Audi E-tron 55 Quattro: charging forward

(Photos: Audi)
Treading a fine line between the futuristic and the familiar in design, operation, and character, Audi’s first fully electric vehicle (EV) sets the tone for the Ingolstadt manufacturer’s imminent future. Technologically advanced yet user-friendly and reassuringly “normal”, the E-tron has a distinct flavor, but does not overwhelm traditional combustion vehicle drivers with too many EV quirks. It is instead a well-thought-out and well-executed, practical daily driver with impressive range, performance, and on-the-move energy recuperation.اضافة اعلان

Doubling down
Reminiscent of Audi’s conventional SUV models in its broad design strokes and signature octagonal grille, the E-tron however features different themes and flourishes, including multiple small grille slats. The E-tron’s otherwise practical design also emphasizes a sportier side, with a big tailgate spoiler and contoured black sills alluding to its grounded weighting. Muscular, blistered wheel-arches and rear haunches meanwhile reference the iconic original Audi Quattro, and draw attention to the E-Tron’s four-wheel-drive.

Built on a modified long wheelbase Audi Q5 platform, the E-tron features rigid, lightweight aluminum-intensive construction. However, its heavy 700kg batteries are positioned under the floor for a low center of gravity, and liquid-cooled for efficiency. The batteries are contained within an enclosed aluminum structure to enhance body rigidity for improved safety and ride and handling qualities. Underneath, aluminum protective covers contribute to low aerodynamic drag, as do the E-tron’s variable-opening cooling vents.

Powering all wheels through two separate but fully-integrated electric motors and single-speed gearboxes driving rear and front axles, the E-tron provides confident grip. With an efficient rear bias in normal conditions, front-wheel contribution increases when more power or road-holding is necessary, whether to tidily pull out of corners or for low-traction off-road surfaces. Meanwhile, the E-tron’s combined 360HP and 561Nm output is available for 60 seconds for consistent and efficient 6.6-second 0-100km/h acceleration and a 200km/h top speed.

Ebb and flow
The E-tron’s output, however, rises to 407HP and 664Nm for 8-second bursts in “S” drive mode. As such, 0-100km/h acceleration drops to 5.7 seconds, as front output rises from 170HP and 247Nm to 183HP and 309Nm, and rear output from 190BHP and 314Nm to 224HP and 355Nm. With near-instantly responsive deep torque reserves and seamless power accumulation, the E-tron is quick from standstill and muscularly confident on steep inclines, as driven on Abu Dhabi’s Jebel Hafeet hill climb.

Similarly impressive are the E-tron’s claimed 417km combined range, and anecdotal real-world range, as observed during an extensive test drive that included energy-sapping high-speed motorways and hard-driven high altitude hill climbs. Charging time meanwhile varies significantly depending on charging method, but takes eight and a half hours using an 11kw 400v charger. This significantly drops to 30 minutes with a high-capacity 150kw charger where available, but cannot match conveniently quick combustion vehicle re-fueling.

The E-tron can meanwhile recuperate up to 220kw through adjustable resistance regenerative brakes. Operating without conventional mechanical brakes at up to 0.3g, they are most efficient — and useful — on steep descents. But unlike most EVs, the E-tron’s system features a more intuitive free-coasting mode for highways and sporty switchback driving, where immediate accelerator lift-off brake-force is not desirable. Energy recuperation and braking resistance levels can also be usefully and temporarily adjusted from a steering column stalk.

Quick comfort
Near-silent from inside, the E-Tron is a capable long-distance cruiser that is smooth, settled, and stable at speed, and easily maneuverable in town. A low center of gravity and balanced weight distribution restrains body roll and keeps the E-tron reassuringly grounded through fast corners. Responsive turning into corners, with well-weighted and direct electric-assisted steering, the E-tron’s selective braking-based torque vectoring system aids agility, minimizes under-steer, and keeps it tidy through sudden direction changes.

With sophisticated five-link adaptive air suspension compensating for firm, low-profile tires, the E-tron forgivingly absorbs most imperfections. Air suspension also alternately lowers and raises ride height for high-speed stability or improved off-road angles.

The E-tron spaciously accommodates passengers and a minimum of 660liters of luggage. Well-presented and user-friendly, its dual infotainment screens and configurable instrument panel help keep an uncluttered ambiance, despite an abundance of comfort, convenience, safety, and driver assistance systems and controls.

Additionally, the E-tron can be optionally equipped with a virtual mirror system, comprised of slim external stalk-mounted side cameras and high-definition screens positioned in approximation of where normal side mirrors would otherwise be located, but inside. They are perhaps a complex solution to a non-existing problem, but nevertheless reduce aerodynamic drag from CD0.28 to 0.27, to add up to 35km driving range. Providing good night visibility, the passenger side screen is, however, more intuitive to use.

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