Audi has been building up to this moment since 2009. As you may remember, work began with the e-tron concept. That show car was reminiscent of the R8, and was later developed into the R8 e-tron, first driven by Iron Man. Audi built “less than a hundred” of its electric supercar before canceling it, through custom orders at over a million dollars a pop.
In 2010, there was also an “Audi e-tron” made for the Detroit Show, powered by two motors instead of the R8’s four. The Geneva Show’s A1 e-tron hatchback was a more down-to-earth proposition, even if it had a 254cc Wankel engine as a range extender. For Paris, Audi came up with a V6 diesel plug-in hybrid e-tron Spyder. Three years later, the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid saw limited production in 2014, by which time Audi was already looking into ways to beat Tesla in the long run, using batteries alone.
Which brings us to the 2019 Audi e-tron, the SUV that drives exactly as you’d expect from a 400 horsepower Audi five-seater. Only even smoother, and much quieter.
Audi admits that Jaguar was quicker out of the gate with the i-Pace, but given the e-tron’s more conventional styling and larger size, they aren’t worried about their prospects. They also have four electric platforms and 7000 engineers at their disposal, which will result in twelve electrified Audis until 2025. Namely:
By 2025 one electrified variant in each Audi core car line, whether fully electric or as plug-in hybrid. Audi e-tron Sportback to follow in 2019. In 2020, an electric-powered compact model. From 2020 production of the Audi e-tron GT at the Böllinger Höfen outside Neckarsulm.
From an engineering point of view, the e-tron is a lot more interesting than the combination of a liquid-cooled battery pack and a pair of asynchronous motors suggests. Sure, Audi’s first mainstream EV is no Rimac C_Two, but that’s why it can start at $74,800 instead of a few millions. And since it’s been designed to be a BEV from day one, it has quite a few features you won’t find on other cars yet.
Almost like an arrow
To achieve a drag coefficient of 0.27 Cd (or 0.28 in the U.S. with the conventional external mirrors) despite being 6.4 ft wide and 5.3 ft tall, Audi had to throw the book at this car. And because a flat underbody is more important than any surface tricks on the bodywork, the e-tron’s floor even has dimples, like you’d find on a golfball. That keeps the airflow clean on its way towards the rear. The air intakes of Audi’s ‘Singleframe’ grille also open and close in two stages depending on the car’s cooling needs. Together with the side air curtains, which direct airflow to the outside of the front wheels, the adaptive grille adds 4.6 miles to the e-tron’s overall range. The standard air suspension will automatically lower the e-tron by an inch when on the move, adding 6.2 miles.
While Audi’s new, camera-based digital mirrors add 1.9 miles, they aren’t legal in the United States. The conventional mirrors we’re getting have been optimized to add about one mile to the range. But don’t cry for the virtual experience just yet, America. During my brief encounter, I found the screens to be at the wrong angle on the doors, not to mention much closer and further down, which ultimately makes you take your eyes off the road for longer. The small amount of extra range isn’t really worth the trouble, nor the extra money.
However, the virtual mirrors will be standard on Europe’s “e-tron edition one,” the Altigua blue launch special Audi has limited to 2600 units.
Audi’s “aerodynamically optimized” 19 and 20-inch wheels also provide roughly a mile’s worth of extra range, with America getting the larger ones standard. Overall, these tricks are responsible for 20 miles of the e-tron’s 248.5 mile range. That’s on the WLTP driving cycle, the EPA figure will come later.
1543 lbs. of batteries
The e-tron is powered by 36 battery modules each containing twelve 60 Ah cells. The system operates at 396 volts and is capable of storing 95 kWh of energy. Audi is using LG Chem’s cells, but the modules are built by Audi in Belgium, while the electric motors come from the world’s largest engine factory in Hungary.
The 95 kWh battery pack has an integrated crash structure for side impacts, and an indirect cooling system of aluminum sections separating the cells from the coolant. Its very strong from the bottom side too, with multiple layers of foam and metal protecting the cells inside a strong frame.
This modular “skateboard” weighs roughly 1543 lbs., which is the equivalent of a 1985 Autobianchi A112 with a full tank of gas, and a heavy toolkit at the back.
