2021 Audi e-tron first drive review: The best EV on sale in India today!
The luxury EV space is really heating up with the Audi e-tron all set to launch in India later this month. A rival to the likes of the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC, the e-tron is a bespoke EV developed by Audi and is a proper technological tour de force. But it does things differently. Unlike other EVs that double down on their straight line performance, the e-tron takes a slightly different approach. It focusses on luxury. And delivering the most comfortable driving experience possible. But there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye!
The Audi e-tron’s styling can catch people off. It may not look it in the pictures, but it is 4.9 metres long. That’s a smidge under the Q7’s length. And in the flesh, it’s intimidatingly large. With an adjustable ride height due to air suspension, it does stand up tall in the offroad mode, but it can also get slammed down in dynamic and look more Audi Allroad than SUV. Styling is understated, rather than flashy. It resembles Audi’s SUV family closely and doesn’t try anything radical. Which is good. It is familiar. The lights, as usual are brilliant. They’re all the party trick you need — projecting a dancing light show with Audi and e-tron logos on the wall (or car parked ahead) when you open the doors. But it’s sensible too. There’s a charging socket on either side of the car so a charging cable doesn’t dictate how you park.
The interiors are just as conventional. Step in from a Q8 or an A8, and you won’t take any time to get familiar. The floating gear selector is a novelty, but that’s about it. It does’t take you long to get comfortable here. You’ll notice soon enough that the tachometer has been replaced by a dial that tells you how much of the motors’ performance you are using, the status of the battery and how aggressively you are regenerating energy. It's laid out exactly as a conventional tacho would be, and takes you no time to get to grips with it — giving you information intuitively and never leaving you searching for stuff through the menus. Range, charge, driving mode — everything is right under your nose. And it’s such a refreshingly honest car too. Stick it in Dynamic and the range immediately drops so you know exactly what the results of your actions are going to be. There’s also a range extender mode that drops power, reduces the power to the air-con, and gives you an immediate boost in range to take you to the charging point.
The cabin itself is plush and is of a really high quality — it makes you feel like you’re in a space worthy of the money you’ll shell out for it. And keeping with its luxury car intentions, the backseat is the most comfortable of any of its rivals. There’s room for three to sit comfortably, knee room is generous and the most important bit in an EV — there’s enough under thigh support. You see, these EVs have raised floors because the batteries are underneath, and this pushes your knees skywards. But the e-tron gets it right. The seats are positioned high enough for your thighs to rest comfortably, though plusher seats would be a welcome addition.
I may have mislead you at the start. The e-tron isn’t fast by every objective measure, but neither is it slow. It will hustle if you ask it to, but what sets it apart from other high-end EVs is that you won’t feel disorienting levels of g-forces off the line. Performance is in step with the combustion-engined Q8; even the S5 Sportback. In our VBOX tests, it launched itself to 100kmph in a comfortable 5.8 seconds. These big, heavy EVs can pull off ridiculously quick launches but the e-tron isn’t trying to win any drag races. Instead, that 355bhp and 591Nm (which gets pushed to 402bhp and 664Nm with Boost mode) is tuned to deliver immediate performance in a manner that is luxurious. It still has breathtaking real world performance, though. Between 30 and 170kmph, floor it and it fires itself down the road with a quiet ferocity that few other cars can match. And it’s unrelenting. No torque curves. No gears to climb through. Nothing to interrupt that one uninterrupted mountain of torque that flings you at the horizon.
Ride and handling
The e-tron’s biggest flex is how it rides, though. It’s effortless. There’s some heavy duty air suspension on there, suspending all 2.5 tonnes of car, but you’d never know it. It glides over bumps. Forget feeling, you barely hear them inside the cabin. The e-tron runs on massive 20-inch wheels but there are equally high profile tyres cushioning you from the road. And the SUV flattens out everything thrown at you. This is a luxury car that has its priorities straight. Comfort will not be forgone no matter what. The EQC and the I-Pace, there’s a firmness to them that belies their weight over bad roads. Not the e-tron. It feels just as plush as the Q7 did — and continues to deliver on Audi’s traditional strength of being the best riding cars in their class.
