Masdar City, a squeaky-clean planned city under development outside Abu Dhabi, grew from the sand with a single vision: help the United Arab Emirates wean itself off its own vast oil reserves. The 10-year-old micro-metropolis serves as an incubator for clean-technology companies. It incorporates the latest design and construction strategies to minimize its energy consumption. It runs solely on renewable energy. So it’s only fitting that Audi chose it as the starting point of the first media drives in the all-new E-tron electric SUV.
Our route through the UAE proved a mix of smooth, blemish-free stretches of asphalt (sadly regulated by speed cameras), a serpentine ascent up a 4,000-foot mountain, and a landscape of high dunes split by dirt roads laced with loose sand. Open blacktop was a breeze, with smooth cruising thanks to fine-tuned aerodynamics, extensive sound-deadening, and naturally muted motors. The mountain twisties validated the high-torque thrust provided by those same dual electric motors, though the car’s body roll limited the fun. And the all-wheel-drive system managed the wind-swept sand bars effortlessly.
This last achievement is one of the E-Tron’s most compelling, as it’s the only electric on the market that allows overzealous drifters to fully disable the car’s stability control system, a sign of Audi’s confidence. And it’s a sign of the holistic design and engineering theory that makes the E-tron the rolling equivalent of Masdar City: smart, efficient, and built from systems that know what the others are up to.
Under both hard driving and soft-pedaling to squeeze the most miles out of the 95-kWh battery, the 400-horsepower, $74,800 E-tron never flagged or even drew down power particularly quickly. (The 36-module pack was designed by Audi using LG cells, and built at the car’s dedicated factory in Belgium.) The final range hasn’t been determined yet, but will likely be around 200 miles. Tesla’s Model X does closer to 300 with a slightly bigger battery, but the Audi’s got plenty to satisfy most drivers’ daily needs.
That solid range comes from a variety of moves, starting with the E-tron’s svelte 0.28 coefficient of drag. The regenerative braking contributes a full 30 percent of those miles by micro-managing power and regen balance down to the millisecond and regardless of whether your foot is on the pedal or the throttle. The adaptive cooling vents up front add 4.6 miles to the range when cooling needs less and they can close up. The air suspension will lower the car an inch when ground clearance isn’t an issue, tacking on another 6 miles.
Audi’s designers speckled some flashy trim on the exterior to signify the E-tron’s EV status, but nothing too edgy: This SUV is meant to be a functional car people will actually want to buy when it goes on sale in early 2019, not just a statement. Good thing the E-tron is a highly usable vehicle. The 57 cubic feet of storage nearly equals that of Audi’s massive, gasoline-powered Q7 SUV. The interior is just as roomy, even for adults in the rear seat. The newly redesigned infotainment system features a streamlined interface, haptic touchscreens, and improved handwriting recognition.
It’s critical that potential customers be comfortable with the car if Audi hopes to get these into the streets in significant enough numbers to advance its electric efforts and the overall EV landscape. It helps, of course, that parent Volkswagen is also investing in Electrify America as part of its settlement following the Dieselgate scandal, distributing several billion dollars worth of charging stations throughout the country. At many of those stations, the car will be able to reach an 80 percent charge in 20 to 30 minutes.
- Jack Stewart
Audi's E-tron GT Brings Battery Power to a Speedy, Svelte Sedan
- Eric Adams
Audi's Electric E-Tron Ditches Side-View Mirrors for Sleek, Silent Cameras
- Jack Stewart
How Audi's New E-tron Stacks Up to Its Electric Competitors, Spec by Spec
All About E-tron
This being an Audi, the fancy touches go well beyond the electric tech. The base version includes a premium audio system and LED headlights. A few extra grand will get you a suite of driver assistance features like collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control. A few grand more will bump you up to massage seats and soft-close doors.
What the US version doesn’t have, though, is pretty noteworthy: the virtual side mirrors. Audi is the first manufacturer in the world to replace the conventional glass wing mirrors with cameras that display views in screens mounted in the door panels (it’s optional). Stodgy old regulations mean they’re a no-go here, but that might be alright. Simply put, those virtual mirrors aren’t good enough yet.
They’re too dim and too low-resolution. On my drive, I struggled to adapt to their placement and lack of detailed views, and never felt confident in them. By the time the US DOT gets around to updating its rules, Audi will presumably have improved the tech. But to start, the automaker needs to focus on getting the E-tron out there with as few hiccups and pain points as humanly possible. If the virtual side mirrors must be sacrificed, that’s okay. And once you climb into this glassy, smooth, eminently capable electric SUV, you won’t look back anyway.
- Help solve quantum computing's core mystery
- Google Glass wasn't a failure. It raised crucial concerns
- We still don't understand the mother of all demos
- This Australian law could impact global privacy
- An eye-scanning lie detector is forging a dystopian future
- 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round
- 📩 Want more? Sign up for our daily newsletter and never miss our latest and greatest stories