The e-tron is Audi’s first all-electric production car. Arriving in the UK a full two years after Tesla’s Model X and several months behind Jaguar’s game-changing I-Pace, it will soon spawn a range of full EVs – including a production version of
the e-tron GT concept. Our first drive takes place in the Middle East, seemingly an odd choice of location given the region’s plentiful oil reserves and rock-bottom fuel prices. In fact it’s rather appropriate, with places such as Abu Dhabi investing heavily in solar energy. Soon, electricity will be as cheap as petrol here.
On paper, the e-tron looks competitive. It claims more than 400km (249 miles) from a charge; even in the desert with the air-con on full blast, it still manages 220 miles. Connected to a fast charger, the e-tron will go from zero to 80 per cent in 30 minutes.
Audi has also promised customers access to more than 70,000 charge stations across Europe. The tech is known as e-roaming, and drivers will need only a single contract and a single card. Unfortunately, e-roaming hasn’t been confirmed for UK buyers yet.
Even our early test car puts the Model X in the shade when it comes to interior fit and finish. True, the Tesla’s huge screen is fascinating, but quality could be better. In photos the Audi doesn’t seem quite modern enough, but here in Abu Dhabi – among all the AMGs, Rolls-Royces and Ferraris – it looks seriously futuristic. It uses the dual-screen set-up seen in the A6, A7 and A8, with the same haptic feedback and a near-identical menu layout. Of course, connectivity is top notch, offering Audi’s own intuitive system alongside Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It is up there with other EVs (and ahead of many) on dynamics, even if it’s slightly slower than a Tesla. The drive system, with an electric motor on the front axle and another on the rear, produces 402bhp and automatically controls power distribution in a fraction of a second. But even in Dynamic mode, it lacks the Model X’s explosive acceleration.
However, the Audi really scores with its superb balance. Also, the aerodynamics and sound insulation have been fine-tuned to eliminate nearly all wind and road noise; we can’t think of any other car that’s as smooth or quiet as the e-tron.
A glance at the speedo shows how good this is. The cabin is so incredibly hushed, and imposes such an unprecedented feeling of calm, that you don’t notice your speed creeping up on the motorway. It’s comfortable, too, and although the e-tron is based on a heavily modified Q5 platform, it’s far more spacious than that car.
Elsewhere, the e-tron is the first production model to come with the option of cameras instead of conventional door mirrors. These improve the car’s aerodynamics, and relay images on high-resolution seven-inch OLED displays in the door panels. The rest of the e-tron is everything you’d expect from Audi: a high-class finish combined with digital instruments. It features extras synonymous with this type of luxury car, too, including an ioniser and a fragrancing system.