It would appear that the human race is a social bunch. Currently, 4.3 billion of us flock to populate city centres all across the globe and it’s estimated that this will grow to 6.7 billion by 2050. We emit CO2 at an alarming rate and inevitably seem to be on a fast track to grinding to a halt. Well, not if Audi AG has anything to do with it.
As a company, ‘Future‘ Audi AG is exploring everything possible to keep us moving sustainably, from shared mobility and driverless cars to robo-taxis and even looking to the sky with vertical mobility. But it’s the E-Tron that has them amped up right now, and they took us to Queenstown to show us why.
Like many of us, until recently, whenever I thought of electric vehicles, all I could muster up were images of rather unimaginative, compact urban-dwelling golf-carts, that despite being environmentally superior to most of their gas-guzzling opposition, just seem to limp flaccidly between charging stations. Thankfully, the ‘landscape’ is changing and now Audi has released a vehicle built to traverse it all: the E-Tron.
Our E-Tron experience began in a conference room at The Rees Hotel, where we were informed of the merits of this all-new Audi. Just as the Quattro did 38 years ago with powertrains, the E-Tron embraces a progressive design, high-performance and high-technology triangle that is set to revolutionise the EV world. For despite boasting class-leading drag coefficient numbers of 0.27, the E-Tron is a full-size (4.9m long x 1.94m wide) five-seater premium SUV that (as we found out) has the ability to take you wherever you want to go and thrill you while it’s at it.
The E-Tron comes with an Audi SUV hallmark grille complete with vertical slats however the horizontal ones open and close automatically depending on how much the motors behind need to breathe. The LED Matrix headlamps are standard but their ‘use’ is an additional option and the lower air curtains that feed air to the wheels complete the view up front. The E-Tron’s profile, sports special aerodynamic wheels, Quattro ‘blister’ flared arches, a charging flap on the driver’s side, video cameras instead of wing mirrors and a bulging design line which indicates how low the 36 module battery system lies underneath. At the rear, more aerodynamics in the shape of a roofline spoiler, it has a full width LED light bar with a few more slats thrown in for good measure and of course no exhaust.
The interior is very upmarket Audi, with oodles of leather and high-polished surfaces. The MMI (multi-media interface) is intuitive and easy to navigate around, the virtual cockpit is bright and clear, and the horizontal lines of the dash add to the feeling of space. In truth, it is spacious inside though. The lack of transmission tunnel offers plenty of room both in terms of centre console and rear leg room, plus there’s 600 litres of luggage space and an extra 60 litres in the frunk (cubby hole where the engine would be).
Behind the scenes, the 95kWh (84kWh usable) powers two motors, 135kw in the front and 165kW at the rear giving (up to) 300kW and 664Nm under boost and a 0-100km/h time of 5.7seconds, also, depending on how you drive, up to 417km of range. Plus, the E-Tron runs a ‘brake by wire’ system that connects your foot pedal to the brakes electronically.
On the subject of brakes, what would normally be gear paddles behind the steering wheel are now effectively brake paddles. Much like a truck’s engine brake you can adjust the amount of engine resistance and ultimately charge using the left and right paddles. There’s plenty more to talk about in terms of this advanced BEV (battery EV) SUV but we were itching to get on (and off) the road.
Audi (and Downforce) had devised a full-on route that would include tarmac, soft/off-road and then a first zero-emissions public ice drive experience in the southern hemisphere. It would showcase the SUV’s prowess on all manner of terrains and give us ample time to get a good feel for the vehicle itself.
We were to be heading east to Clyde Dam but (as it turned out) not in the usual route, so we grabbed the keys to one of the E-Trons with the mirror cameras. In all honesty, having small screens in the door instead of mirrors took a little getting used to, especially on the driver’s side, but by the time we got halfway along Kawarau Gorge, it all seemed pretty natural. But not as natural as the ride itself. Although the road offered twisting turns and steep gradients, the 2.5-tonne E-Tron didn’t bat an eyelid. It’s super quiet and the ride is as smooth as silk, it’s almost unnerving. The steering feels positive and the chassis (complete with the 700kg of battery weight) offered virtually no roll at all.
We detoured over Hawkesburn Road, an off-the-main-highway route that, thanks to the recent rain, offered tight muddy hill climbs with slippery descents. We had winter tyres underfoot so the E-Tron was obviously more prepared than the average Auckland vehicle but even so, the SUV handled the exercise like a champ. It seriously wouldn’t have spilt a latte.
Following a drive across the top of the dam (a place that generates 2,100GWh of renewable power annually) and a tour of the facility itself, they opened the floodgates for a highly impressive selfie moment, before heading back to the hotel. Just quietly, it was awesome.
Up early-ish the next morning and donning our ultra-warm Huffer winter coats, we headed to Wanaka and the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, time to get our drift on. I wasn’t sure of how the big E-Tron would handle the snow, assuming it would either be too safe or offer no traction at all, neither assumptions were correct. With traction control off, the E-Tron is a four-wheel drift king, with plenty of rear-wheel driving bias to have you slip-sliding away. Under the direction of Downforce’s Audi ice-driving-trained professionals, we slalomed, drifted and spun our wheels for an hour of wintery fun.
The final run from the mountain top to the airport was turned into an energy challenge. We regenerative braked and coasted our way the 54km downhill and along the Crown Range, in order to get the least battery percentage loss. In total, we used just six percent!
The Audi E-Tron fulfilled its promise. It’s a luxurious, premium SUV that handled the huge variety of terrains and landscapes and came away smiling. A big tick for Future Audi AG.