Audi has pulled the covers off its first all-electric car at a San Francisco launch event. The e-tron 55 quattro is a mildly sporty SUV with a 250-mile (402-km) range, 5.5-second 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) time, highly efficient energy recuperation systems and optional electronic mirrors. It'll hit dealers in Q2 2019 at a base price of US$74,800.
At the flashy presentation, opened with a cloud of LED-equipped drones organizing themselves into an aerial Audi logo, the company confirmed that it's working on no less than 20 electrified models to launch before 2025, half of which will be fully electric. These include an e-tron GT sports car in 2019, followed by a compact in 2020.
The e-tron's vital statistics are thus: electric motors on the front and rear axles combine for a maximum output of 300 kW (402 hp) and 664 Nm (490 lb-ft) of torque. That'll give the e-tron a curiously flaccid 0-60 mph time of around 5.5 seconds, which is quick for an SUV, but pretty sluggish for a premium electric. In fact, Audi's approach is much more about everyday driving than making some kind of performance statement, so we'll see how that plays out. Drive is mainly from the rear, with the front motor kicking in when you lay the foot down or the car starts losing traction.
Certainly, it should be safe – Audi has had 250 test vehicles operating across four continents to make sure its predictive traction systems can handle things like snow and mud, and that its cooling systems can keep the powertrain happy in baking heat.
There are seven selectable drive modes, which change the car's character, including the particulars of its air suspension system with active electronic damping, which is capable of raising or lowering the car by up to 76 mm (3 in).
The battery is a large-capacity 95-kWh unit, which lags behind only the top Tesla models as one of the biggest packs on the market. Audi won't quote a specific range figure, except to say it'll do more than 400 km (250 mi), but the company does go out of its way to tout its recuperative systems as some of the most efficient on the market, boosting the e-tron's range by up to 30 percent.
It's not just regenerative braking – the e-tron certainly has that. Any braking effort less than 0.3G of deceleration will be entirely regenerative – that's more than 90 percent of your braking without a pad touching a disc – although the electro-hydraulic brakes are ready to chip in above that figure quickly and decisively. But the car also sips its energy back when you lift off the pedal and coast.
Charging has the potential to be impressively quick, as the e-tron will have the ability to charge at 150 kW where the infrastructure exists. That's some 25 percent faster than the Teslas can do at this point, and represents a 30-minute 0-80 percent blast charge, with billing integrated into the car to make for a seamless drive in/drive out experience.
Design-wise, Audi has gone for an understated but sporty look, and like Mercedes-Benz's EQC, the e-tron drops the main hints that it's an electric in a set of mildly futuristic-looking hubcaps. Aerodynamics have been a focus here, with best-in-class drag figures helping squeeze more range out of the battery, as well as make for a quieter ride, which Audi says you'll notice thanks to the lack of engine noise.
Like the upcoming Lexus ES, the e-tron can rock digital mirrors as an option. Here, though, they're significantly smaller on the outside and much better integrated into the interior design as small, indented panels above the inside door handles. We'll let Lexus and Audi duke it out over who's got the world's first production digital mirrors, but these are certainly the first that don't look like an afterthought.
The entire cabin looks pretty neat, with a full-color digital dash and large touchscreen entertainment system. It's a much busier look than the inside of a Tesla, and doesn't rise to the Mercedes MBUX level of multi-mode sexiness, but it still looks great, and will feature full Alexa integration.
At the base price of US$74,800, you can expect 20-inch wheels, heated and cooled seats, Bang & Olufsen 3D audio, top-down parking cameras, and wireless phone charging pads.
Bump that up to the Prestige package for US$81,800 and you get massage seats, a HUD and "driver assist package," extra quiet dual pane glass in the windows, and power-closing doors.
And the first 999 US buyers can upgrade an extra step to the US$86,700 Edition One package, with 21-inch wheels, Daytona Grey paint, black leather through the interior, and orange brake calipers.
All in all, the new e-tron comes across as a curious kind of statement vehicle. Rather than positioning its first all-electric offering as a benchmark-setting powerhouse, or going super futuristic with it, Audi has concentrated on making this as small a jump as possible from the car you're already driving. Electric as the new ordinary; it's got a nice ring to it.
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