Audi has applied the “E-Tron” label to a smattering of electrified cars and concepts over the last nine years, but with the new E-Tron SUV the company puts its pure electric stake in the ground.
The first fully electric production Audi will be a five seat, dual motor, all-wheel drive SUV ranging from $75,795 to $87,695, delivered, before applicable federal and state tax credits. At those price points, Audi is targeting buyers who want their car to express an image of currency, not just cost a fair amount of it.
Conspicuously absent from the E-Tron SUV’s specification list is range, which Audi is leaving for the EPA to pronounce. Competing electric SUVs from Tesla, Jaguar and soon Mercedes-Benz estimate between 240 and 290 miles of range. Given how Americans use SUVs, Audi will want to be closer to 300 miles of range than to 200. On a DC fast charger you’ll replace 80 percent of that unknown range in 30 minutes. The more common Level 2 home charger fully replenishes the battery overnight, no surprise there.
What we do know is that the E-Tron SUV’s battery is a big 95-kWh, 7-foot long, 1,545-pound slab slung under the vehicle via 35 bolts that make it a structural element. The bottom side is a thick aluminum plate to withstand impacts, while an internal aluminum lattice supports 36 shoebox-size battery modules in contact with a conductive gel and liquid cooling system. Audi takes pains to describe the system as safe and stable, apparently sensing some weakness in Tesla’s technology reputation.
One asynchronous AC motor sits at each end of the vehicle, with the rear doing most of the work unless slip or other performance conditions call for the front wheel motor to kick in. It’s Quattro all-wheel drive, but with a different agenda, and accelerating to 60 miles per hour happens in an estimated 5.5 seconds. A selection of seven drive modes sounds a but gilded, but we’ll reserve judgement until we get a production unit in for test. As the motors sit on axle lines, not at corners, torque vectoring is done via wheel braking. But more interesting than how the E-Tron SUV applies power is how it conserves it.
During coasting or braking, both motors and all four wheels contribute to battery regeneration, which can be set to one of three levels via steering wheel paddles. The most aggressive setting is sticky enough to allow one-pedal driving, as first popularized by the BMW i3 and second-generation Nissan Leaf. Audi estimates that 90 percent of the vehicle’s braking — up to 0.3g — will be handled entirely via regeneration and not the brake pads. Instrument panel prompts tell the driver when to lift off while driving, based on navigation data, forward radar sensing, and analysis of camera imagery.
During an early taste of the system recently, we verified the braking system’s efficiency via a novel metric: Comfortably placing a hand on cool brake rotors immediately after a steep descent of Pikes Peak.
All in, Audi estimates this complex regeneration system will account for 30 percent of an E-Tron SUV’s range, tacitly acknowledging that heavy batteries and long charging times remain an EVs biggest flaws.
Just as ambitious as Audi’s onboard power handling is its plan for charging. In an auto industry first, the company has partnered with Amazon Home Services to support purchase and installation of a Level 2 charger in your home. Level 2 charger installs are nothing novel, but doing them with a minimum of contractor interviews and price shopping is. When you’re on the road, E-Tron charging is supported by a network of 500 fast charging sites in partnership with Electrify America, a company created from a $2 billion fund VW set up as part of its settlement for emissions cheating. New E-Tron SUV buyers get the equivalent of 11 free full charges on that network during the first four years of ownership and, of course, you can use a growing array of other chargers as well.
The recognizable styling of the E-Tron SUV, battery regeneration story, Amazon charger installs, and network of Electrify America stations are all about reducing fear. “We view the whole thing as a trust leap” by potential buyers, admits Audi of America president Scott Keogh. “We’ve tried to make that leap as small as possible.”
Audi is taking E-Tron SUV reservations now for a $1,000 refundable deposit. By the time the first vehicles are delivered in mid-2019, Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes will also be in the thick of taking it to Tesla. Audi’s Keogh doesn’t seem to mind the company. “The biggest thing with the luxury buyer is ‘purchase confirmation,'” he says. “They drop the kids at school, see another parent in a new kind of car and say ‘that’s interesting’. They don’t want to be first, but they don’t want to be left behind, either.”