Does Audi’s newest SUV have the practicality, performance and luxury to back its green credentials?
We drove the Audi e-tron SUV in 2019, the same year it was scheduled to be launched in India. However, certain supply chain constraints, followed by pandemic-related delays meant that this full-electric Audi SUV lost its first-mover advantage to the Mercedes EQC, which launched in 2020, and the Jaguar I-Pace that launched earlier this year. These delays, however, could be a blessing in disguise for Audi, as market awareness and acceptance of EVs in India is much greater now than it ever was. To begin with, Audi will launch two versions of this all-electric SUV – e-tron 55 and e-tron 55 Sportback – both of which draw power out of a 95kWh battery. The focus of this review will be the former.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro: what is it like?
The e-tron is based on a heavily modified MLB Evo platform, which also underpins the likes of the Q5 and Q7. This 5-seater e-tron is similar in dimensions to the 7-seater Q7, stretching over 5m in length, almost 2m in width, and 2.9m in wheelbase, thus holding a distinct size advantage over the competition.
The enclosed hexagonal area up front mimics Audi's traditional grille design.
Audi has adopted a conventional styling approach (inside and out) with the e-tron, so while it looks sharp, it doesn’t scream ‘electric’ in its design language. This has been intentionally done to make buyers feel at home as they transition from an internal combustion engine vehicle to an electric vehicle. Grabbing the limelight upfront is a massive, enclosed hexagonal area finished in grey that mimics a standard Audi front grille. The stylish headlamps and 20-inch wheels add some oomph to its design, and for India, we get a standard outside mirror setup, rather than the futuristic, albeit gimmicky twin external camera setup, which we experienced in its international iteration.
Lurking behind the alloys are massive 18-inch discs which provide impressive stopping power.
Uniquely, Audi has given a charging provision on either side of the car, and what’s cool is the way the flap slides down electrically at the press of a button. Giving away its all-electric identity are the green number plates (mandated for EVs in India), and orange highlights on the e-tron badge and the brake calipers.
Uniquely, the e-tron gets a charging provision on both sides, on the front fender.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro: what is it like inside?
Continuing the conventional styling philosophy from the outside, step into the e-tron’s cabin and you’ll immediately identify design traits and parts shared with other Audis, which is no bad thing. The sheer quality and fit-finish on the inside are top-notch, and there’s not a single low-rent area in this Audi’s cabin. The uncluttered, layered dashboard nicely wraps itself around the cabin, flowing seamlessly into the door pads. The most striking detail is the twin screen setup – one for the infotainment and the other for the climate control, both of which are angled towards the driver. The screens have clear displays, as well as an option for haptic feedback (mild vibration) when ‘pressed’. What lifts the futuristic feel of the e-tron’s interiors is the superb virtual cockpit (full-digital instrument cluster), which is one of the best units around when it comes to display quality and ease of use.
The design and colours are very business-like. Quality and fit-finish are top-notch.
The broad front seats have firm cushioning and you don’t sink into them. The dull grey seat colour is very business-like, and brighter inserts or coloured stitching would have livened up the interior. Storage and charging areas in the front are aplenty and there’s a clever recess area to wirelessly charge your smartphone when placed perpendicularly.
Broad front seats don't feel very plush due to the firm cushioning.
The rear bench is nicely shaped, and the backrest is set to a comfortable angle. The good news is that, even though the battery pack has been accommodated beneath the floor, the floor isn’t too high-set, so neither are you seated in an uncomfortably knees-up position, nor has the headroom been compromised. The seat itself is broad enough to accommodate three passengers abreast and the floor is almost flat; the protruding air-con console, however, hampers knee-room for the middle occupant.
The rear seats are quite comfortable, as is the seating position.
At 660-litres, the e-tron’s boot is massive, and the space saver tyre is neatly tucked beneath the boot floor, where there’s also an additional space to store the charging cables. What’s more is that, in the absence of an engine under the bonnet, the front has an additional trunk or ‘frunk’, where a small soft bag or the charging cables can be stowed.
At 660-litres, the boot space on offer is impressive.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro: what features do you get?
The e-tron's standard feature list includes 20-inch wheels, Matrix LED headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, Audi’s virtual cockpit (fully-digital instrument cluster), twin screens – one for the infotainment and the other for the climate control – both offering haptic feedback, a four-zone climate control, adaptive air-suspension, wireless charging, wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a reverse camera. Included as a part of its extensive options list are the its digital Matrix LED headlamps which have a cool trick up their sleeve – in addition to lighting up the road very well, these also perform a theatrical light show whenever you lock or unlock the vehicle. The options list also features an on-board air purifier, perfume, ambient lighting with 30 colour options, a 16-speaker 705W Bang and Olufsen premium sound system, head-up display, soft-closing doors and then some more. Features such as ventilated seats, wireless phone connectivity and connected car tech, to name a few, are missing altogether, the panoramic sunroof doesn’t extend all the way behind, and users who seek deeper and geeky EV-related information on the screens will be left a bit short-changed with the oversimplified displays on offer.
