Audi’s first all-electric car is many things: stunning, beautifully built, quiet, comfortable and spacious. But when you drive the e-tron for the first time, that’s not what you notice first. Instead, the overwhelming impression is how spectacularly familiar it feels.
In this brave new high-voltage world of twin electric motors, lithium-ion battery packs and plug sockets where fuel fillers once lived, it would be understandable were one to feel blinded by all the science. But all you have to do is strap in, turn on, select Drive and press the accelerator. And that’s it. You are driving the Audi e-tron.
True, it’s not the same as driving a conventional car: in many ways, it’s better. The electric motors are all but silent and, fed by a 95kWh battery, are always ready to do their best work. There’s no pause, just instant response. In Sport mode, the system can deliver up to 408PS – enough to reach 62mph in 5.7 seconds. Yet off-road, the power can be meted out so precisely that the e-tron clambers over boulders one tyre tread block at a time. And as the batteries are laid out across the entire floor, the e-tron has a centre of gravity far lower than that of a conventional SUV, resulting in handling that’s both incredibly secure and rewardingly fun.
The cabin is airy and spacious enough for five to travel in comfort, while the vast boot comes with a split, folding rear seat and a luggage capacity of up to 1725 litres – a figure comparable to that of a large estate car. The fully digital Audi Virtual Cockpit combines with 10.1-inch and 8.6-inch MMI touchscreens, and the car accepts commands by voice, typed instruction or finger scribble.
The e-tron will complete almost all journeys without the need to stop. And as most drivers will choose to leave home with fully charged batteries, many will actually spend less time in service stations than drivers of petrol and diesel cars. Preliminary data indicates the e-tron will cover 249 miles on a charge – and that’s according to the recently introduced, far tougher and more realistic WLTP measurement protocol. I covered 200 miles, many cruising at the 100mph motorway speed limit, and at least 30 at speed on unmade roads – and still had 50 miles of range left.
The e-tron offers seven driving modes via the drive select button, so you can choose whether to make the car feel as dynamic as possible, or configure it for optimum efficiency. You can also make the most of the car’s ability to regenerate energy while slowing down: as long as it is decelerating at up to 0.3g (a standard, steady brake in a normal car), it uses the electric motors alone, recovering energy that would otherwise be lost as heat from the brakes, and deploying it to recharge the battery. On one descent, the e-tron arrived at the bottom of the hill with five miles more range than it had at the top.
There was a time when, for most, the downsides of electric car ownership outweighed the benefits. But with the new e-tron, Audi shows us that when an electric car can be this capable, practical, easy to operate and enjoyable to drive, 'the days of minority-interest electric driving are over. It doesn’t just feel good – in an era of increasing concern for our environment, it feels right too.
Words by Katie Johnstone