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2019 Audi e-tron Test Drive Review
Audi’s first foray into pure electric vehicles is a likable opening act that previews the automaker’s potential.
Americans are all about numbers. The bigger they are, the better they are (except when it comes to things like age, body weight, Disneyland wait times, prison sentences… you get the idea). The 2019 Audi e-tron, the company’s first dedicated electric vehicle (EV), can’t boast brag-worthy numbers, so it impresses in other ways. And in reality, as long as you’re capable of charging it overnight at home or during the day at your office, and you live a predictable lifestyle, the new Audi e-tron works perfectly well as a futuristic daily driver.
Look and Feel
If you’ve ever seen an Audi SUV, then you’ve seen the 2019 e-tron. Aside from its special, mostly closed grille and unique polished metallic body detailing, the e-tron’s styling draws from the same design used to create the Audi Q3, Q5, Q7, and Q8. This is not a bad thing. In fact, the e-tron possesses greater balance and more panache than its quad-ringed SUV siblings.
Two versions are available: Premium Plus and Prestige. Prices start at $74,800, plus a destination charge of $995. Unless you can’t live without premium leather upholstery, more comfortable seats with a massage function, a cabin air ionization and fragrance system, a higher-tech version of Audi's Virtual Cockpit instrumentation, a head-up display (HUD), and rear side-window sunshades, then you should stick with Premium Plus trim and save yourself $7,000.
Our test vehicle had Prestige trim, optional 21-inch wheels, extra-cost Antigua Blue paint, and a Cold Weather Package containing heated washer jets, heated rear seats, and upgraded cabin heating and battery pre-conditioning. All in, it cost $83,090, including destination.
A federal income tax credit of up to $7,500 is available to Audi e-tron buyers, but because the sticker price is more than $60,000, the state of California no longer offers a cash rebate to its residents. Other states might still provide incentives for an Audi e-tron purchase in addition to the federal government’s offer.
The e-tron sounds expensive (even for an EV), but the interior materials and technologies help to justify the price. There are exceptions, such as the hard and hollow-sounding plastic on the lower dashboard and a few flimsy pieces of trim in some spots, but you won’t notice them before taking stock of the supple leather, the rich wood, and the plush suede. Fully digital instrumentation and controls give the Audi e-tron’s interior a decidedly forward-looking aesthetic.
With an EPA-rated 204 miles of maximum driving range and an acceleration time of 5.5 seconds to 60 mph, the Audi e-tron struggles to compete with the standard-bearing electric SUV in the class, the Tesla Model X. But do you really need to spend the extra ten grand to get the Tesla’s 328 miles of range and 4.4-second zero-to-60 time?
Most likely, the answer is no. Most people who buy a long-range EV like the e-tron and Model X install a 240-volt home charging solution at their residence. They plug the vehicle in each night and recharge the battery during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower. According to Audi, 80% of EV owners wake up to maximum driving range every day.
If you drive 15,000 miles per year, you average fewer than 42 miles per day. That means the Audi e-tron’s comparatively meager 204-mile range only matters if you need to travel farther than that. In a Tesla Model X, you can access the company’s exclusive nationwide network of Superchargers to facilitate long-distance travel, and use them for free. In an Audi e-tron, you can’t. And that’s the crux of the e-tron’s problem.
Let me illustrate. On the day CarGurus shot the e-tron video review, our test car was 60 miles short of a full battery. Audi has partnered with Electrify America in an attempt to mimic Tesla Supercharger availability, but the nearest of the provider’s DC fast-charging stations are at a Target shopping center 32.9 miles away from my Southern California home. My local mall, a few miles down the road and filled with appealing stores to window shop, has EVgo DC fast chargers, so that’s where I went.
To get to the EVgo chargers, I drove past a row of Tesla Superchargers at the same mall, with half of the available slots empty. The EVgo setup has two DC fast chargers and a single 240-volt charger. When I pulled up, another Audi e-tron was already plugged in, so I took the empty space. Sure enough, the unused DC fast charger’s instruction screen was blank, the credit-card reader was blinking, and it was making a weird clicking sound. A call to customer service confirmed that this charger was in “maintenance mode” and unavailable.
Fortunately, the owner of the other e-tron came out of the mall and, after an exchange of pleasantries about the cars, I connected to the active charger for a 45-minute session. It didn’t take that long for the e-tron’s battery to top off, but when the charging station determined the battery was full, the e-tron’s trip computer showed only 181 miles of range.
