'Strangely normal': full first impressions of the Audi e-tron EV
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Driving the new Audi e-tron SUV on South Island roads saw surprising normality emerge from the extraordinary.
It’s an interesting learning curve behind the wheel of the pioneering e-tron when you drive it to the places New Zealanders want to take their SUVs. Or at least be confident knowing they could.
Audi’s Queenstown-based press launch was clearly designed to showcase the e-tron as being fully proficient with the Kiwi SUV lifestyle.
The e-tron quietly cruised the scenic highways, hooked up a 1.6-tonne trailer, drove across a high-country gravel road signposted as “Not suitable for cars” and finished up power-sliding across a snow flat at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground near Cardrona.
The intended message was clear — the zero emissions e-tron is just as adept in these environments as the petrol and diesel SUVs much-loved by New Zealand drivers.
Provided of course $150k is within your budget and you’re not expecting the long-range touring capability of a modern diesel or are happy to put some planning into your route and recharging options.
The e-tron is Audi’s first full-scale production EV. It’s a five-seater wagon with dimensions that are a neat fit between the Q5 and Q7, but with a lower stance.
Dual electric motors provide a new take on quattro all-wheel drive capability with a rear-drive bias — the rear motor develops up to 165kW and the front adds 135kW. There’s 561Nm of torque and 664Nm available when a short Boost mode (lasting 8s) is deployed.
A 95kWh lithium-ion battery comprising 36 modules — encased in a substantial protective frame — sits beneath the floor and within the wheelbase.
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Audi has an eight-year/160,000km warranty on the battery and has extended the standard warranty package to five years/150,000km with a three-year Motoring Plan that includes roadside assistance. In the event of battery issues, individual modules can be replaced rather than a complete battery change.
The battery pack and its thermal management system weighs about 700kg and the kerb weight is 2490kg.
It’s heavy but there is an upside as the significant lowering of the centre of gravity which is inherent to EVs has the greatest benefit to SUVs. The e-tron has a similar centre of gravity to an Audi A6 sedan.
Whereas the battery is rated as having 95kWh storage, Audi says the usable capacity is 84kWh. Energy consumption is a moving target, with the launch event showing how terrain and driving style have significant influence.
The official consumption numbers are between 22.5kWh/100km and 26.2kWh/100km and Audi claims a range of 417km based on the WLTP (world harmonised light-duty vehicles test procedure).
The first day of driving included low-speed rough stuff across Hawksburn Rd and, combined with highway running, averaged 28.9kWh/100km. By contrast, a largely downhill Tuesday run from the Proving Ground to Queenstown airport via the Crown Range consumed only 17.8kWh/100km.
Drivers who achieve close to 20kWh/100km consumption should be able to nudge toward 400km while 25kWh/100km consumption equates to nearly 350km and climbing toward 30kWh/100km sees the range fall below 300km.
The reality of e-tron’s operating range is likely to be anywhere from 250km of harder driving in more demanding terrain, to something just beyond 400km when traffic and road conditions allow plenty of recuperation opportunity.
The most convincing qualities of the e-tron are its relaxed quietness, smooth and torque-laden response and the assured quattro traction. Whether it was soggy sections on the Hawksburn Rd, grit covered highway corners or damp tarmac, the e-tron put power to ground efficiently.
There are situations where electric all-wheel drive has real driving advantages. On snow the electric quattro system finds grip and enables the e-tron to be driven with a rear-wheel-drive bias.
Audi says electric quattro responds to traction changes 50 times faster than its previous systems and there’s a slightly different feel because there are no gear changes, no alteration of engine note, and no throttle delay while modulating power and steering to slide the e-tron through the snow slaloms.
High torque is the decider in towing applications while deleting gearshifts and the smooth way an electric car moves away from standstill are benefits taken from the towing exercise. The effect on energy consumption might be a little more extreme than a load behind a big diesel SUV.
Audi hasn’t reinvented the interior. Apart from a scaled-down gear selector on a centre console that has a significantly increased amount of storage space, the control layout, steering wheel, multimedia touchscreen and Virtual Cockpit instrument display are a familiar Audi user experience.
Audi New Zealand has put about five years of research and investment into the e-tron debut — not only the product but how customers will charge and operate their vehicles.
Along with product planning, there have been partnerships formed with electricity suppliers and installers of home charging units along with training high-voltage technicians and sales staff.
Audi’s recommended charging process is to install a single phase 32-amp home charger that can fully charge the e-tron at overnight off-peak electricity rates. Audi reckons home charging will account for about 85 per cent of driving and has partnered with Vector subsidiary HRV to provide home charger installations.
Public charging is enabled through ChargeNet with a package that includes an account, smartphone app and RFID key tag while the navigation systems will be linked to the EV Roam database of charger locations.
A 50kW DC fast charger can deliver a full charge in about two hours. As rapid chargers roll out, the e-tron can accept up to a 150kW DC charge, which takes it from flat to 80 per cent in 30 minutes. The other 20 per cent takes another 20 minutes.
Audi New Zealand has launched with two versions of the e-tron also badged as the 55 quattro.
They are identical in terms of powertrain, performance and driving range with the standard model priced from $148,500 while the Advanced grade with additional equipment is $157,000.
Wheel size and style differentiates the two models with 19in alloys and 255/55 R19 tyres fitted to the standard model whereas the Advanced rides on 20in alloys with a five-double spoke design and matt titanium-look finish with 255/50 R20 tyres.
The Advanced grade also gains a head-up display, 360-degree camera, Milano leather seat trim and an interior design with gloss black operating buttons and matt brushed dark aluminium inlays.
The first NZ customers have their cars and the allocation of 100 e-trons for 2019 has already sold out with negotiations continuing with the factory to secure additional vehicles. No numbers are settled for 2020 but it seems demand will outstrip supply.
The e-tron leads the early phase of an electric SUV revolution and the message is that most drivers can use it like any conventional SUV in a wide range of New Zealand driving conditions while benefiting from zero emissions, low operating costs and specific electric all-wheel-drive advantages.