The Audi e-tron SUV that goes on sale next spring in the U.S. isn’t just Audi’s first fully electric vehicle. It’s the luxury brand’s way of showing how an increasingly inevitable part of the future can fit right in and be a part of four-ring identity.
In our first drive this week, we found the e-tron to be exactly that—simultaneously flaunting some daring, different engineering decisions under the surface but looking and feeling, at face value, to be a familiar, mainstream-luxury Audi.
The e-tron appears, inside and out, as if it were a larger member of the allroad family, taller than Audi’s sedans but somewhat lower than its SUVs. It rides on a wheelbase that’s about halfway between the Q5 and Q7, and while it’s shorter than the Tesla Model X it’s about nine inches longer than the Jaguar I-Pace.
Inside, the cabin borrows attributes from the brand’s latest A8 and A6 sedans, as well as the Q7 and Q8 SUVs. The seating position is rather high, but a beltline of distinctive trim—open-pore ash wood in the vehicle we spent the most time with—separates the dash and gives the front an airier feel and better vantage point. Audi’s widescreen virtual cockpit gauge cluster and the new MMI touch response system, with dual screens and tactile confirmation, give it the same familiar look and interface that the brand’s other swankier models have.
As for those different engineering decisions, Audi opted for two current-excited (wound) motors for the e-tron, for their higher-speed efficiency and because they’re not dependent on rare-earth materials. It also completely re-engineered the brake system around a goal of recovering as much energy as possible.
Go with the boost
With a nudge of the shifter back to "S" mode, from "D," you can toggle Sport mode and access a Boost mode that pushes the front motor from its usual 168 horsepower to 181 hp and the rear motor from 188 hp to 221 hp. Boost mode, which lasts eight seconds at a time, increases overall system specs to 402 hp and 490 lb-ft—a gain of 13 and 18 percent, respectively. Audi quotes a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds using Boost mode, and without it the time is somewhere near seven seconds. The e-tron can tow up to 4,000 pounds (the same as the Q7 2.0T).
The Boost mode time isn’t quite as quick as the Jaguar I-Pace or Tesla Model X, but about the same as the Q7 with its larger 3.0T gasoline engine, and significantly quicker than with the 2.0T base engine. There’s very little motor whine, so the quietness makes the e-tron’s launch from a standing start feel especially quick.
Audi Drive Select is also nearly identical to gasoline Audi models, allowing modes that work with the standard air suspension and include modes ranging from Offroad and Allroad to Dynamic. The ride is on the firm side but well-damped, and the cabin is tight and supremely hushed, without active noise cancellation.