Upon arrival in Malibu to shoot the video, I sought out the only nearby charging stations that were not tucked behind the gates leading into the Pepperdine University campus. ChargePoint has a couple of chargers at the Whole Foods in the Malibu Country Mart shopping district, so I headed over to top off before filming began. Again, I drove into the parking lot past a row of gleaming Tesla Superchargers and, after some effort, found two ChargePoint machines tucked toward the back of the lot. Unfortunately, they were already in use. By the time I returned to the meeting location where I’d promised to meet the videographer, I’d burned through an extra seven miles of range seeking an open charging station.
This is the primary obstacle to long-range EV ownership: simple, fast, guaranteed access to DC fast chargers when you’re away from your primary source of electricity. This is also why, unless you’re buying an EV as a second vehicle, I think plug-in hybrids are the best choice until the public infrastructure dramatically expands and improves. Lastly, this is why the Tesla Model X’s extra 124 miles of range is so compelling, and why it might be worth an extra ten grand.
With that said, I do like the Audi e-tron. From the futuristic, sci-fi movie sounds it makes at idle and at low speeds to its classic German sports wagon driving dynamics, it's mostly pleasing to drive.
Liquid-cooled front and rear electric motors effectively create a Quattro all-wheel-drive system and make a combined 402 horsepower and 414 pound-feet of torque. Activate the Dynamic driving mode or Sport mode, and you’ll have 490 lb-ft of torque at your disposal for a short period of time. With this, it delivers 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
I didn’t use Dynamic or Sport mode much. In Dynamic mode, the adaptive air suspension feels too stiff and choppy, and Sport mode unnecessarily burns through battery charge. The e-tron is plenty quick enough in Auto or Comfort mode, and even when switched to Efficiency, which I used during our video shoot to preserve energy, this electrified Audi moves quickly when prodded. There are also Allroad and Off-Road settings, but with just 6.9 inches of ground clearance, I don’t recommend traveling too far beyond the pavement.
While the Audi e-tron is satisfying on freeways and in both cities and suburbs, it has no trouble bombing down a canyon road with smooth pavement. Undulations can throw the SUV off of its game as the suspension struggles to manage the e-tron’s 5,754 pounds, much of it battery and motor weight located low in the vehicle.
For the most part, the regenerative brakes work well, but occasional grabby stops will irritate the driver and passengers. You can use paddle shifters to increase and decrease the amount of regeneration while coasting, but the e-tron does not offer one-pedal driving—a notable omission.
As far as electricity consumption is concerned, the tested e-tron’s burn rate was slightly higher than EPA expectations of 46 kWh/100 miles.
Our testing day was sunny with temperatures in the 50s. I left home with an indicated 148 miles of range, and after 56.1 miles of driving in Auto mode at an average speed of 33 mph, the trip computer said the SUV had 83 miles of range left—65 fewer than the initial range prediction. During the test, I averaged two miles of driving for every kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed, or 50 kWh/100 miles.
My testing loop is mountainous, with about 1,200 feet of elevation change. I did use Dynamic and Sport modes at times, and I did not use Efficiency mode. I tried to remember to increase regeneration levels whenever coasting, especially down a hill. I have no doubt that an e-tron driver paying close attention to range maximization can extract greater efficiency from this Audi than I did.
Form and Function
Equipped with 5-passenger seating, and sized between the Audi Q5 and Audi Q7, the Audi e-tron easily accommodates four adults in comfort.
Thanks to a wide range of front-seat adjustment, as well as heating, ventilation, and massage, the e-tron Prestige is quite agreeable for both driver and front passenger. I did note, however, that the short front doors and dramatically swept windshield pillars made it harder for me to climb aboard.
This was not a problem when getting into the roomy and comfortable backseat. Four-zone climate control is standard, and the Cold Weather Package includes heated outboard rear seats, a feature my kids enjoyed during a remarkably cold and wet week in Los Angeles.
My family and I retrieved the e-tron from an airport parking lot after a weeklong vacation, and the Audi’s 28.5-cubic-foot cargo area accommodated eight pieces of luggage without a problem. Note, however, that this was a “carry-on-only” trip. Everyone had a regulation-size suitcase and a backpack. Maximum luggage space measures 57 cu-ft with the backseat folded down.
Rear passengers enjoy the expected amount of storage space. Up front, the e-tron is lacking in this regard. From the tiny bin under the center armrest to the small glove box and merely adequate door panel bins, there is a lack of space. A center console bin houses the cupholders and wireless smartphone charger, and while it is deep, the design limits utility. Also, you can’t close the bin for a cleaner interior appearance.
You can store the e-tron’s charging cable, which includes a 240-volt outlet connector in addition to standard 120-volt household outlet compatibility, in a tray located under the hood or in a deep well under the rear cargo area.
