The first electric vehicle from Audi that 2019 Audi e-Tronhas finally hit the streets and fueled a still young market for high-quality, battery-powered SUVs.
If the Tesla Model X and the just-unveiled Jaguar I-Pace pioneered the all-electric luxury crossover segment, the e-Tron, which goes on sale starting at $ 74,800 this spring, suggests a surge in consumer demand. Together, the trio challenges skeptics by showing that an electric vehicle can travel hundreds of kilometers on battery power, offers the space and safety of an SUV and still functions like a sports car.
During our test drive in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, at the invitation of Audi, the e-Tron showed just as robust a performance as its gasoline-powered competitors. Covering a variety of terrains, it whetted the appetite of the luxury crossover customer. Powered by a 95-kilowatt-hour battery and two electric motors, the SUV comes with the brand’s quattro all-wheel drive and a towing capacity of 4,000 pounds as standard.
Audi hasn’t announced range estimates for the new model, but its performance is likely to match the I-Pace, which delivers an estimated 204 miles on a fully charged battery. (Depending on the battery size, the Model X has an electric range of 235 to 295 miles.)
Almost a Q5 clone
Despite its cutting-edge capabilities, the five-passenger e-Tron looks like any other German luxury crossover and could be confused with another midsize crossover – the Q5 – if it weren’t for the discreet charging port under the front fender on the driver’s side.
This is deliberate, says Head of Audi Design Marc Lichte. Radical changes, especially in first-generation models, can alienate buyers in the showroom. “We are a brand with millions of customers and they have to follow us,” said Lichte during a media round table at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.
The e-Tron is slightly smaller than the full-size Audi Q8 and slightly shorter than the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. It offers enough headroom and legroom to accommodate taller adults and 57 cubic feet of space when the second row is folded flat.
During a day on Abu Dhabi’s highways, sand dunes and rocky outcrops, the e-Tron proved to be smooth, powerful and eerily quiet inside and out. Aided by a low center of gravity, 50:50 weight distribution, and instant torque, the car uses regenerative braking controlled by the paddle shift lever to extend its range.
On the sidewalk, the crossover has 400 horsepower, a top speed of 124 mph and an acceleration from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds. In the field, the traction control system determines which speed individual wheels should turn, with the sensors calculating 10,000 times per second. The e-Tron’s off-road mode raised the chassis 1.4 inches to allow it to crawl over obstacles, be it in the dunes or rocky terrain.
The exterior shows the typical single-frame radiator grille and the slim, muscular profile of Audi. Instead of side mirrors, the e-Tron uses cameras that broadcast real-time video to high-resolution screens embedded in the front doors. Previously restricted to concept cars that were far away, the digital displays feel unfamiliar at first, but ultimately prove to be helpful because they eliminate blind spots and shave a few centimeters from the SUV.
Comfortable day of driving
The cabin feels spacious and comfortable, even for a full day on Abu Dhabi’s roads and bumpy trails. Inductive charging of the phone, automatic four-zone air conditioning and optional massage seats add to the comfort. The two-screen infotainment system runs the latest version of Audi Connect, which includes a feature to find and connect available charging stations, as well as the brand’s brand new MMI touch response with handwriting and natural language recognition.
Though the base Premium Plus model is generously outfitted for $ 74,800, the top fairings on the e-Tron add extra luxury. Starting at US $ 81,800, the prestige cladding offers a head-up display, massage seats, the entire driver assistance function from Audi and double-glazed windows for an even quieter cabin. The premium first edition, which starts at $ 86,700, includes 21-inch wheels and night vision.
Analysts assume that the e-Tron, along with the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQ C and BMW iNext, will boost demand for mid-size luxury electric crossovers.
According to analyst IHS Markit, US electric vehicle sales are projected to account for 6 percent of the new vehicle market by 2025, up from 1 percent today. More than half of these will be SUVs.
“In some cases, the electric SUV can become the main vehicle in certain households as it can accommodate more passengers and provide more floor space,” said Devin Lindsay, an analyst at IHS Markit.
Car manufacturers are investing billions in the ramp-up. Audi promised to ship a dozen all-electric models within the next seven years, while parent company Volkswagen Group is investing $ 48 billion in building more than two dozen electrified models by 2023. Audi’s sister brand Porsche has earmarked $ 7.4 billion to electrify half of its portfolio by 2025.
BMW plans to offer 25 hybrid and electric vehicles by 2025.
The first signs are promising: Audi sold all 999 of its limited First Edition models within a few hours of the public launch of the e-Tron for the US market in September.
To eradicate range fears, Audi is partnering with Electrify America, a Reston, Virginia-based EV charging system that is slated to include 300 freeway locations and 650 subway locations by the end of 2019. The grid will offer a direct current quick charge of 150 and more 350 kW. The public high-speed charging stations can charge up to 80 percent of the e-Tron’s battery in half an hour.
Audi said the highway chargers will be an average of 70 miles apart, with no stations more than 120 miles apart. Electrify America’s app provides real-time charging information to show which stations are available.
The partnership also offers e-Tron customers a charging time of 1,000 kilowatt hours over a period of four years, which corresponds to about 2,000 miles, and customer support around the clock.
Another partner, Amazon, is offering E-Tron buyers upfront pricing to install 240-volt chargers in their garages. Customers can also charge their vehicle’s batteries using a standard 120-volt household socket.
“We believe that we have a very good formula that meets all the criteria,” said Audi spokesman Mark Dahncke.
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