Ground clearance? Never an issue. It has got plenty in its standard setting but it will also raise its air springs to give you the ability to clamber over pretty much the worst roads India can throw at you. And this is critical because with the batteries in the floor, you don’t want to be grounding them out. The EQC with its steel springs is particularly guilty of this. But the e-tron just tippy-toes over everything without breaking in to a sweat.
Hunker it down in Dynamic mode and it will go round corners too, far better than any SUV that hasn’t been tuned to smash Nurburgring lap times. The weight is down on the floor, 50:50 distribution, and it is obviously Quattro with a motor on each axle. It’s also claimed to be rear-biased. Show it a bend and it will actually approach it with enthusiasm. With lots of weight giving it plenty of grip, understeer isn’t something that sets in early and you can have a good time behind the ’wheel. But it doesn’t feel as overtly sporting as, say, the I-Pace. There’s still some squidge in the suspension and the rear-bias of the drivetrain is impossible to pick up on. This is a luxury EV and it isn’t pretending to be something that its package isn’t optimised for. I like that authenticity about the e-tron.
Range and charging
Range? Anywhere from 270km to 400km depending on how you drive and in which mode you use. The city is where you can maximise range with regeneration in stop-go traffic. High speeds and inclines send that range plummeting. Performance testing even more so, obviously! Inter-city travel should be possible very easily, especially considering all Audi dealerships will have a charger you can access. The e-tron has a really effective regen system that isn’t too disorienting when used. You adjust it with the paddles and even in its strongest setting, the deceleration feels natural. Your head isn’t tossed forward aggressively and it doesn’t make your passengers nauseous. Again, Audi focussing on comfort over outright performance. Charging time? 8.5 hours on the 11kW charger that Audi will give you with your e-tron. The same unit has also been installed in our office to make us future ready, thanks Audi! You can also opt for the 22kW wallbox that cuts that time down to 4.5 hours. And if you can find a 150kW DC fast charger? A casual 30 minutes.
Cost of running
One of the most interesting stats that the Audi’s Virtual cockpit threw up is its efficiency. We are used to calculating efficiency in kmpl for our petrol and diesel cars, however on EVs we’ve got to do things a little differently. Here, your litres of fuel are replaced by units of electricity. And the rate of consumption of that electricity will be your efficiency. So instead of kmpl, we’re going to be talking about km/kWh.
Allow me to explain how this works. The e-tron has a 95kWh battery. Now as you drive along, you will be consuming electricity from the battery. Much like how you would divide the distance covered by the fuel consumed to get a kmpl reading, you do the same here. Divide the distance covered by the units of electricity consumed (where 1 unit is 1kWh). That gives you an efficiency readout. If you’re driving in a manner where the full charge can provide you, say 340km, then the efficiency is 3.5km/kWh — derived by dividing 340km by 95kW.
But how do you get your running costs from that? Well, for that you’re going to have to look up the rates of electricity in your area. On the 11kW ABB wallbox that Audi have provided at the evo India office, one unit of electricity (1kWh) costs Rs 6, which is the rate for EV chargers and is lower than the commercial or residential rate. So if your EV is giving you an efficiency of 3.5km/kWh, that means one unit of electricity allows you to travel 3.5km. Which in turn means running your EV for 1km costs Rs 1.7. Driving more aggressively would obviously reduce efficiency and increase the cost per km, while driving efficiently does the opposite. Either way, you’re saving a huge chunk of money as compared to what you’d pay for a petrol or diesel powered car — 500 bucks will suffice for your Sunday morning drive as opposed to 6000 bucks in a similarly powered combustion engine car. The savings on running costs will be absolutely incredible!
Driving the e-tron is an incredibly soothing experience. And while it is comfortable, what really pushes it to the next level in luxury is that silence and effortlessness that it operates with. The experience that an A8 gives you feels almost passe compared to this. Noise and vibrations? How 2020. It feels like a car from the future. The lack of an engine may rob the e-tron of some character but as a luxury experience, it is unmatched. And therein lies its appeal. Everyone talks about how hard it is to get excited about EVs, but honestly, this is the first Audi I’ve been excited about in a long time. It is a sign of Audi getting back to doing what it does best. Channeling technology to elevate your driving experience; pamper and indulge you like nothing else on the road. In choosing to go down the luxury route with their first EV Audi have made what is the best luxury EV in India right now. If you don’t account for pricing, which we don’t know yet because the launch is slated for July 22, and we expect it to cost Rs 1.2 crore.