Audi e-tron electric crossover debuts to battle Tesla

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And finally, there is Audi.

Late Monday night, the German luxury maker debuted took to the stage in San Francisco with its long-awaited, first volume battery-electric vehicle, a five-seat midsize crossover utility to be known simply as e-tron. It also opened reservations and will allow customers to configure the car, requiring a refundable $1,000 deposit.

Audi didn’t release estimates of the e-tron’s ratings for electric range, but earlier estimates put it at about 250 miles. That information will be released closer to the start of deliveries, which will begin in the U.S. between April and June of 2019.

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The Audi e-tron will compete with the Jaguar I-Pace, due at U.S. dealers this November or December, as well as the Mercedes-Benz EQC and BMW iX3, scheduled to arrive in 2020. Prices for the e-tron range from $74,800 for the Premium trim level to $86,700 for the first Edition One models. Buyers will be eligible for the full $7,500 federal income-tax credit and various state incentives.

Conventional proportions

The 2019 Audi e-tron itself is proportioned very much like a conventional crossover, reflecting underpinnings adapted from the company’s MLB architecture for all-wheel-drive vehicles with longitudinal combustion engines. The version used for the e-tron has no engine, but a pair of transverse electric motors, one per axle.

Audi suggests the conventional proportions, along with design elements that subtly underscore the electric propulsion, will reassure buyers who don’t want an electric car that looks strange.

Its grille, headlamps, and taillights are utterly consistent with other Audi utilities, though the grille itself is actually a silver-textured blanking plate. The car’s sides may also be a bit smoother. The interior is even more conventional, and we’d wager many Audi aficionados could check it over inside and out and never know from the looks that it was propelled electrically.

READ THIS: 2019 Audi e-tron prototype first ride: Soothingly familiar

It’s a diametrically opposed approach to that of Jaguar, whose I-Pace takes full advantage of its dedicated “skateboard” underpinnings with long-cabin, short-nose proportions more similar to the Tesla Model 3. The market will determine whether one approach is more successful than another.

Audi says the e-tron’s cabin design “represents performance, intelligence, and lightness,” which translates to the expected pair of digital displays, one in the cluster behind the steering wheel and another in the lower center of the dash.

The e-tron has several missions. First, it gives Audi a luxury electric vehicle to sell in China, by far the world’s most aggressive market for electric vehicles today. Second, it gets Audi into the market for luxury electric cars that’s been owned for six years exclusively by Tesla—though how the brands compare in cachet in that rarified niche remains to be seen.

Faster CCS fast charging

Audi has one feature, however, that challenges Tesla head-on, one that Jaguar can’t match. That’s built-in DC fast charging at up to 150 kilowatts, slightly higher than Tesla’s current cap of 135 kw at today’s Supercharger stations. The company says that will allow the battery to recharge to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes or less.

Audi does not, however, presently have anything comparable to the Tesla Supercharger network of hundreds of sites with thousands of charging outlets. And the e-tron uses a higher-speed version of the CCS fast-charging connector, one that will be shared by every German electric car and all U.S. entries (eventually) except Teslas.

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