Testing an electric car takes a little more thought than one powered by petrol or diesel. Given the minefield of battery sizes, range and charging points, you really need to dive into what a pure EV is like to live with, warts and all.
Which is where the Audi E-Tron comes in. We borrowed one for just over a week and clocked about 600 miles, to see how ready we are for the incoming electric revolution, and if the ‘leccy Audi SUV is a decent entry into the field.
So, without further ado…
The Catalunya Red Audi E-Tron arrives with a 75 per cent charge, good for a range of 160 miles, the trip computer tells me. The first day of driving merely consists of dropping the delivery driver at the local station, although the dual carriageway on the way back reveals what happens when you put your foot down.
The E-Tron does that now familIar electric car ‘thing’ of picking up with an almost shocking enthusiasm on first throttle application (instant torque FTW), before the thrust from the dual motors becomes more linear and less exciting. There’s a faint whirr under load, with the E-Tron sounding a little like a Northern Line tube train when you lift off.
Tomorrow involves a 140-mile journey down to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, so I plug the E-Tron into a three-pin mains socket, which will take 12 hours to completely charge the 95kWh battery pack. If I had a 7kW wall box, it’d cut that time down to roughly a third.
‘Charge fault’, the E-Tron’s instrument cluster frustratingly reads. It’s added maybe a mile or two if that before stopping the charge, although it turns out to be a problem with the extension lead I used and entirely my fault. Oops.
Not wishing to push my luck, I pull into the services and plug into an Ecotricty 50kW charger about 50 miles into the journey. You need an app for this, which - of course - I don’t have. Not wishing to faff, a quick phone call to my Nissan Leaf-driving brother starts the charge using his account.
It’ll take a few hours to fully ‘brim’ the batteries - ideally, I’d have stopped at a 150kW charger, but they’re still few and far between. 350kW chargers, meanwhile, have only just landed in the UK.
This doesn’t matter though, as a 16-minute charge provides 12.7kWh of juice at a cost of £3.81, which adds an extra 40 miles of range. More than enough of a buffer, and it’s all from wind and solar energy, the bill says.
I’m staying at the Porsche Media village, and I’ve forewarned the people running the place about my choice of wheels, but it turns out the charging solution they had in mind wasn’t going to work. Instead, I was plugged into a three-pin socket run off, erm, a diesel generator, which will take 32 hours for a full charge.
Good job I’m staying two nights…
No charge faults this time, just a nice, full charge. Result! This gives me a range of 200 miles, which turns out to be fairly conservative - after 144 not especially gentle miles home, I’m left with over 80 miles.
I didn’t bother charging the Audi overnight, but a gentle, near-silent waft into town in the very smooth-riding E-Tron gives me the chance to try out one of six chargers in the shopping centre multi-storey car park. Each only kicks out 7kW, but hey, they’re free.
Back home, it’s time to hook the electric Audi back into the three-pin socket in my garage, with a full charge estimated to take 30 hours.
In the end, I unplugged the E-Tron yesterday morning, wanting to try out a nearby Ecotricity charger for a little longer this time, en-route to an event over at Bentley’s HQ in Crewe. I bring my laptop to do a little work during the hour-long session, which this time I’ve actually downloaded the app for. See, I’m organised sometimes!
It adds 19.7 kWh at a cost of £5.91, upping the range to almost 200 miles. I messaged Bentley’s PR people a few days ago to ask about electric charging points, to which the response was “nobody’s asked that before…”
Turns out there’s a row of 7kW chargers in the VIP car park, which I’m kindly given access to. I’m there for about an hour and a half, and as it seems the charge didn’t start immediately, it’s only added 20 miles.
This leaves me with just about enough battery to get home. And when I say just, I mean I had to drop to HGV speeds for the last 10 miles following a loud beep accompanied by a message that told me to charge the E-Tron immediately. Ah, range anxiety - I’ve been expecting you!
As the range drops further, a little tortoise silhouette starts flashing, along with a warning of restricted performance. I can probably make it, but I panic with nine miles of range to go and stop at the same charger I was at this morning. A Leaf owner is using it, but he says he’s only topping up, and kindly leaves the charger to me on hearing how low my range is.
Again, I haven’t bothered charging at home, returning to…that same damn Ecotricity charger. I need to ensure there’s enough juice to get the final shots done, and also enough for the guy collecting it to make it back to Audi HQ in Milton Keynes. It was only a short stop at the 50kW machine yesterday, so I plug in for 46 minutes, getting 35.8 kWh for £10.74. Much more than I’d have paid at home - where any normal EV would have charged up in this situation - but not terrible value.
On the way to the shoot location, I get a proper chance to see how the E-Tron fares dynamically, having gotten some sense on the twisty roads near Goodwood.
There are some things to like. The steering, while lifeless, has good weighting and is reasonably predictable. Body control from the air suspension is pretty good too. But my god do you feel each and every one of the E-Tron’s 2565 kilos.
Guiding it through a set of corners quickly soon gets interesting, with the front end generally wanting to wash wide. A decent throttle input can result in a bit of movement at the back, at least.
Granted, few E-Tron owners will drive their cars like this, but even if you dial back the silliness, the E-Tron seems bulky and unwieldy. The Jaguar I-Pace, which is several hundred kilos lighter, is a much better car to drive.
On the way back, the clever ‘virtual mirrors’ - which give a bigger field of vision than conventional mirrors while cutting drag - develop a fault with the driver’s side display becoming permanently dimmed.
With a base price of £70,805, optioned to £82,615, the E-Tron is hardly democratising the electric car, but it’s another attractive premium EV option that’d slot into your life quite nicely.
It still feels very much like an Audi, and it doesn’t look too dissimilar from Ingolstadt’s other SUVs. Criticise it for feeling bland if you want, but it’s nice to see an electric car that isn’t trying just a little too hard to differentiate itself from the ICE stuff. Many will prefer something conservatively styled for their first steps into the world of electric.
It does seem a bit of a shame to hamper the range and performance by sticking Audi’s impressive EV powertrain in a tall, heavy SUV frame, but given how madly popular the body type is now, you can understand why it’s gone down this way. In any case, a production version of the four-door E-Tron GT saloon - which will be related to the Porsche Taycan - is on the way.
We are still at a stage where driving an electric car, particularly if you’re doing decent mileage, requires quite a lot of thought. When planning journeys, you’ll need to think about where you might be plugging in at the end, and if you’ll need a charge in-between using the UK’s still quite patchy charging infrastructure.
That’s the cost of being an early adopter, and although I’m weird and like meticulous preparation, it’s not for everyone. Plus, until higher capacity chargers are more prevalent, longer-range premium EVs like the E-Tron are going to be a hard sell - I’d much more readily recommend a smaller, lighter and cheaper electric car like a Nissan Leaf or the incoming Peugeot e-208 for more limited mileage roles.
The realm of electric cars has taken some sizeable leaps forward in recent years; not so long ago, an EV meant a little box of plastic misery with a 40-mile range. We’re not quite there yet, though. By all means go for the Audi, or the slightly superior Jaguar I-Pace, just don’t forget you may need to make a few sacrifices along the way.