2019 Audi e-tron first drive: Redrawing the electric-vehicle boundaries

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Road-tripping along in the 2019 Audi e-tron, your passenger might not even know (or care) that you’re in an all-electric utility vehicle—rather than just an extraordinarily quiet gasoline one. And as the driver, you might even forget.

It gets right to Audi’s point behind the e-tron, which is to make a vehicle that’s an Audi through and through, but electric. The e-tron makes no overtures to woo the Tesla crowd or EV fans; there’s no potentially busy-feeling one-pedal driving, no significant motor whine, and no radically different interface.

Likewise, the e-tron’s design doesn’t stand out from the rest of the Audi lineup, and from a distance it might register as a somewhat low-set Q7, or a larger member of the Allroad family.

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The Audi e-tron fits in much closer to the luxury mainstream than the Jaguar I-Pace or Tesla Model X. Its wheelbase of 115.1 inches is roughly a midpoint between Audi’s Q5 and Q7; and it’s about nine inches longer than the Jaguar I-Pace or five inches shorter than the Model X.

For Audi to find the electric sweet spot in something so familiar, it had to redraw some of the brand's own boundaries.

Take the United Arab Emirates, for example, where we drove the e-tron. The nation sits on about 8 percent of the world’s (developed) oil reserves; highways are wide; gas-guzzling SUVs are popular; elaborate gardens feed on energy-dependent desalinated water; and, at least on the surface, an opulent consumer culture prevails. And yet the nation is hard at work to reduce the use of its oil and gas reserves. Masdar City is a hub for clean-tech innovation, environmental research, and clean-energy deployment, and a blueprint for low-impact living.

CHECK OUT: Want an Audi e-tron quattro electric? Expect to wait

 

Audi, with all the riches of its sales gains and successes over the past decade, sees the e-tron as its own blueprint for the future—a foothold into a growing segment of the market, and a product for Audi fans and families who want to go electric.

Some different decisions

As we found out during a nearly 300-mile drive last week, Audi’s unique decisions for the e-tron resulted in a vehicle that drives differently than any existing electric crossover.

2019 Audi e-tron first drive - Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

2019 Audi e-tron first drive - Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

One of those decisions was to use its own, internally designed asynchronous (current-excited) wound motors. Audi says they provide efficiency gains at high speed while cutting the dependence on rare-earth materials; Audi’s power electronics can overcome the design’s disadvantage in off-the-line performance.

Like other electric utility vehicles, the e-tron feels sneaky-quick and faster than its 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds suggests with its combination of pin-you-back, fraction-of-a-second responsiveness and no-drama traction.

READ MORE: Audi e-tron GT electric sports car is its take on Porsche Taycan

Click the shifter back once more to toggle Sport mode that enables a “boost mode” in which the output of the front and rear motor go from a usual max of 168 hp and 188 hp, respectively, to 181 hp and 221 hp. In sum, that’s an overall increase of 13 percent, to 402 hp, while torque gets boosted about 18 percent, up to 490 lb-ft (from 414 otherwise).


 
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