Audi’s first full electric car, the e-tron, is a technological ‘tour de force’. This battery-powered large SUV takes the best bits from the brand’s conventional Crossovers and blends them with next-level electrification technology. There’s a beautiful cabin and we’re even promised engaging driving dynamics. What’s not to like? The price? Well you can’t have everything.
Electric cars may have come on quite a lot since you last looked. With this one, there’s a choice of two variants; a 71kWh ’50 quattro’ entry-level model and the 95kWh ’55 quattro’ derivative that most will choose – the version we tried. Here, you get an electric driveline with two asynchronous motors, one up-front with 181bhp and the other at the rear with 221bhp. They’re electronically linked and together deliver 4WD and a prodigious power output of 402bhp. Mind you, that’s only on offer in the performance-orientated ‘Boost’ mode that would decimate the WLTP-rated 249 mile driving range if you frequently replicated the 0-62mph time of 5.7s or approached the claimed top speed of 124mph. The development team just about managed to get this car to lap the infamous 20.8km Nurburgring Nordschleife race track twice at full tilt.
It’s much more realistic to think of driving in ‘Normal’ mode, which sees overall power drop to 350bhp – still enough to get you to 62mph in 6.4s. Not bad for a car that tips the scales at nearly 2.5-tonnes. Air suspension’s standard and the ride height can be adjusted, with the ‘Efficiency’ mode lowering it by 27mm and ‘Off-road’ mode (yes, there is one) raising the car by 52mm. The steering’s Q5-derived, while much of the suspension uses Q7 bits. As with other electric cars, the low centre of gravity should help in reducing body roll.
The E-tron rides on an electrified version of the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform, the same underpinnings already used by the Audi Q5 – that shares similar exterior dimensions to this car. And the brand’s Q7 model – that shares similar levels of interior space to an E-tron. You’d certainly know this was an Audi if you removed the badgework; design elements like the octagon chrome-framed front grille and the elongated rear lamps connected by a light bar fit perfectly in with Ingolstadt’s current styling language.
Inside, at the wheel, there’s the brand’s usual digital ‘Virtual Cockpit’ virtual instrument binnacle screen as you would expect, plus the centre-stack twin-screen infotainment set-up familiar from the A6, the A7 and the A8. As a result, this electric design shares the button-free uncluttered cabin feel that characterises the interior of those models. What else? Well like the Q5 and the Q7, the back seat is comfortable for two but not really for three. There’s a decently-sized 660-litre boot. And you get an extra little carriage compartment at the front where the engine would normally be, though it’s mostly taken up by the charging leads. You could put a laptop or a small bag there though.
And in summary? Well if you like the idea of a mid-sized or large premium-badged large SUV but can’t stomach the thought of such a vehicle’s impact on greenhouse gases, then this e-tron model will be right up your street. It’s a slightly more imposing thing than Jaguar’s I-PACE – and from the next technological era on from a Tesla Model S. In short, you could imagine your top management colleagues being impressed at your decision, should you take the plunge, ignore a lot of more conventional but very desirable luxury machinery and decide to run an E-tron.
We still think driving range will be a dissuading issue with some buyers though. In this day and age, you should be able to take a full-electric luxury segment car of this price and be able to embark upon a five hour round trip without a moment’s thought about driving range. You still can’t do that with this Audi. But that’s not Ingolstadt’s fault; it’s where the technology currently is. Given that, this is, without doubt, state of the art.
Tesla Model X
Tesla reckons that its all-electric Model X is the safest, fastest and most capable sport utility vehicle in history. With all-wheel drive and battery options that can give you well over 300 miles of range, the Model X has ample seating for seven adults and all of their gear. And it can be almost ludicrously fast too. It’s a pretty unique proposition.
Whatever Model X variant you choose, you’ll get four-wheel drive, courtesy of a pair of electric motors, one powering the rear wheels and one for the front pair. In the 75D variant which offers a 259-mile driving range, this combination works with a 75kWh battery and generates 328bhp. In the 90D derivative, a 90kWh battery is used, there’s a 303mile driving range and you get a combined output of 376bhp. Finally, in the top P100D flagship model, there’s a 100kWh battery, a 336-mile driving range and a huge 691bhp output thanks to what Tesla calls a ‘Ludicrous Speed Upgrade’ that makes this variant capable of rest to 60mph in just 2.9s on the way to 155mph flat out.
On the move, you’ll be impressed by the easy seamless way this Model X gains its speed, though the acceleration does tail off noticeably at higher speeds. The regenerative brakes take some getting used to: come off the throttle and it’s as if you’ve pressed the brake. What this means is that most of the time, you won’t need to use the brakes at all. ‘Smart Air Suspension’ is standard but many still seem to find the ride quality quite firm.
