Audi unveiled the final production version of the E-tron SUV, its first electric car, on Monday in San Francisco. It’s one of the most anticipated luxury EVs slated to hit the market in the next few years, and it looks to be a distinctly high-tech alternative to not only Tesla’s Model X, but also to the increasingly crowded slice of the automotive market.
First teased in 2016, the E-tron is also Audi’s first tangible response to the push from parent company Volkswagen Group to electrify its entire lineup of cars by 2030. That massive shift came after Volkswagen Group, including Audi, were found to have installed illegal manipulation software in millions of diesel cars in order to cheat emissions tests. (A number of other automakers have been charged with doing similar crimes in the years since.)
And while Volkswagen Group has reached record sales since the news broke in 2015, fallout from the Dieselgate controversy continues to surface. Earlier this summer, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the scandal — a move that reportedly prompted Audi to cancel the E-tron’s original unveiling in Brussels, where the car is already being produced at a rate of about 200 per day.
The E-tron was supposed to have been announced by now
After months of trotting out prototypes dressed in bright orange and black camouflage, Audi laid out many of the E-tron’s most notable specs in the run-up to the event (which was led by “temporary CEO” Abraham Schot). And on Monday, the company’s executives reaffirmed those specs, while also sharing more details about the E-tron experience.
Coming in mid-2019, the five-seater E-tron will start at $74,800. It comes standard with air suspension, 20-inch wheels, LED lighting, seats with built-in heating and cooling, panoramic sunroof, inductive wireless smartphone charging, and more. The E-tron can be optioned up to $81,800, which includes Audi’s driver assistance package, massage seats, a heads-up display, and power door closers, among other hi-tech features. Audi says it will sell 999 “first edition” versions for $86,700 that features bigger 21-inch wheels, a special gray paint scheme, bright orange brake calipers, black leather interior, and a night vision camera in the dash.
There were a few specs that Audi did not share Monday, but the most glaring omission was a range estimate; executives instead spent the day falling back on the company’s previous claim that the SUV will simply exceed 400km (248 miles) on a single charge based on Europe’s new WLTP standard for estimating EV range.
The company said it won’t have an official EPA range estimate until 2019, but for comparison’s sake, Jaguar quoted a 470km (292 mile) WLTP estimated range for the all-electric I-Pace and wound up with about 240 miles of EPA-certified range. Whatever the final figure, the E-tron’s 95kWh battery, which makes up the floor of the vehicle, has more capacity than any other battery pack on the market save for the one found in the highest-end Tesla Model X 100D. Audi says it can be charged from empty to 80 percent in 30 minutes at DC fast-charging stations.
The E-tron features an electric motor on each axle, so it should offer zippy all-wheel drive performance. The front motor puts out 125kW of power, while the rear motor produces 140kW. In total, the car operates with about 265kW of power, which is the equivalent of around 350 horsepower. All told, Audi says this will be good enough to get from 0 to 60 mph in a little over 6 seconds. The driver will be able to activate a “boost mode” that temporarily increases the performance of each motor for a total power output of 300kW. In boost mode, the E-tron can hit 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
That’s notably a few ticks slower than some of the E-tron’s direct competitors. The Jaguar I-Pace, for example, hits 60 mph about a second earlier. The base level Tesla Model X does it half a second quicker. Even the (still forthcoming) entry level version of the Model 3, Tesla’s cheapest option, has acceleration that’s on par with the E-tron.
“We wanted to create a very mainstream car.”
That was the point, according to Filip Brabec, the vice president of product management for Audi America. “We focused on everyday usability of the car, and we focused on making the transition from internal combustion car to electric car as easy and seamless as possible,” Brabec tells The Verge. “We didn’t want to create a fringe quirky car. We wanted to create a very mainstream car.”
That said, the E-tron is a very tech-forward car, which becomes obvious when you peer inside the cabin. There’s a 720p display behind the steering wheel that provides a customizable layout of instrument cluster information like speed, battery level, and navigation. Audi has also placed two touchscreens in the dash to the right of the steering wheel. The top one measures 10.1 inches diagonally and is dedicated to the car’s infotainment functions, and also is home to the E-tron’s charging interface. Below that is an 8.6-inch screen where the driver and passenger can tinker with climate and other comfort controls.
The E-tron’s interior is nowhere near as minimalist as the Tesla Model 3 — there are still plenty of buttons on and around the steering wheel, for instance — but it does seem like most controls are being funneled through the two touchscreens. In fact, it will also feature Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in the infotainment system, too — the first of a slew of new Audi cars to do so.
Those won’t be the only screens, at least in Europe, where the E-tron will have cameras where side mirrors typically go. Drivers will instead look at OLED displays embedded on the inside of each door, which are also ringed with lights that can change color based on things like whether there is a car in the E-tron’s blind spots. Audi says it wants to bring this option to the US and China, which it views as hugely important markets for the E-tron, but for now the SUV will traditional side mirrors in both countries thanks to current regulations.
In Europe, the car will be full of screens
On the charging side, Audi is partnering with Amazon to help ease the process of installing a home charger for the E-tron. Buyers of the all-electric SUV will be offered the option of having Amazon’s Home Services division handle the installation process, though no pricing was announced. Audi is also touting a smart braking system that intelligently blends, on the fly, mechanical braking with regenerative braking (where the electric motors spin backwards, feeding energy back into the battery) which the company says will help optimize energy use during daily driving situations.
The E-tron might not beat the Model X, or the I-Pace, or even the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz EQC, in a drag race. And its ultimate range — a huge factor in what is still the early days of EVs — is yet to be determined. But Audi appears to have ticked just about every other box on the E-tron, to the point that many people might make it most of the way through the pitch at the dealership before they even learn that it’s all-electric.