The new Audi e-tron is first and foremost a monster electric car that appears ideal for touring. Part saloon, part SUV. It is the size of a Range Rover, yet perfectly proportioned as a saloon, or Sportback, as Audi call it. The scale is only revealed when parked next to other cars where it appears to have been blown up in photoshop. So there’s plenty of interior space and an imposing exterior. Do not confuse this with a small electric utility vehicle. It’s actually a hint of the electric Bentley GT to come and bears many similarities with its luxury petrol cousin.
Audi has approached this as a temptation to those familiar with petrol cars to switch over, without losing any of the luxury, comfort and performance you would expect from an Audi. The most impressive aspect of this beast is the silent running and smooth performance. The cabin is marvellously insulated so you hear nothing of the outside world. Ambulances chase past you, only the flashing lights make you aware they are there, the siren fails to penetrate the superb serenity of the interior.
Next is the balance, performance, steering and suspension. All to the highest luxury specifications. The steering is Audi advanced technology, precise and easy. Like Bentleys, a child could drive this car. The foremost qualities are super soft drive, extraordinary suspension and excellent balance. There is no roll on corners or even pitch on acceleration and it does 0-62 mph in 5.7 seconds, no slouch. The super sports seats in black leather with rock grey diamond stitching are supremely supportive and comfortable.
Another plus is the exterior design, at long last Audi are letting the designers add some passion to the body shape with the slatted body armour grille and frowning gun profile lights. The twin front air vents provide additional grinning menace. It’s best viewed from the side to appreciate the fluted waist, swooping front to rear cabin and the superb 21” alloys. The Audi e-tron Sportback is a very attractive colossus.
A few facts, the Sportback measures 4,901 (L) x 2,189 (W) x 1,616 (H), does 0-62 mph in 5.7 seconds, has a range of 230 miles (in our tests in cold weather) and weighs 2.5 tonnes, with a top limited speed of 124 mph and a boot capacity of 615 litres. Two electric motors with a combined 300 kW drive the wheels, powered by a 95 kW battery.
Do note the wing mirrors. They are virtual. Two cameras where the mirrors should be project the rear side views onto screens set in the interior doors. Initially, you keep looking for wing mirrors but soon adapt to the tv screens. They reduce the drag coefficient from 0.28 to 0.27 which adds about 4 miles to the range, plus I suspect they are a precursor to autonomous driving, adding more sensor information for the eventual AI that will drive future models of this car.
It has two recharge outlets on each side of the car, easily accessed with a nifty panel that swishes out and down. It has the type 2 Slow & Fast and CSS Rapid recharging cables. I connected it up to our garage outlet and it recharged overnight to around 60% capacity. You will want to install a 7kW charger in your garage so it gets to 100% in 13.5 hours. It will also recharge to 80% in 30 mins from a 150 kW outlet. Not a load of those out there, but they are coming.
We took the Audi e-tron on a two-day luxury adventure tour to properly understand the advantages and disadvantages of this rather intriguing mixture of electric and luxury transport. Our first destination was Bath, a distance of 202 miles there and back. My colleague Joseph and I set off with the range showing 221 miles at full charge (a sunny but cold day). I drove conservatively but made good use of the acceleration when needed. The ride is powerful and luxurious, so the journey up was a delight. The interior has all the mod cons with a 10.1” HD touch screen with haptic feedback (the screen responds to the touch, rather than just touch-sensitive) CarPlay, Android etc. It’s also word activated “Hey Audi”.
The Sportback has its own driving style. Two paddles on the wheel, normally gear shifts, are used to increase or decrease the regenerative braking and soon became my driving style of choice. Forget the brake, just tap the left paddle once, or twice, to brake gently and send more power back to the battery, tap the right paddle to release and roll back to your previous speed. All-round a much better and smoother driving experience. The brake should only be used when more immediate stops are required. It’s highly intuitive and encourages better driving. And also makes a big difference to your range.
As we reached our destination in Bath the e-tron showed we had 120 miles left for the return, so we felt confident with no range anxiety. The weather was gorgeous and the route took us past some of the most beautiful landscapes in Somerset, including Stone Henge. We played music through the ten loudspeakers and enjoyed the comfort and excellent visibility. You can pick from six driving modes and wheel heights. Dynamic alters the motor response and lowers the car for speed and Off-Road puts you on the maximum setting of six, which raises the car a full 7.5 cm. It does look impressive at full height, a mixture of low rider saloon and monster truck.
Upon our return, without recharging, the range showed that we still had 30 miles left, so more than predicted. The next day we drove 130 miles down to the South Downs for the adventure portion of the trip. Hang gliding with Matt from Airports Sussex. Matt is the most qualified hang gliding teacher in the South of England and an all-round top bloke. The journey there and back was 130 miles via a nice country pub we’d picked for lunch. The Audi Sportback showed 130 miles recharge in the morning so the margin for error was a little tighter. In that, there was no margin at all. However, we went for it. We could always recharge somewhere, but the idea was to avoid it if possible.
Our drive down to Bopeep Hill was accompanied by blazing sunshine and on parking, our range showed 55 miles. The return was 53 miles. The view from the South Downs was magnificent, with the sea to the southeast and virgin fields stretching north forever.
Matt and I went hang gliding which was an absolute blast. One of the best sports I have ever done and now on my list to do again. Once was not enough. The experience of stepping off a hill, horizontal to the ground and flying by simply leaning right, left, forward or back was exhilarating. Nothing like any other flying I’d done. Without a doubt the best approximation of true avian flight. At the time you cannot quite believe you are doing it. Utterly surreal. Flying with Matt is like flying with an old mate, his enthusiasm and love of the sport is infectious. He is also as strong as a horse so you can trust him to handle any wind speed.
For the return journey, I nursed the paddles and accelerated very gently to reach the various speed limits. As I got nearer to home the range showed between 3 and 10 miles more than the dwindling sat nav distance. It all came down to the drivers around me. If they drove badly, braked pointlessly or pulled out suddenly then my range dropped back again but increased the longer my flow was uninterrupted. I made the house with 9 miles left. The car was asking me to recharge at that point with some urgency.
We had pushed the car to the limit in two days. Quite unnecessarily as we could have recharged anywhere, there are charging points in almost every garage now, but home charging is much more pleasant. Also if I had the fast charger installed in the garage then we would have had a full charge on the second day too.
So the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 Quattro is built for touring, but the range requires planning. It’s also a terrific luxury car with superb, effortless performance. Effortless sums it up best, it is a car that eliminates all concerns. The interior cabin is deeply comfortable and insulates you to a superb degree from the outside world. The size and power bring another aspect of luxury and the drive is well balanced, dynamic and powerful. It is also extremely capable off-road. The body clearance means you can go anywhere and the four-wheel-drive handles all with ease. This is an electric car with excellent build quality and superior luxury that you can jack up like an off-roader. A passe-partout packed with technology for every occasion. When it comes to picking the model, go for the most range.