Everything about the Audi e-tron is high-tech, from its electric powertrain to its triple-screen setup for instrumentation, infotainment, and climate controls.
Some of the technology is brilliant, such as the Audi Virtual Cockpit and the natural-language voice-recognition system. Some of the technology is distracting, like the flat and featureless dashboard displays that collect too many fingerprints. And some of the technology is frustrating, like the HUD that’s invisible to polarized sunglasses and the sometimes schizophrenic advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).
If you’re an EV-shopping technophobe, don’t buy an Audi e-tron. Get a Nissan Leaf Plus, spend the money you save on a solar array for your house, and call it a day. If, however, you’re comfortable using the latest smartphones, tablet computers, and Shake Shack computerized ordering systems, by all means, indulge.
At this stage, if a car company is going to replace hard controls with screens, Audi’s solution is a good example of things done right. The lack of topographical reference points is a problem, forcing the driver to look down in order to push on the right place to activate the virtual buttons. But those buttons are large enough that perfect accuracy isn’t necessary, and the screen delivers subtle haptic feedback to confirm an action.
Most of the time, you can use the voice-recognition system to perform common tasks like changing the radio station, adjusting cabin temperature, and programming the navigation system. The e-tron also includes wireless Apple CarPlay, which is great since I have an iPhone. If you’re an Android user, the e-tron isn’t so great.
One of my favorite things about the Audi e-tron is the thundering Bang & Olufsen 3D premium sound system. It literally made the hair on my head quiver with undistorted, high-volume bass. Plus, it comes with a physical volume knob, one of the few holdovers from Audis of the past.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is making a point to test electrified vehicles, and it has given the 2019 e-tron a Top Safety Pick+ rating. In fact, the SUV earned top scores in every single assessment, including front-crash prevention.
That’s not surprising, given the e-tron’s full slate of modern Audi ADAS technologies, including Pre Sense 360 that can detect when a frontal, side, or rear collision is about to occur and can prepare the vehicle and occupants for impact.
During my driving, however, some elements of the e-tron’s ADAS misfired often enough to discourage use.
The first example I’ll share relates to the adaptive cruise control. While traveling on SoCal’s Ventura freeway in moderate traffic, on two occasions the e-tron began braking and slowing for no apparent reason. The car ahead wasn’t doing that, and nobody was cutting into the lane. Both times this happened, it occurred in a gentle bend in the freeway, once with waning winter sunlight coming at the SUV’s front left corner.
The second example refers to the pedestrian-detection system. While shooting video on a winding road, the Audi thrice assumed that I was going to plow into a runner, a cyclist, and our videographer, momentarily slamming on its brakes while delivering a dire warning of impending doom. Every time, this happened in tight curves. Nobody was actually at risk.
The third example pertains to the lane-keeping assist system. I found it overly eager to hug a pavement line in corners, and on a stretch of road where two lanes narrowed to one, it added too much steering assistance while moving the e-tron to the right.
It’s too bad that the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist still need some time in the oven because when they’re working as expected, they’re exceptionally smooth and refined in terms of operation.
As this review is written, the Audi e-tron has two direct competitors. One is the Jaguar I-Pace, which costs a little bit less, offers a little bit more driving range, and is a handsomely styled crossover thingamabob in its own right. The other is the Tesla Model X, which resembles an egg on wheels, costs more, and provides greater driving range as well as free use of the Tesla Supercharger network.
Is the Audi e-tron a cost-effective choice? That depends on how you define “cost-effective.” The Tesla is the better electric SUV, but with its price premium and ineligibility for a federal income tax credit starting on January 1, 2020, the Model X makes the stylish Audi look like a model of value.
Compared to the Jaguar, the Audi looks more expensive at first glance. But when you dig into the details you discover that when the e-tron and I-Pace are equivalently equipped, Audi’s pricing is competitive. Still, the Jag does provide quicker acceleration and 30 extra miles of range.
That leaves me to compare the Audi e-tron with plug-in hybrids like the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne S E-hybrid, and Volvo XC60 T8 and XC90 T8. Here, the Audi e-tron makes all kinds of sense if maximum electric driving is your goal, especially in comparison to the more expensive Range Rover and Cayenne.
But as illustrated above, plug-ins offer the advantage of electric driving for shorter trips combined with gas-fueled driving when recharging with electricity simply isn’t practical or available. For now, until the charging infrastructure grows and becomes more reliable, a plug-in is my pick for a cost-effective electrified form of transportation.
What's your take on the 2019 Audi e-tron?
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Looking for a Used e-tron in your area?
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