Audi joins the road to electrification
Mark Smyth travelled to the home of petroleum to experience Audi’s new E-tron battery-electric vehicle
Abu Dhabi is the home of oil and gas, a shiny city reliant on the income from fossil fuels and which is making token gestures towards a future of environmental sustainability. This includes Masdar City, a sustainable home for up to 50,000 people, construction of which started back in 2009 with a 10MW photovoltaic electricity generation facility. Some might say it’s just lip service, but some might also say the new crop of electric vehicles (EVs) is also lip service too.
Whatever your opinion, the fact is they are coming to SA even as the country endures yet more load shedding. Jaguar is busy with the infrastructure for its I-Pace which will launch towards the end of the first quarter of 2019. Mercedes will bring its EQC in 2020 and BMW has its i4, iX3 and when we spoke to Robert Irlinger, head of BMW i last week, another electric SUV too. Then there’s Tesla, with Elon Musk suggesting in a tweet that it will “probably” have a showroom in SA towards the end of 2019 but industry insiders say the cars are only likely to go on sale in 2022.
Back to Ingolstadt’s offering though and there’s a lot riding on the first EV from the brand that scarred the automotive landscape with Dieselgate. The E-tron brand is not new, the badge already adorns hundreds of thousands of Audi hybrid vehicles around the world, but this is the first pure-electric vehicle to go into production wearing the four rings
Like its electric rivals, it is not going to come cheap. According to Trevor Hill, boss of Audi SA, indicative pricing at the moment is around R1.6m, almost a million bucks more than a Q5. It’s slightly bigger than the Q5 at 4,908mm long compared to 4,663mm but it’s not a million bucks bigger. The problem is the cost of new technology and the lack of any incentive by the South African government which sees EVs as premium luxury vehicles for the elite.
If you are still keen then read on because the E-tron is a decent package. It’s 40% more rigid than a Q5, partly because of additional strengthening to accommodate the batteries and partly because of the batteries themselves. That battery pack is the same as the one that Porsche will use in the Taycan, but in the E-tron it’s a 95kWh pack sending its power to two electric motors, one on each axle. The front one produces 125kW and the rear 140kW. In total you are looking at 300kW of power on boost and 660Nm of torque with a rear bias due to the larger motor on the back axle, although by using two motors you do get the new generation of quattro all-wheel drive.
You also get some decent energy recuperation to try to build on the claimed 400km of range. Realistically we reckon you could get around 300km but a swift drive up the twisty Jebel Hafeet mountain pass allowed us to add 5km to that on the way back down using brake energy recuperation. Adjust the level of recuperation using the paddles on the steering wheel (no gears here) and you can push up to 0.1g of recuperation to the batteries.
After hustling up and down the mountain, it was time to do a bit of mild off-roading. It was nothing testing, not by South African standards, more of a gravel road and a couple of dry river bed crossings, but it showed how the power can be pushed to wheels with the best grip and that the hill descent control does a decent job.
Most of the time we were cruising on the long highways of the UAE, although we did take a road between the sand dunes where locals and ex-pats were playing in the dunes with SUVs boasting massive V8s. They were on the highways too, roaring past the silently running E-tron.
What the highways did give me is a chance to experience the virtual wing mirrors. Gone are the traditional mirrors, replaced by cameras on each side which will be standard on the models in SA. The images are then shown on screens in the doors. It takes some getting used to and in all honesty, the screens became more clear to see as the afternoon wore on and were positively high definition as the desert sun set. Very cool though.
Other cool features are the touchscreen infotainment system which has haptic feedback to ensure your aren’t stabbing at a virtual button two or three times before you actually provide an input. There’s wireless phone charging, multiple USB ports and a frunk, a term invented for EVs relating to the trunk in the front. Nothing new to owners of mid or rear-engined sports cars of course.
Audi’s first EV is a great package. It feels solid and well developed, but it also feels less sporty, less dynamic than the Jag. From our experience the I-Pace might also be more capable off the beaten track but really who cares, neither of these cars is ever going to do more than tackle a brief gravel road drive anyway.
For now, the E-tron, like many other EVs will be for the early adopters, the wealthy trendsetters. In time the price of these EVs will come down, way down. It’s unclear how long that might take, or what it will take to achieve it, but the manufacturers are getting charged up, the question is whether the consumer is ready to plug in.
Price R1.6m (indicative)
Max power 300kW
Max torque 664Nm
Top speed 200km/h
0-100km/h 5.7 seconds
Claimed range 400km
CO2 emissions 0g/km
Star rating ***