed to with the modern crop of electric SUVs.
Audi puts the 0-100km/h time at 6.2sec, which is 0.6sec faster than that claimed for the BMW iX3. Increasing aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance reins in acceleration and overall performance at higher speeds, though there are sufficient reserves for a limited 180km/h top speed.
Refinement is very impressive. There is a faint whine to the operation of the electric motors under load and some wind buffeting around the exterior mirror at highway speeds, but this is a prototype so we’ll reserve judgement on this aspect of the new Audi until we drive the production version later this year.
Generous space within the front wheel houses makes for a tight 10.2-metre turning circle and excellent manoeuvrability during parking and city driving conditions. The steering is light at low speeds but weights up nicely as speeds increase, providing a precise action but without much in the way of feedback.
With the battery mounted low within its dedicated platform structure and an evenly balanced front-to-rear weight distribution, the handling is well controlled with good response upon turn-in, low levels of body roll together with strong grip and excellent traction in tighter corners.
The sports suspension used by the prototype we’re in sits 15mm lower than the Q4 e-ton SUV’s standard underpinnings. It can be ordered with adaptive damping control in combination with a drive select program offering four different driving modes: Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic and Individual.
On optional 20-inch tyres shod with 235/50 profile front and 255/45 profile rear tyres the ride remains fairly compliant on most surfaces in Comfort mode, though the sheer weight of the new Audi does occasionally conspire to spoil the otherwise controlled qualities over less than smooth roads.
Paddles on the steering wheel allow you to select the level of regenerative braking in three stages; the lower level simulates the braking force of a conventional combustion engine while the higher setting provides greater retardation for maximum energy harvesting on a trailing throttle.
Expect an official WLTP range around 500km on the larger of the two batteries, albeit less in real-world driving. The regenerative braking is certainly impressive, but as with rivals the ancillary functions such as the air conditioning and seat heaters do tend to lessen the overall range.
We’re yet to receive any pricing guide for the Q4 E-Tron SUV but lower-end models are expected to land in Australia at around $50,000, with the range-topping model likely to be pitched closer to $65,000. The more sporting Q4 E-Tron Sportback models will likely add a further premium to the price tag compared to their more upright SUV siblings. The first European deliveries set to get underway during the fourth quarter of 2021, though Audi suggests Australian customers will have to wait a little longer for its two new electric models.