A couple of months ago Motormouth already got a close look at Ingolstadt’s future in San Francisco. Now the Germans chose Abu Dhabi as the location for the introduction of the new 2019 Audi e-tron to the world’s motoring press – so, can an all-electric vehicle mix it with our beloved V8s on the nation’s highways?
Possibly the best thing about Audi’s first attempt at all-electric mobility with this new 2019 e-tron SUV is that there are few indicators to highlight that you’re in anything other than a regular SUV.
Except then I remember that I’m busy attacking Jebel Hafeet, and the 60 corners rising 1,200 metres in altitude over 12km of mountain road, a piece of tarmac that’s been known to cripple many an exotic V8. Yet here I was in a silent, electric family crossover overtaking such cars without a second thought.
All intentionally of course, the Audi does without the kitsch, attention-grabbing X-Wing doors or a dash that goes all Santa Claus at Christmas like you’ll find on the Tesla Model X, and it’s not trying to create a new genre like the Jaguar I-Pace. Instead, the e-tron feels like an Audi… After you get used to the silence when you first press the accelerator, and maybe eventually the optional cameras for door mirrors, it’s remarkably like any other Audi Q model to drive.
The same goes when you get cosy inside the car. The cabin comes across as a facelifted Q5 and it’s perhaps as flashy as a Q8, but it could easily be mistaken for a Q5 from the outside as well. Available in the UAE from around AED350,000, maybe you were expecting more exclusivity for the money.
Now Abu Dhabi might seem like an odd place to launch a zero-emissions car but just as the auto industry is rapidly evolving, so is the Middle East that once depended heavily on oil exports. Sitting eighth in the list of oil producers behind China, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the world’s biggest producer, the United States, the UAE and its capital Abu Dhabi are focusing more on solar and wind farms than oil fields, and are in the midst of rolling out EV charging stations in preparation for a strong sales surge with cars like this e-tron, I-Pace and the upcoming Mercedes EQC and BMW iX3. And anyway, the extreme heat of the Middle East can halve battery life, so if an EV can get 400km on an average day in Abu Dhabi, it should survive pretty much anything.
Of course these things are never as clear cut as on paper. Audi claims a range of 400km for the e-tron SUV, but our test car covered closer to 300km during our test drive. Otherwise there were no issues aside from the tyre squad up Jebel Hafeet.
With no temp gauge or tacho to monitor, endless torque, power to every wheel and a centre of gravity as low as the most hardcore sports car, the e-tron SUV sailed up the mountain like it wasn’t there. Yes, this is a family-sized, 2.5-tonne, five-seat wagon we’re talking about.
On the way back down we tried the regenerative braking which can help you regain 30 percent of the range. This proved correct – speeding up we robbed the car of 36km of range. Coasting back down we gained back 11km. At home, with a specially installed three-phase fast-charger you can fully charge the car overnight. The latest generation 350kW public chargers can give you 80 percent of juice in 15 minutes.
Seeing as this is the UAE we’re talking about, eventually you’ll end up off-road, where the e-tron banks on height adjustable air suspension as standard kit, so you can lift it to climb over the kerb if the shopping mall car park is full. Those expensive looking 21-inch wheels also indicate that it’s probably best to stick to the smooth stuff.
With two asynchronous motors, one for each axle, the all-wheel drive e-tron delivers 355bhp and 561Nm of torque for a 200km/h top speed. That’s enough to get it to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds, but select boost mode and momentarily you get 300kW and 660Nm, which cuts the 100km/h dash to 5.7 seconds.
The car’s skateboard platform houses a water-cooled, lithium-ion 95kWh battery pack which is 5kWh better than the Jaguar but 5kWh less than the Tesla Model S. It is however covered by an eight-year, 160,000km warranty. The battery weighs 700kg, so it’s a good thing much of its weight is so low, as it doesn’t affect the car’s cornering ability but is the reason why the e-tron, at 2,490kg, tips the scales at almost the same weight as a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Given the e-tron’s size at 4,901mm long and 1,616mm tall (a little lower than the Q5), it’s remarkably slippery for a family car, registering a drag coefficient of just 0.28 thanks to a partially closed grille and optional camera door mirrors. The grille remains functional as a 22-litre cooling system, using the same coolant as your regular combustion engine radiator to keep the batteries at their optimum temperature.
With no engine under the hood, you get 60 litres of storage space, which is substantially more than the 27 litres offered in the I-Pace, while down the back there’s 600 litres of cargo space (compared to 656 in the Jag) and it has a towing capacity of 1,800kg.
From inside, the transmission is no longer operated by a lever, but a thumb button you push forward for reverse and back for drive with a separate button for Park. This, along with the cameras for mirrors in the doors are the only anomalies you’ll find inside that differentiate it from a regular Audi. It uses the same virtual cockpit LCD screens, with a 10.1-inch unit above an 8.8-inch screen in the centre stack and haptic touch feedback controls. Even after a full day of trying to get comfortable with the cameras, it was still a struggle to judge distance and blind spots in direct sunlight and at night. The wind-cheating affect reportedly adds 2.5km to the range but at an optional cost of €1,500 in Europe. That’s a fuel saving you’ll never recover on the balance sheet, so it’s the only questionable part I could find in the e-tron equation.
Overall though, the 2019 Audi e-tron is an impressive demonstration of packaging, performance, quality and comfort, but it will come with a hefty price tag which keeps it away from the average family and relegates the model to a niche segment of early-adopter customers who just have to have the latest toy.
2019 Audi e-tron
Two asynchronous electric motors, lithium-ion 95kWh battery | all-wheel drive single-stage transmission | 355 horsepower and 561Nm of torque | zero to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 200km/h | Around AED350,000