Living with the Audi e-tron | 3 month long-term test
It's 10 at night, and Google Maps is red. Red, red, red and the ETA keeps going up. The day started at 4 in the morning, we’ve been shooting all day, and all I want right now is a cold beer and a hot dinner at home. Indian traffic knows no rules though and the Lonavala ghat section in between the Mumbai - Pune Expressway is jammed solid. Trucks clogging up all three lanes and cars playing Need For Speed between them. A mess. Now you know where this is going, a treatise on range anxiety, on infrastructure being way behind, how ICE is still best, all the dinosaur talk.
Except I’ve been living with the Audi e-tron for the past few months and can tell you that I never once faced range anxiety. I’ve come to understand her intimately and the range readout, I’ve learnt, is as accurate as a Swiss watch. I know that coming down from Pune to Mumbai improves on the range, and going up knocks it back so always keep a few extra kilometres in handy for the drive back home. I’ve done Mumbai - Pune - Mumbai on a single charge, but with today’s shoot being ten minutes away from the Audi workshop in Thane I indulged myself on the way here, using that ridiculously urgent slug of torque and the warnings on the Radar Bot app, to properly enjoy my pre-dawn drive. I’ve learnt how to drive the e-tron, when to go full send, and when to take it easy and conserve range. And far from being a headache there’s a sense of accomplishment to making optimum use of the e-tron, which I enjoy.
Anyway back to all the red. I make a call to my friend in Lonavala and get an alternate route. Check the remaining range, do a bit of mental math, and take a hard left onto the old Mumbai-Pune highway. The route is much longer, and much steeper. This probably won’t save much time but I’d rather keep moving than stay stationary in traffic and curse the whole world. Others too have the same idea and I get a bit of traffic but I step on it and fly past, darting into gaps that would have needed me to keep an ICE on the boil in first but in the EV just twitch the right foot and you’re done. The e-tron is quick as a bullet. We make multiple detours because Lonavala town is also jammed and an hour later we are back on the expressway after having killed all my reserve range. I now have 100km of range and 80km to get home. An EV newbie would be sweating bullets but I’ve earned my veteran patches. I’m also not known for having much patience so rather than crawling at 80kmph I call back upon the Radar Bot app’s services and floor it.
We now enter Pune city with 50km of range left, 40km to the office, and the display has turned a very alarming red. My colleagues are in full panic mode, though I don’t really know why because if we run out of juice I’m hardly going to ask them to push. All along I’ve been driving it in Comfort and I toy with the idea of Efficiency mode, but that lowers the SUV to reduce drag and I don’t want to risk it over Pune’s speed breakers. My colleagues point out that if some roads are shut due to metro work we’d get shafted, and they do have a point, but I also know of the myriad little lanes that bypass Pune’s main roads so, well, I enjoy the rare joys of empty city roads to zip through. We finally get to office with 20km range left, plug it in, and tick off another EV road trip. Who said living with an EV would be boring? Range then. On a full charge, and with my driving, I’ve been getting around 320km at an efficiency of 3.8km/kWh. This translates into a per km running cost of `1.6 which is even more economical than pottering around on a scooter. That’s a huge talking point of the e-tron, even for people who can afford to spend Rs 1.2 crore on their cars. Unlike in an ICE where your driving style and even traffic significantly alters the fuel efficiency, I’ve seen the e-tron actually go up to 4.0km/kWh in Pune traffic. And unless you’re completely flooring the throttle you get very good efficiency even when driving with proper enthusiasm. Launching from red lights, zipping into gaps in traffic, making quick overtakes, you can do it all without worrying about range dropping in the e-tron and even on the highway 120kmph doesn’t murder the range, neither does the occasional surge into higher triple digits. If you drive consistently at very high triple digits then you’re asking for trouble and I don’t mean purely from a range point of view but also in terms of taking chances with the unpredictability of Indian traffic.
Problem, though, is that it’s ridiculously easy to get up to speed. There’s no hesitation. No momentary wait. The throttle response is, for want of a better word, electric. And the surge of power is inexhaustible. There’s no break while the gearbox bangs in another shift and the ICE gets back into its power band, it just keeps pulling and pulling. And it doesn’t get boring. There’s so much power on tap that you’re always driving fast enough to have fun. And even after three months with the e-tron I have yet to get over the novelty factor of the incredible silence with which it does everything. The e-tron also has the handling to exploit the power. You do feel the weight, of which there’s plenty, especially when going over undulating roads where the considerable mass squishes and heaves heavily on the air suspension. But honestly that’s just me as a road tester doing a critical analysis of suspension behaviour over difficult roads. As a daily driver the e-tron has been superbly comfortable, over broken city roads, on fast highways, and even firing it up the hills. The ground clearance is so good that I once found myself in the embarrassing position of having forgotten how to raise the suspension, because I never had to use it (it goes up in the Off Road setting on the Drive mode selector). The handling up in the hills is damn good, all that weight low down delivering remarkable cornering grip. But the heavy demands made on the rubber does chew through it and in less than 15,000km these tyres are finished.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the other joys of living with the e-tron. Like with every expensive Audi the e-tron is beautifully built. The quality is stunning, hitting you from the moment you open the door to the slick movement of every control, and the finish of every surface. The Bose sound system is ear-gasmic, the seats are very comfortable and the space at the back is pretty good though not over abundant. Boot space is also sufficient for road trips and the light signature that dances in front of you every time you switch it on or off is a cool little trick. But I’d happily trade that for wireless Apple CarPlay and cooled seats, there’s no excuse for skimping on those at this price point.
In the final analysis, can you go fully electric? Can the e-tron be your primary, even only mode of transport? I honestly think so. We use our cars for a fair bit more than just regular commutes and yet on average I only needed to charge it twice a week (8.5 hours for a full charge, if you’re asking). Plugging it in is actually faster and less of an effort that detouring and tanking up an ICE at a pump. The only time we’d think twice about using the e-tron is if we had to do a Pune – Goa drive (which we actually did, stopping off for three hours in Kolhapur to juice it up) but otherwise the e-tron has been my one and only mode of transport for everything including support duties on all our shoots, carrying men and material, having photographers and videographers hang out of the boot, the works. At any given point we are spoilt with the choices in the evo India garage, and the reason I always took the e-tron was the effortlessness. It’s so easy to drive. Takes so little out of you. When you’re on the road from four in the morning and filming all day, you just want something easy, comfortable, and stress-free to rush you home to a hot meal. And not even monster traffic jams could question my rationale of using the e-tron. The EV era is upon us, and I can confirm the e-tron remains the best of the (luxury) breed.