2019 Audi E-tron first drive review: all-electric SUV tackles an uphill battle

After announcing a 204-mile estimated range for its battery electric 2019 E-tron, Audi had its work cut out to convince potential and often range anxious buyers that there’s more to a good EV than just boasting the most miles between charges. Audi’s answer is the E-tron’s extra quick 150 kW DC fast charging system. The automaker reckons that its ability to add 54 miles of range in about 10 minutes and reach an 80-percent charge (about 160 miles) in 30 minutes should make up for any perceived slight in range.

To both show off the EV’s still fairly impressive roaming ability and give me an opportunity to test its ace-in-the-hole fast charging capability, the automaker invited me on a 200-mile road trip in the 2019 Audi E-tron Prestige. To make things a bit more challenging, the route chosen would take us from Napa County, California to Lake Tahoe on the Nevada border, a largely uphill journey culminating in a 7,000 foot climb to our final destination.

The 2019 E-tron

Let’s get reacquainted with Audi’s midsize battery electric crossover. The E-tron is so similar in scale and design to the new Audi Q8 that I confused the two when parked side-by-side. However, the E-tron rides on a unique dedicated electric vehicle platform and is just a hair smaller and shorter than the Q8, sliding in just above the gasoline-powered Audi Q5 in the lineup.

Inside, the E-tron features a slightly more high-tech take on Audi’s clean and modern cockpit design and is powered by the same excellent and intuitive MMI Touch Response infotainment as the most current generation of Audi vehicles. Front and center is Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which features E-tron specific software for monitoring cruising range, efficiency, regenerative braking and battery level.

My example featured conventional wing mirrors (not the trick side cameras that Editor-in-Chief Tim Stevens experienced on his E-tron drive), but the E-tron’s weird thumb-shifter adds a bit of gee whiz novelty to the cockpit experience.

The E-tron’s shifter is mostly stationary. Only the thumb switch moves to select the driving direction


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Powering up the electric SUV brings all of the tech to life, including the E-tron’s dual electric motors performance. On the front axle is a 184 horsepower, 228 pound-feet of torque e-motor while the rear wheels are driven by a 224 horsepower, 262 pound-foot motor. Together, they form a slightly rear-biased version of Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system with a peak combined output of 355 horsepower.

Selecting the E-tron’s Sport drive select mode and matting the throttle beyond the “kick-down button” point activates a Boost Mode that temporarily increases output to 402 ponies for about eight seconds — plenty of time to test the E-tron’s zero-to-sixty sprint in just 5.5 ticks.

Hitting the road

With that out of my system, I turned my attention to the first leg of the journey, a 70-plus mile drive from Yountville to Sacramento. Taken at an easy pace on the smooth curves through Napa County, I was impressed by the quiet ride on the E-tron’s standard air suspension in Comfort mode and its even quieter electric powertrain. I was happy with the responsiveness of the throttle and the familiar steering feel. Mostly, the E-tron feels like I expect an Audi vehicle in this class should, but with a slightly more robust accelerator pedal.

The E-tron’s approach to energy regeneration can be as simple or complex as you wish. The default “Auto” state varies automatically between freely coasting (level 0) when the accelerator pedal lifts to fairly strong regenerative deceleration (level 2) depending on speed, the route chosen and even the distance to a car ahead. Stepping on the brake pedal gives maximum regeneration, so much that the SUV only needs to engage the hydraulic brakes during very strong stops or when coming to a halt. During the entire first leg, the physical brakes only engaged about 25 times (according to a custom monitor installed in my test vehicle) with the EV recuperating about 8.7 total kilowatts of waste energy.

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My E-tron’s bright yellow stoppers look great, but a strong regenerative braking system means they didn’t get much of a workout during my day of testing.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Drivers who prefer a bit more direct control can use the paddle shifters and a “Manual” setting accessed in the MMI system to lock the E-tron’s coasting regeneration to the level of their choosing. I passed a few miles and corners set a the strongest level 2, which got me close to a one-foot driving experience, but still not quite as much deceleration on lift as Nissan’s e-Pedal feature in the Leaf.

I also noticed that the E-tron’s electric powertrain doesn’t creep forward when lifting the accelerator in traffic and there doesn’t appear to be any way to enable this behavior. Drivers used to creeping through stop-and-go traffic may find this odd, if not annoying. And while the E-tron uses a brake assist feature to prevent rolling back on steep hills, I noticed that my example did roll backwards a bit on very slight inclines.

Super fast charging

Efficiency on the mostly flat first leg was pretty good at about 2.47 miles per kilowatt-hour, close to bang-on with Audi’s estimate of about 2.43 mi/kWh. After a pleasant 77.2 miles rolling, I arrived at the first stop of the day — an Electrify America fast charging station in Sacramento, Calif. — with a 60-percent charge left on battery. It was time to check out the E-tron’s most interesting party tricks and and juice up at 150 kilowatts.

