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Audi e-tron: driving the first all-electric Audi

Audi e-tron
(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Audi e-tron is Audi's first all-electric car and it follows in the footsteps of the rest of the range in terms of style, comfort and technology. In fact, if it wasn't for the lack of engine noise, you may not realize that it's not a normal gas-guzzling car.

With a starting Audi e-tron price of $74,800 / £59,900 / AU$155,700, it finds itself rubbing shoulders with other premium electric SUVs including the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X.

If you're looking for a more cheaper all-electric SUV, you may want to consider the Ford Mustang Mach-E or the even more affordable Kia e-Niro

If your heart is set on an Audi, you could always hold out for the Audi Q4 e-tron, which is slated to arrive in 2021 with a lower price tag than the e-tron, and the car maker says it plans to have 30 electric vehicles available by 2025.

Audi e-tron design and drive

We drove

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Audi e-tron 50 Quattro S Line
Engine
: 2 x electric motors
Power: 307bhp
Top Speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Range: 177 miles
Price: £70,820

The Audi e-tron is a luxury SUV, and its design both inside and out oozes style and quality. As we mentioned at the start, the e-tron aesthetically slides into the firm's SUV range almost undetected.

The large grill and the huge 21-inch alloy wheels on our vehicle provide a powerful stance on the road, and for those who want a slightly sportier look you can opt for the Sportback body style, which features a coupe-inspired roof line.

We drove the standard e-tron however, with its more traditional roof styling, but it still has the smooth lines and sharp detailing we expect from Audi.

Slide inside the cabin and you'll find plenty of legroom and wide, accommodating seats which provide a comfortable place to reside during long drives – the front seats are heated too, which is always welcome when the mercury starts to drop.

While the cabin is spacious, we did find head-height could be troubling for the tallest drivers. We're 187cm (6 foot 2), and with the driver's seat in its lowest position we found our – admittedly wild thanks to the lockdown – hair brushing the ceiling. Reclining the seat does help, but those who are taller may not find the e-tron a good fit vertically.

Audi e-tron

(Image credit: TechRadar)

There's enough space in the second row for three adults, with a generous amount of legroom and a similar amount of headroom to the front.

Press the Start Stop button and place your foot on the brake to start the e-tron, but unless you're paying close attention to the dash you may not realize the car is on. We were caught out a few times by this, both when trying to select drive and realizing we hadn't switched it on yet, and also when it came to getting out and forgetting to switch it off.

Without a combustion engine under the hood, the Audi e-tron is exceptionally quiet - as are all fully electric cars. It means you're able to glide along without lots of additional noise, and you get a futuristic hum when you put your foot down.

The ride is comfortable, too, with the e-tron featuring air suspension as standard. Add to that its low center of gravity thanks to the batteries in the floor, and powerful dual electric motors - one on each axle - and the e-tron is smooth, fast and agile.

The 50 Quattro model we drove can propel you from 0-62mph in just 6.8 seconds, and can hit a top speed of 118mph – ensuring there's plenty of power available. 

You also get a lot of storage, with the e-tron featuring decently sized door pockets, dual drink holders between the front seats, plus a covered storage area under the central armrest – plus there's a massive 660 liters (23.3cu ft) of luggage capacity in the back, behind the powered tailgate.

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Audi e-tron

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Audi e-tron range and charging

While many electric cars tend to also feature a 'frunk' (front trunk) under the hood, due to the space freed up thanks to the lack of a combustion engine, the e-tron instead has a shallow storage area where you can keep the charging cables – which are included with the car.

There are two charging ports on the e-tron, one on each side, located between the front wheel arch and door. It's nice to see the inclusion of dual charging ports, as it takes the guesswork out of choosing the right angle to approach a charger from.

Press the button next to the e-tron logo and the motorized panel will move down, revealing the port. Just pop the charging cable in, connect it to the mains and you're off – nice and easy.

Audi e-tron

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Charging times are on the slow side, however, especially if you opt to plug it directly into a standard 13Amp domestic wall socket at home. This is the slowest way to charge the e-tron, with a 50% charge taking around 16 hours. You can increase charge times if you opt to install a 11kW (400v) home-charger, which drops the 50% top-up time to around four hours.

Another positive is the ability to schedule charging times when plugged in at home. That means you can tell the e-tron to charge at night - via the in-car touchscreen or via the My Audi smartphone app - when electricity rates are lower and thus saving you money. 

Currently, the fastest way to charge the Audi e-tron is via public fast chargers, with 150kW charging stations able to deliver a full charge less than an hour.

While some patience is required when it comes to charging, what's more frustrating is the Audi e-tron's range.