Its panoramic sunroof isn't quite as large as some of its rivals.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro: what is it like to drive?
The e-tron 55 draws power from a 95kWh battery pack, which supplies energy to two motors, one on each axle. In its sportiest setting, the e-tron generates 408hp/664Nm, 184hp at the front axle and 224hp at the rear. But in other modes, the e-tron makes 360hp/561Nm (170hp in the front and 190hp at the rear).
Right off the bat, you’ll be impressed by how gently the electric motors respond to the flex of your right foot, and you’ll even forgive Audi for not offering a standard creep function. Press down a bit more and you’ll experience what instant EV torque means. A mere flex of your right foot is enough to scoot past slow-moving traffic with the type of gusto you’d least expect from a 2.6 tonne SUV. Acceleration is strong and linear, and the ease with which the e-tron gathers speed quietly and seamlessly is almost a non-event. Interestingly, the e-tron emits a whirring-like sound to alert pedestrians and other road users of its presence, when on the move, through external speakers.
Despite tipping the scales at 2.6 tonnes, it delivers strong performance.
Switch from D to S and this Audi unleashes the additional 48hp/103Nm in overboost mode, under hard acceleration. When driven flat-out, it gallops from 0-100kph in a blisteringly quick 5.58sec, and with your foot pinned to the floor, it will max out at 207kph.
The e-tron has two settings for energy regeneration – manual and auto. What’s impressive is how intuitive the auto mode is when you lift-off. Not only does the deceleration feel as natural as in an ICE vehicle, it cleverly allows the car to coast to maximise the distance covered, or it recuperates charge and decelerates, all based on the driving style and battery state. What’s more is that, if you need to shed speed, you can tug at the left paddle, which increases the intensity of regeneration and mimics engine braking in a way that slows the car down.
You can manually turn regeneration off or set it to two preset levels. Interestingly, most of the time, even when you do use the brake pedal, the wheel brakes are only called to duty during rapid deceleration, above 0.3g force.
Air-spring at all four corners ensures a comfortable and well-cushioned ride.
Riding on air springs at all four corners, the e-tron soaks up road shocks very competently, and even sharper edges aren’t quite as jarring as you’d have imagined in a car with short sidewalls and sitting on 20-inch wheels The drive modes alter the ride’s softness, and in Comfort and Efficiency mode, it gets significantly softer, resulting in some float at speeds. The ‘Auto’ mode, however, balances the suspension’s behaviour extremely well, with controlled body movements and no undue pitching or bobbing.
As the e-tron’s 700kg battery pack is tucked beneath the cabin floor, its weight is concentrated lower down, resulting in a low centre of gravity. That, plus a balanced 50:50 weight distribution at each axle and Audi’s ‘quattro’ system, makes this e-tron feel very nimble from behind the wheel, offering immense levels of grip. Its inert steering, however, takes away from the ‘connected’ feel, but within urban confines, owners will appreciate its lightness, contributing to an easy-going drive experience.
The e-tron holds its own when it comes to panic braking performance. Equipped with 18-inch disc brakes (front and rear), the e-tron sheds speed from 80-0kph, in merely 24.09m, which is remarkable for this 2.6-tonne behemoth.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro: range and charging
In our standard tests, the e-tron 55 achieved 350km on a full charge in the city cycle, and 382km out on the highway. If you are running really low on charge, there is a ‘range mode’ option that switches the climate control off, reduces power consumption, and limits the max speed to 90kph, which can provide an additional 40-60km of driving range.
We tested Audi’s 11kW AC wall box charger too, which replenished 90 percent of the e-tron’s battery (from 10-100 percent) in about 8 hours. In addition, we also plugged it into a 25kW Tata Power DC fast charger, and in a mere 15 minutes, it supplied enough charge to add an additional 25-30km of range, for Rs 106. Average charging bills at home are likely to be around Rs 750 per charge (0-100 percent), taking into account electricity cost at Rs 8 per unit.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro: should you buy one?
In order to reach Audi’s sales target of 200 units a year, not only does the e-tron have to be a very good EV, but it will also have to deliver as a regular premium SUV. As the latter, it looks the part, it is spacious and practical, the ride is excellent, and performance is strong. Being an EV, however, long-distance touring will need careful planning, but as an urban daily driver, the e-tron is as good as it gets. A real-world city range of about 350km makes it more than capable for the routine traffic grind, and it goes about doing its job flawlessly. So, if it’s an easy-to-drive luxury SUV you seek, one which you’ll enjoy driving without having the slightest guilt of harmful tailpipe emissions, the e-tron makes a compelling case. And you’ll have to shell out around Rs 1 crore for the privilege.