Going the extra mile
The e-tron comes with regenerative braking, and you can manually control how much regen is being enabled with the flaps behind the steering wheel. In manual mode, set to the highest ratio, the car will automatically regenerate using the motors only at up to 0.1 g of deceleration, or up to 0.3 if you use the brake pedal. That means you won’t find much brake dust on the e-tron’s rotors, since they will barely see any action. Yet when you need them, the traditional brakes bite instantly, thanks to what Audi calls an electro-hydraulic actuation system.
Unfortunately, you can’t drive the e-tron using the accelerator only, which feels like a massive missed opportunity. Audi’s experts told me they didn’t want to bring the car to a halt using more regeneration, because that would undermine comfort. No comment on why that’s not up to the driver, but the result is that once you lift off, this EV decelerates like a standard automatic, not more.
On the plus side, Audi claims that when braking from 62 mph, the e-tron can regain a maximum of 221 lb-ft and 220 kW, which “corresponds to more than 70 percent of its operating energy input.” That figure makes this the most efficient recuperation system on the market, and a fun game to play downhill. Because according to the e-tron’s displays, those “generators” are indeed as busy as they say.
Living your life at eight seconds at a time
To make the most of the e-tron’s low center of gravity, its pair of motors throw in 402 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of instant torque. That’s in boost mode, which is only available for eight seconds. Unlike Porsche, Audi is using asynchronous motors with integrated water cooling, and no rare earth metals in sight. But once you’ve selected “S,” the e-tron will still get to 62 mph in 5.7 seconds.
During normal driving, the front electric motor, which is positioned parallel to the axle, produces 167 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque (at 13,300 rpm). The rear motor, which is between the wheels, adds 187 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque. Each comes with its own two-stage planetary gearbox, with a single gear transferring the power through the differentials. You also get wheel-selective torque control, and a traction control system that reads its sensor data 10,000 times per second, adjusting the outputs accordingly.
Audi talks a lot about real life “Autobahn performance” with this car, promising no decline in power as you cruise at (an electronically limited) 124 mph. Around Abu Dhabi, we were allowed to test our e-tron at 100mph for an extended period, and apart from the range indication dropping faster than it should have (Audi says the algorithm is constantly learning, giving a more accurate number as time goes on), it felt we had the same power available with 20 miles of range left in those cells as we had at 200. That’s reassuring, and can be a huge selling point against Tesla’s technology, especially once Audi rolls out its performance EVs, starting with the 590 horsepower e-tron GT.
Four rings to rule them all
If you thought battery electric vehicles will be less complex than a twin-turbo plug-in hybrid, consider this: the Audi e-tron comes with four thermal circuits. Four, with 5.8 US gallons of coolant circulating around in cooling pipes that are 131 feet long in total.
This four-circle cooling system also has four stages, offering 250 program variations. If you thought the intricate steam pipe web of Siberia’s Norilsk was hard to keep track of, have a look at the e-tron’s thermal package:
The point of all this complication is to use much of the (otherwise wasted) heat energy as possible, both from the motors and the batteries. Of course the system is also there to keep the e-tron’s batteries between 77 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in all situations, and to make Audi’s ultra-fast 150 kW DC charging possible.
Audi’s upcoming fast-charging system has every chance to be the best in the world. At up to 150 kW, it’s faster than Tesla’s Supercharger, and by the time the car hits the road, Audi expects Electrify America’s network of cooled chargers to be competitive too. And to make the switch to electric even more tempting, the e-tron will launch with 1000 kWh of free credit, and the option of Amazon’s home charging installation, which guarantees 9.6 kW.
In Europe, the Volkswagen Group is working with BMW, Daimler AG and Ford to expand the HPC network.
With a DC inlet on the left and an AC on the right, under the hood, the e-tron’s 2.11 cubic feet of storage has a standard mode 3 cable for 11 kW AC charging, or 22 kW with the optional second on-board charger. Audi says that using a 400 volt three-phase outlet, the battery can be fully recharged in roughly eight and a half hours.
Because it all depends on the infrastructure and the surrounding temperatures, on location, our peak power was just over 140 kW instead of 150 kW. That’s still very impressive, and the batteries are guaranteed to last eight years/100,000 miles, no matter how often you use fast-charging. In fact, data shows that Tesla’s batteries prefer fast-charging in the long run, but Audi doesn’t know yet whether that will be the case with its cells too.