The Model X may not immediately strike you as a classically-styled SUV but it’s certainly obvious from the start that this is a much more practical proposition than Tesla’s original offering, the Model S. The Model X’s design party piece lies with the gull-wing ‘Falcon Wing’ rear doors that make entering the vehicle something of a theatrical event. Tesla says they can open in a confined space too, thanks to a double-hinged design (there’s a hinge on the roof and another above the window line) that allows the doors to raise up with as little as 11 inches of clearance outwards. There are also ultrasonic sensors that lie beneath the bodywork so you can’t open the door into an immovable object.
The front doors open conventionally but are electrically powered, with the driver’s door opening automatically when you unlock the car with the key fob. Step inside and a press of the brake pedal will see the doors close behind you. With both doors open, there’s brilliant access into and out of the car, so, for example, strapping a childseat into the rear is far easier than it would be in a conventional SUV. The Model X comes as standard with two rows of seats. If you specify the optional third seating row, the middle row seats move forward at the push of a button to aid access into the third row. Adults will fit into the very back but will probably need the middle row slid forward a bit if they’re to travel in any real comfort.
The Model X is a very desirable thing. It’s also a very expensive thing. Still, if you were already going to spend upwards of £80,000 on a luxury SUV, it’s certainly a more rational choice than something more conventional in this segment.
Caveats are few. Yes, battery charging does require a little more thought than just topping up a tank and if a car is shared between a married couple for instance, you’ll both need to be on the ball with it. Other than that, there’s very little not to like. The interior is adventurous, the packaging is efficient and if you’re able to go for the 90D or P100D models, the acceleration is quite simply astonishing. Quite simply, the Model X sets a fresh standard for what cars of this kind can do.
Jaguar becomes the first of the premium brand manufacturers to make a long range, practical, battery-powered electric vehicle. If you can afford the £60,000 asking price, you might well have everything you could want here: a 300 mile driving range, 395bhp, potentially zero emissions and a car that might be as comfortable taking to a racetrack as to a gravelly ravine. Welcome to the I-PACE.
We’re looking forward to putting this I-PACE to the test; the prospects certainly look promising. The stuff you need to know here’s quite straightforward – by electric vehicle standards anyway. The 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack lies between the axles and Jaguar has specified two electric motors so that it could position the wheels for a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. They’re powerful too, giving this ‘performance’ EV a 395bhp output. Rest to 60mph takes just 4.5s. Drive like that though and the claimed 300 mile operating range will be used up pretty quickly.
You’d expect silent refinement and instant acceleration from rest from an electric car but, due to the heavy weight of all those batteries, less than stellar ride quality. Jaguar claims it’s put a lot of work into that and offers I-PACE buyers a wide choice of suspension options. You can have passive or adaptive dampers or air springs with adaptive damping. An electric 4WD system is standard – one of those that can put as much or as little torque as is necessary to any wheel. If you were ever brave enough to try your I-PACE off road, you might be surprised at what it could do. Jaguar claims it would wade up to 500mm of water.
In theory, the I-PACE is a kind of SUV. But you might equally want to see it as a coupe, a luxury saloon or even some kind of sportscar. Designer Ian Callum isn’t bothered either way. At 4,682mm in length, this model is 10mm longer than Jaguar’s XE; it’s bigger than the larger XF saloon too, with a 30mm longer wheelbase and 15mm of extra width. There’s more of a cab-forward stance than you’d get in a conventionally-engined Jaguar but the silhouette looks very agile in profile. And it retains a traditional big grille, even though the three independent cooling systems (for the electric motors, the battery and the interior) don’t really need it.
Inside, the cabin’s very Jaguar-like, with big comfortable seats that come with faux-leather as standard and real hide at extra cost. You can even have wood trim if you want it. Ahead of the driver sits an all-digital instrument binnacle and the centre-dash infotainment layout is bespoke to the I-PACE too. As in the Range Rover Velar, it’s a two-screen package, the upper part dealing with navigation, audio and ‘phone functions and the lower part operating informational stuff you’ll need less frequently. It’s a comfortable five-seater and there’s a decent 656-litre boot, with a further 27-litre compartment out-front.
Would you want one? Perhaps a better question is ‘why wouldn’t you want one?’ To which we’ll provide some obvious answers. Firstly, clearly there’s the premium pricing to consider. And secondly, despite the great job Jaguar’s engineers have clearly done with the handling dynamics of this car, there’s no way an EV weighing around 2.2-tonnes can respond and ride quite like a conventionally-engined fossil-fuelled rival. But all the signs are that this one gets very close to that benchmark.
If you’ve been waiting for luxury Evs to get serious, your time may have come here. In the future, there will certainly be better battery-powered electric vehicles than the I-PACE, but we don’t think that there are right at present. And we think that in future, experts will look back at this car as the one that made the EV concept properly credible for the premium buyer. Which makes it very significant indeed.