Audi e-tron First Drive

Audi’s entry into the full electric market, the e-tron SUV

Had a chance to take Audi’s new baby for a spin today. A little bit of street driving, a little bit of freeway driving. Not really enough to get to know the car well, but enough to give some hints.

First Impressions

While it isn’t the first time I’ve seen the e-tron in real life, last time it was on a pedestal and we could not get close to it. This time, we could not only get close, but get inside and even test drive it (though not the one in the photo – they had another one outside on a level 2 charger for test drives).

The first impression you get is that it is large. For a five seat SUV, it is very large. That translates to a large space in the rear (there is no ‘frunk’ on the e-tron, despite having an unusually, for an EV, long hood/bonnet), and plenty of space in the cabin. Unless you knew, the only real clue that it is an EV is the closed off front grille.

Inside, as you would expect from an Audi, it is well appointed. The new dual touch screen controls in the center console, the virtual cockpit dash behind the wheel, and all the controls and materials are high quality and beautifully finished.

Inside, the e-tron is pure Audi, and gorgeously appointed.

Since the virtual mirrors are not approved for the US market, these all had conventional mirrors with Audi’s normal blind spot warning lights in the side of the mirror rather than behind the glass. Personally, I’m not a fan of that design, but it works and is something you get used to quite easily.

The Drive

Starting my test drive from a quiet road just behind the dealership (for some reason this dealer always insists on driving the cars off the lot for you, then swapping just around the corner). The first thing he suggested, since it was a quiet road, was trying the boost mode. That is a little unusual to activate since there is a noticeable ‘click’ in the accelerator pedal when you push down hard. Nice to have some feedback though since the boost mode is something you don’t want to use all the time – actually, take that back, I would love to be able to use it all the time πŸ˜€

Around the streets, it felt easy to drive, but it also felt like the big car that it is. Joining the freeway, the electric motor’s torque came into play and the big e-tron was able to leap away from the cars around it and easily find a space ahead. I do feel the steering was perhaps a little lighter than I would have liked, but I find that to be the case in all Audis (my wife’s Q5 is even worse, and she actually commented that the e-tron steering felt heavy to her).

Regenerative Braking

Given all the claims that have been made about the e-tron’s regenerative technology, I was expecting more. It does have the paddles on the steering wheel to switch between regen levels, but even in the maximum regen setting it was a long way off the regen I’m used to in the B-Class. Certainly, no way this is going to be mistaken for a one-pedal driving experience.

Controls

The remainder of the experience is pure Audi. The new touch screen panels seem intuitive and responsive. The virtual cockpit, which we have an earlier version of in the Q5, is still fantastic. It lacks the pretty graphs and charts of the Tesla Model S/X dash, but those are not really of interest to the majority of drivers.

The direction selector is new again, and would take a little getting used to. Unlike the Tesla family, the Audi does retain the Start/Stop button, though it is keyless entry.

Efficiency

While the car we drove had only been used for test drives, and those include boost periods, freeways and are relatively short, in what should be an ideal ambient temperature, the car only managed 2.1 mpkWh. This, I believe, goes a long way to explain the poor range number on the EPA cycle (just 204 miles out of a 95 kWh battery).

To be fair, they are not using all of that capacity in order to conserve the battery’s life span, but even at the quoted maximum usage of 88% (which is 83.6 kWh), the 204 mile range is strangely low, suggesting a less efficient drive train, less aerodynamic efficiency or just too much mass.

Pricing

The dealer we spoke to had one first edition version expected to arrive within a couple of weeks (a canceled pre-order). For that, they are charging a $10,000 premium over the list price for a total price just shy of $100,000. The most expensive Q8 they have available is $20,000 cheaper. Unless you were totally committed to an EV, a side-by-side comparison would make it very hard to select the e-tron over the equally well appointed Q8.

Leasing

Adding to the sticker shock, the lease price they’re quoting, with $5,000 down and a “loyalty discount” of almost $6,000 was still over $1,700 per month on a 36 month lease. That’s an eye-watering $22,335 per year of ownership. The residual value after 3 years was listed as a shade under $46,000.

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