We drove the 50 Quattro model which has a range of up to 190 miles on a single charge, if you opt for the Technik trim. We had the S Line trim, which comes with a quoted range of 177 miles, however we found in our real world tests it was more like 140-150 miles.

For many people, this will be enough range for several days worth of commuting, but it's not a great deal if you're looking to travel further, and for long journeys you will find yourself having to stop more.

Audi does offer a longer range version, with the e-tron 55 Quattro coming with a claimed 250 miles – but again real world usage will likely differ.

On the plus side, when you hit around 30 miles of remaining range, the e-tron will offer to automatically route you to the nearest public charging station (if there is one within range), which is a useful feature.

Audi e-tron

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Audi e-tron specs and tech

The Audi e-tron comes well equipped with a suite of tech, and at its heart sits the MMI operating system. The Audi e-tron comes with three large displays, two of which are located in the center console.

There's one 10.1-inch touch screen at the top, which provides you with all the main menu features such as navigation (which is excellent), radio, phone and car settings - however, there's a second touch screen at the base, behind the drive select.

This second 10.1-inch display, tilted at an angle so you can view it more easily, acts as a secondary command input, primarily focused on the car's climate control. 

This reduces the number of buttons and dials required on the dash, and ensures mapping or music information is uninterrupted on the main display.

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Audi e-tron

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However, if for example, you tap navigation on the top screen and go to enter a destination, a full QWERTY keyboard is displayed on the lower screen, allowing you to type in an address quickly and easily, while seeing search results above.

It's a system we found worked well, and will be intuitive for those used to the touchscreen displays of smartphones and tablets. Another impressive feature here is the haptic feedback Audi has built into the screens, making every tap feel like a physical button press.

At first it caught us off guard, as it felt like the whole screen was moving, but we quickly became accustomed to the input and it's a great way of providing confirmation your selection has been made without having to take your eyes off the road.

You can connect your smartphone to the e-tron via Bluetooth, allowing you to stream music, as well as make and receive hands-free phone calls via the car's audio system, with on-wheel controls for easy track selection, volume and call select.

Audi e-tron

(Image credit: TechRadar)

If you're an iPhone owner, you can take things a step further with wireless Apple CarPlay support. This will bring your core smartphone apps - such as Maps, Messages, WhatsApp and Spotify – to the e-tron's touch display, giving you quick access to their functions.

Android fans are also catered for with Android Auto support which delivers a similar experience to CarPlay, however you'll need to grab a USB cable for it to work, as there's no wireless support currently.

Talking of USB ports, the e-tron is well equipped with two in the front along with SD and SIM card slots and a 12v socket, plus a wireless charging pad next to the drink holders - allowing you to top up your smartphone without having to physically plug it in.

Your phone will need to support Qi wireless charging, which the latest iPhones, including the iPhone 11 series, and Samsung Galaxy S20 flagships, do.

Audi e-tron

(Image credit: TechRadar)

In the back there's a further two USBs and a 12v socket available for rear sear passengers, ensuring everyone can charge their devices.

And we've not forgotten about that third, 12.3-inch display, which Audi calls its digital cockpit, taking the place of the traditional instrument cluster. It provides clear visuals on your charge level, remaining range, speed, weather and your choice of maps, music or driving data. It's bright, colorful, easy to read and looks fantastic. 

There is a variety of driving assists available on the e-tron as well, including cruise control, lane assist, blind spot indicators on the wing mirrors, parking sensors and 360 degree cameras, making your journeys safer, and easier to manage.

Audi e-tron

(Image credit: TechRadar)

For those who like a little bit of cabin customization, you can change the color of the mood lights throughout the cabin to match your individual taste. We found that a bright blue worked nicely – but you can pick pretty much any color available from the main touchscreen. 

The Audi e-tron delivers a premium, comfortable electric car experience with plenty of space and a quiet operation to make you feel at home. There's tons of tech crammed in as well, and Audi's infotainment system is one of our favorites - it's easy to use, and stuffed full of features.

The only downside here is the feeling of being short changed when it comes to range. The e-tron we drove had an on-the-road price of £70,820, and to get under 180 miles from a single charge was disappointing. If you're planning on driving long distances regularly, this is a car to potentially avoid.

However, if your commute or frequent trips out are shorter, and you're after a premium all-electric SUV with plenty of tech, the Audi e-tron delivers.

  • John McCann is getting behind the wheel to give you an alternative look at the wealth of cars – and the tech inside them – available today. From super-fast sports cars to tech-packed hatchbacks, he'll take you through a range of makes, models, power and price tags in his regular TR Drives column.