The E-tron’s robust thermal management and battery conditioning systems allow it to accept higher charging power than most fast charging EVs. That means that the Audi can cram in 54 miles of range in about 10 minutes and reach an 80-percent charge (about 160 miles) in 30 minutes.

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The E-tron is able to charge extremely quickly thanks to its 150 kW DC fast charging port.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

What I find most interesting about the Audi’s charging behavior is that while it does eventually begin to reduce charging power at 80-percent full, it still ends up delivering more power for those last few percent than its competitors, all the way up to 100-percent where it’s still averaging around 60 to 80 kW of juice. My 60-to-100 percent fast charge only took an impressively short 22 minutes.

Of course, the electric elephant in the room is Tesla’s newest 250 kW V3 Superchargers. Audi claims that the E-tron can maintain peak charge level for longer than other systems which results in a more consistent overall charging time. Looking at a charging profile chart furnished by Audi, the V3 Tesla system jumps out to an early lead, but begins to slow down when the vehicle’s battery reaches just 20 percent. By 50 percent, the Tesla seems to have lost its advantage to the E-tron, which is still humming along at 150 kW. It’s tough to say which approach is “better” this early in the game — before Tesla has rolled out a significant number of V3 Supercharger stations and with just charts to go by — but both methods seem wicked fast.

When you’re not in a rush, the E-tron can be charged at a more common Level 2, 240-volt charging station and includes a standard 9.6 kW, 240-volt AC charging cable for use at home. At this level 2 speed, the E-Tron goes from empty to full overnight with a 9 hour charge. In a pinch, you can also trickle charge from a 110-volt AC outlet with the included same cable, but at 80 hours from flat to full, that’s more of an emergency use only sort of method.

It’s all uphill from here

With a full battery, it was time to tackle the most challenging leg of the journey, an uphill climb from Sacramento to Emerald Bay at the south end of Lake Tahoe. With about 7,000 feet of elevation along the way, the E-tron had its work cut out for it.

With plenty of torque, ascending the climb wasn’t a problem for the Audi. It still felt plenty powerful uphill and its electric responsiveness wasn’t at all affected by altitude. However, the battery level and range took pretty big hits, dropping to just 1.77 miles per kilowatt-hour for this leg and reaching the the highest point of the journey with just a 31 percent charge left on the battery after only 103.6 miles traveled.

The spectacular view of Emerald Bay from the top of the ascent was certainly worth the climb, but eventually it was time to pack it up and head onward to the last stop of the day.

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The E-tron handled the 7,000 foot climb without too much effort, but its range was predictably impacted by the ascent.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

A strong finish

The shortest and easiest leg of the day was the 14.3 miles back downhill to Stateline, Nevada, the terminus of my journey. Downhill regeneration and lots of coasting helped to pull my efficiency average back up and to stretch the range. With 117.8 miles between me and my last recharge, I arrived at the final stop with 26 percent left in the battery and 45 miles of estimated range on the Virtual Cockpit trip computer. That’s a bit low but to be expected when after a pretty vigorous uphill climb for most of the way.

Over the course of the entire day, the E-tron had traveled 195 miles total with a final efficiency estimate of 2.0 miles per kWh. Overall, I was impressed with the accuracy of Audi’s range given the challenging route, the EV’s performance and with the speed of the fast charge at the halfway point. Personally, I think that the E-tron’s capabilities are plenty for most drivers’ daily needs with regular overnight charging at home.

But range is king when cross-shopping electric cars and the Audi enters a growing class of electric SUVs — including the Tesla Model X, Jaguar i-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC — all of which boast much more cruising per charge than the E-tron’s 204 miles. Its really fast charging will make the Audi a bit more appealing to shoppers, especially as infrastructure vendors like Electrify America roll out more station that can keep up with the 150 kW rate. Fortunately, that’s not the only ace the E-tron has up its sleeve.

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The E-tron may be down on range, but its fast charging and reasonable price help keep the electric SUV competitive.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Starting at a reasonably affordable $75,795 (including $995 for delivery), the 2019 Audi E-tron Premium Plus is $22,425 less expensive than the most affordable $90,700 Tesla Model X Long Range (with $1,200 for delivery) when you factor the $7,500 federal tax credit that’s being phased out for Tesla now that the brand’s crested 200,000 EVs sold. Even my $82,795 E-Tron Prestige with its driver assistance and comfort upgrades starts to look like a bargain in this light.

The 2019 Audi E-tron is available for sale right now, but buyers will have to get in for delivery via an online reservation system while the automaker ramps up production on its first dedicated electric model. The E-tron will be followed by the E-Tron Sportback later this year and the E-Tron GT and Q4 E-tron in 2020.

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