Audi’s first electric car is here. It is called e-tron and is a large five-seater SUV with off-road ability. In size it sits between the Q5 and Q7 but above the Q7 in price. It has all-wheel quattro drive, with a motor for each pair of wheels. With around 400 horse power it can surge to our 60mph main road limit in less than six seconds. It emits no roadside pollution and very little noise.
A full battery charge can give up to 240 miles. It is a brand new model and its price reflects the development costs – twice that of a conventional car – and the components. The price is £68,020 (after a £3,500 clean air grant) in its standard 55 quattro designation, which is very well equipped, and £78,770 in its Launch Edition specification, which adds better leather, bigger wheels and one of the model’s innovations, camera side mirrors. These are rear-facing pods on the doors which show the view on panels inside the doors. Advantages are lower wind noise, better aerodynamics, reduced overall width and a brighter view at night.
The future? I don’t know. They are not as intuitive as a regular side mirror and the picture is smaller though less likely to be blurred by rain and road dirt. However, as an option on the entry model they cost a dazzling £1,250. They can be swivelled out of the way to avoid damage – and a gut-wrenching repair bill.
The e-tron’s main rival is Jaguar’s I-Pace, already on sale, the current European Car of the Year, shorter, wider, much lighter, costing less and a more exciting drive.
The e-tron is a heavy beast. It weighs almost two and a half tons – or 2,490kg which is 280kg (or some 600lb) heavier than the Jaguar.
The Audi hides its weight well. The 700kg battery is bolted under the car between the axles, reducing the roll factor. The weight becomes evident when braking hard but like any new car you’ll get the hang of its manners and adapt.
Audi’s UK media launch route took us on a 120-mile loop into North Yorkshire from Bowcliffe Hall, near Wetherby. These are roads giving no hiding place for poor ride refinement. The e-tron passed the North Yorkshire test so it should be good for anywhere from Cape Wrath to Cape Cornwall. Sound-deadening foam is built into its monster tyres. With seven driving modes, from eco to off-road, a lowered ride height on fast roads and a lift up on tracks, there’s a system for most places.
The exterior styling is the familiar, bold Audi SUV, with the big face shouting its presence – and yours. The grille look is new, with vanes which close and open automatically to feed air as necessary into the car. Under the bonnet is a tray carrying the removable charging cables and any left-over luggage but there is plenty of room in the back, with a wide loading aperture and 40-inch length to the folding rear seats. This is a big cabin with 60 inches between the doors.
The controls use Audi’s super-clear touch-screens but there is an argument that input can be more distracting than using a manual selector. The gearshift is an unusual but very practical and idiot-proof small lever to the left of the driver, selecting either forward or reverse for the single speed gearbox. Starting is by push button.
The car can get away very quickly with a faint whine and for short bursts there is an over-boost phase which can be useful for quicker overtaking. Warning: the car is quiet and fast and this can mask your actual speed.
Mostly, you’ll like an e-tron. Once you’ve absorbed its purchase cost the daily charges are low. There are the usual permutations of charging methods at home, office, street locations, dedicated high-power points. There are charging points on each front wing, with sliding covers. Reckon on 5.4 pence a mile for the electricity to give you 100 miles for around the price of a gallon of petrol of diesel. It is totally clean, so you can tootle past schools without a stain on your conscience or the lungs of the kiddies. It is not completely silent, but some pedestrians may not hear it coming .
This is the first of several electric Audis in the next few years, one based on the Porsche Taycan, as Audi moves towards 20 electric and plug-in hybrids by 2025 when a third of its sales will be electrified.
Range anxiety is a common worry. A crystal-clear screen shows battery level and mileage remaining. You can programme charging points on your phone for a long journey or request them as you go. Just hope they are not already occupied or out of action. Judging by our 120-mile jaunt, and from other tests in electric cars, the range prediction is accurate. Most owners will top up the battery charge as time permits.
For the record, an empty to full charge on a household 3-pin socket takes 42 hours while a dedicated home or office charger will do the job in nine hours and really fast chargers can give an 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes or a full charge in under an hour. Talk to your local authority about grants for installing a charger at your home. Audi’s partner is Pod Point.
Verdict: SUV with a social conscience.