Audi E-tron 55 SUV is luxurious and practical but more a fashion buy
This silent SUV is sophisticated, comfy and quick off the line if you are ready for life with an EV
In the short years where fully electric cars started arriving in SA, there hadn’t been many that fulfil the demand for a family SUV. Now there are four that satisfy these criteria, including the BMW iX, Jaguar I-PACE, Audi e-tron Sportback 55 quattro and the car tested here, the Audi e-tron 55 quattro. Both the Audi protagonists can be had in two grades — Advanced and S line.
The curvier Sportback is a fresh addition to the range while my test unit is the progenitor of all e-trons since 2019. At first glance, you’d say it was an Audi Q5 but close up, it isn't quite. The electric essence is 221mm longer, 43mm wider with a 33mm lower roofline. These dimensions have created something rather sensational looking and more akin to a low-slung wagon, but with SUV height.
The exterior design impresses further with e-tron-specific touches of a closed-off grille flanked by LED headlights with exclusive look DRLs, while a playful light bar runs across the rear above a shiny valance with closed off exhaust ports.
It’s a match for quality build and similar sanctuary to other Audi products, but there’s a flat, golf putter-like transmission lever. Both grades get the same high-level amenities worthy of Audis costing double six-figures, with the standard fitment adaptive sports suspension on the S line being the primary differentiator. Some of the options available are crucial to its electric makeup, like the steering wheel paddles, which I imagine the e-tron experience would be short-changed without, and which I’ll touch on later.
Other optional extras found in the test unit included a panoramic sunroof, head-up display and the virtual mirrors. You’ll need to use the central touchscreen for some features, but most information that doesn’t take your eyes away from the road is readily available from the stalks.
The e-tron 55 has outputs of 300kW and 664Nm from twin electric motors placed on each axle. On the road, the electric engine is delightfully quiet, but torquey. Being free of combustion vibrations with fewer mechanical linkages has allowed incredible levels of smooth and relaxed usability.
Any speed you want is reached and maintained with absurd efficiency. The e-tron will stick to any guided speed on its optional active cruise control regardless of changes in topography, and though it doesn’t match the acceleration abilities of its lower and more powerful RS e-Tron cousin, the 5.6 secs it takes from 0-100km/h will leave many a conventional car, including renowned rockets, momentarily flat-footed at the lights.
Top speed is 200km/h and if you approach a corner with dynamic mode activated, it feels tremendously adaptable to sporty handling that is both secure and convincing.
The multimode suspension allows for various set-ups including off-road height. In truth, it’s not a car you will want to drive fast or on the rough stuff. It's enjoyed more in metropolises than on long extra-urban journeys where range is still a bug bear. Audi says it’s good for 370km on a full charge. In reality and as tested, 300km is a more realistic number, which you still must work to achieve.
The steering wheel flappy-pedals used for gears in conventional Audis have been repurposed for mild braking and energy recovery and duties, which is brilliant. It’s left for “on” and right for “off” and it’s a much-needed and convenient tool for harvesting electricity in stop-and-go conditions. Longer range on highways is up to speeds and the elements. I’ll tell you right away that headwinds are not your friend, neither are mountain roads with steep inclines. They sap the e-tron’s electric juice quite alarmingly.
Cruise control on flat lands conserves range, as does driving a notch under speed limits, but the verdict here is that the e-tron 55 quattro isn’t quite ready for extra-long expeditions. You'll need a home-wall box charger and there needs to be more rapid DC chargers planted for a fuller SUV life with this car, though Audi SA is planning to install some 35 high-power charging points along the popular routes.
The e-tron 55 is best suited to urban areas for now, where it remains good at wafting in serenity as the silent miles melt away. If this is all you ever plan to do in your electric Audi, then the car is fine. At R2,045,000, it’s competitively priced against the Jaguar I-Pace and the BMW iX xDrive50, but you get more space and an extra 85kW from the Beemer, and draw marginally better power and practicality than in the slinky Jaguar.
But if you want more value, there’s a heap of much cheaper petrol and diesel Audi runabouts. For a price context, the bombastic RS Q8 is only R400,000 pricier than the e-tron 55 S Line, while the SQ5 is a whopping R800,000 cheaper. This makes it a lifestyle choice rather than a mobility need.
Type: Battery electric
Top speed: 200km/h
0-100km/h: 5.6 sec (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 369-440km (claimed), 300km (as tested)
Park distance control with camera rear, cruise control, energy recuperation, driving modes, multifunction steering-wheel controls, matrix auto on/off lights, rain sensor wipers, power tailgate, LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth connectivity, voice control, climate control, leather upholstery, cellphone integration, remote central locking, adaptive sport suspension, 265/45 R21 wheels, ABS, EBD, brake assist, six airbags, stability control,
COST OF OWNERSHIP
Warranty: One-year/unlimited distance (vehicle); eight years/160,000km battery
Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km
Lease*: R43,544 a month
* at 10% interest over 60 months, no deposit
Audi E-tron 55 S Line
WE LIKE: Looks, refinement, acceleration
DISLIKE: Range anxiety, pricey, short range
VERDICT: A fine and practical EV
Motor News star rating
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Audi e-tron 55 quattro Sportback, 300kW/664Nm — R2,115,000
Jaguar I-PACE, 294kW/696Nm — R2,029,800
BMW iX xDrive50, 385kW/765Nm — R2,175,000
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