Who would’ve thought that we’d see the time when electric vehicles would cause a stir in Mzansi? We were recently afforded the opportunity to spend some much needed time with the all-electric Audi e-tron. What follows in this article is our time with it. And boy are you in a for a treat.
Sometimes it takes the unexpected to really get the true measure of a car, but you can’t say the 2022 Audi e-tron shies from a challenge. First in what the automaker expects to be a whole series of “e-tron” branded electric vehicles, the new SUV isn’t just attempting to demonstrate that established car companies can keep up with new tech, but to change the conversation on what’s important when it comes to EVs. An impromptu weather test was just a bonus during our time with it.
The Audi e-tron 55 is a deceptively compact SUV, at least from the outside. The fact that the standard air suspension can drop the e-tron by up to 2 cm– or raise it by up to 5 cm – only accentuates that. The crisp lines and bold “Singleframe” grille leave it looking handsome and elegant, but don’t stray so far from the rest of Audi’s range as to be off-putting for those considering their first EV.
Inside, though, the benefits of electric drivetrain packaging – which puts a motor on each axle, with no mechanical link between the two – means the cabin is more spacious than the footprint would suggest. Not only is there room for five, but those in the back won’t feel too cramped; cut-outs in the footwell mean their knees won’t be up by their ears, either. There’s ample space for their luggage too.
The e-tron’s cabin is a decidedly pleasant cabin to be in, too. Audi has eschewed its usual entry-level trims, in favor of only offering advanced and S line trims. That means you get power leather seats with heating as standard, along with a Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system, navigation on the twin-touchscreen infotainment system, a power tailgate, Virtual Cockpit instrumentation, 360-degree camera, four-zone climate control, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto with wireless phone charging, and a panoramic sunroof.
That’s on both the R1 990 000 e-tron quattro advanced and the R2 045 000 S line. Additional features include adaptive cruise control, together with a head-up display, fancier leather and seat massage, and power door closers.
Audi Connect is included, too, which means things like live parking information integrated into the dashboard, along with support for the automaker’s smartphone app. From there, you can remotely monitor and schedule charging, set the in-car ventilation, and begin and end vehicle charging.
It’s also possible to set up a navigation route on your phone and then wirelessly transfer that to the car’s system, complete with suggested stop-off points for charging. You can set what level of charge you want to end the trip with and opt to only see the fastest charging stations. Mzansi chargers don’t show on the vehicles yet, something we hope to see in the future soon. New e-tron buyers get complimentary first year membership to Gridcars charging network and charging portal.
EV range is a huge source of anxiety for some drivers, not to mention a key factor by which each new model tends to be judged. After all, how far you can drive between charges can be the difference between an electric car being practical or out of the question. Audi, though, wants to reframe that discussion.
Tune in to my podcast session with Audi South Africa on how exactly they plan to do this after the jump.
First things first: no, the 2022 e-tron doesn’t have class-leading range. Its 95 kWh battery is rated for anything between 369 km and 440 km, in no small part because Audi reserves about 12-percent of the total capacity for future longevity. On paper, that puts it on par with luxury EVs like the Jaguar I-PACE and BMW IX xDrive 40.
Audi’s argument is that, while range may be important, rate of charging is equally so. As soon as you have to factor in at least one stopover point in your trip, because your electric car doesn’t have the juice to make it uninterrupted, the speed at which you can replenish the battery becomes just as vital. Take that into consideration, and those rankings start to look quite different.
Batteries don’t necessarily charge at a steady rate. In fact, there are lots of factors which affect recharging speed: what level you’re starting out from, the temperature of the battery, and the power of the charger itself, among other things. Shifting an EV from 20-percent to 40-percent charge could take a fraction of the time that going from 60-percent to 80-percent would. Logic, right?
This all means that, with the most powerful charging input that the e-tron supports you’ll be able to continue taking in pretty much maximum power until around 80-percent total charge. Rival electric vehicles, in contrast, can start to taper off from their peak charger input from 40- to 50-percent total charge. Which prolongs your charging time.
Audi’s boast is that, with a 10-minute charge on a fast charger – such as those being installed across Mzansi by Gridcars – you can add about 30 km of range. You’ll need to find such a charger first, mind. Though you should probably consult the live map to see if one is actually near you.
Of course, the irony is that charging while on the road actually accounts for only a small portion of the time an EV spends plugged in. The vast bulk of charging takes place at home or at a place of work. On a Level 2 charger, which Audi includes with the purchase of the car, the e-tron will take about nine hours until it’s full.
When Audi allocated time for us out to take the e-tron, we took it on a road trip from Sandton to Parys, it probably expected sunshine. What it actually got was two very different days of weather. The Audi was facing sleet, rainstorms and sunshine highs of 31 degrees.
Combined with a challenging route, the trip actually proved to be an ideal test to see just how the e-tron would handle unpredictable real-world conditions. This wasn’t a time for hypermiling to get the maximum range from the battery, or indeed an opportunity to coddle the electric SUV.
The total drive worked out to 280 km, and so I had baked in a stop at a recently opened Gridcars charging station.
The e-tron does not feel like an electric rocket ship. 0-100 km/h arrives in 5.7 seconds, assuming you’ve put it in Sport mode. Top speed is an electronically limited 200 km/h.
But how does it drive? It drives like an Audi SUV. Stable and poised, eminently familiar if you’ve been behind the wheel of a recent Q3 or Q5. It’ll tow 1800 kg too, a little shy of the Q5’s maximum rating. The electric Quattro system had no trouble with the wet conditions. Not as eager or firm as an I-PACE, but the fit and finish puts both Jaguar and BMW to shame.
Audi is explicitly not chasing the first wave of electric car buyers. Instead, its target is those who might walk into a dealership looking for an internal combustion SUV, but then be tempted by something electric instead. That has led to a couple of decisions that might seem strange to those familiar with EVs.
Audi offers three levels of regenerative braking, thought by default the e-tron handles that all itself. If you want to get involved, you can use the steering wheel paddles to toggle through everything from coasting, where the motors are disconnected and the SUV just glides, through to higher levels that feel more like engine braking in a manual transmission ICE car.
Still, Audi knows its audience well, probably better than I do. The 2022 e-tron comes with an 8 year, 160,000 km warranty on the battery.
More options in the electric vehicle space can only be a good thing. Similarly, more options from established automakers transitioning from ICE cars will only improve the segment. Does the e-tron have the longest range, the best performance, or the most high-tech features? No, but it does offer realistic range, a comfortable driving experience, and the reassurance of Audi’s four rings on the front.
That’s going to be essential for selling EVs to more than just early-adopters, and moving electrification further into the mainstream. In the process, there needs to be more discussion around the full extent of factors which shape electric car ownership. Not just range, but how we charge and where we charge.
If you’re a Tesla fan, that might sound like old news, much in the same way that the Audi’s range might seem underwhelming. It’s easy to sit at the bleeding edge and forget that the majority of people aren’t quite where you are – or willing to take the risk on a relatively new automaker, with all the potential servicing and other headaches that can come with that. For many, it’ll take a familiar brand to get them past that final hurdle where considering battery-electric is realistic.
That doesn’t make the 2022 e-tron perfect, but it does mean it fits just right into the automaker’s line-up. Audi has made the Audi of EVs, and for its owners that’s everything they’ve been waiting for.
All images by Mothusi Molete
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