The E-tron – impressive or not?

The E-tron is becoming an increasingly frequent sight on the streets of Zurich and elsewhere. I had the opportunity to study the car in detail at the recent Geneva Salon (check out my video here) and found it a bit difficult to get my mind around: sure, impressive in build quality and good-looking, but that has nothing to do with it being electric and everything to do with it being an Audi. But for the rest?

If you’re a bit cynical, but only a bit, you could say it’s taken Germany’s leading car manufacturers (Mercedes will join the electric SUV party in the coming months with the EQC, a car very similar to the E-tron) seven years since Tesla’s first Model S, and four years since the Model X, to bring out alternatives in the form of cars with less range, less room and, especially critical, far less charging points at present.

Starting with the range, Audi claim an optimal value (also called WLTP range) of 417 km, but are honest with the fact that it’s a distance you’ll only achieve with the AC turned off and ideally neither passengers, nor speed. A more realistic range – in optimal conditions, meaning neither too hot, nor too cold – is, according to multiple tests, somewhere around 300-350 km, and in winter, you can deduct around 30%, bringing you down to as little as 200-250 km per charge. This still supposes driving very legally. The Model X in its latest configuration has an unrealistic WLTP range of 505 km, probably meaning around 400 km in reality, and thus 300 km in winter. Not great, but around 1/3 better.

A short range means you will be charging quite often. Audi will tell you that the E-tron has the mechanical ability to charge up to 350 Kwh, which is more than twice as fast as a Tesla Supercharger (150 Kwh). That’s however in the future, as such chargers are not around yet. Audi is a member of Ionity, a collaboration of leading European car manufacturers currently building charging stations with charging power of up to 150 Kwh across Europe, power-wise on par with Tesla’s supercharger. But in all of Europe, there’s currently not more than 20 such stations. That leaves you with the other 90.000 or so charging stations which are part of the European electric car “roaming” network and that E-tron owners can use (against payment by an E-tron credit card), but the vast majority of those have a charging power of 22 Kwh at most, in many cases even less. Charging an E-tron to 80% at a rate of 22 Kwh means three hours charging time. Taking as example a 600 km holiday drive from Zurich to the French Riviera, there are seven Tesla supercharging stations along the way. With an E-tron, it would mean at least one three-hour stop, and thus more than 2 hours longer travel time – for a six-hour drive.

In terms of interior space, the advantage of Tesla’s swollen egg form is that it offers lots of room, and that its luggage compartments back and front are both roomier, as is the passenger space. An Audi Q7 is much roomier than an E-tron, which more resembles a Q5 space-wise.

So where does this leave us? If space, range and charging times are all irrelevant, then the E-tron is probably the better car – as it should be, given Audi is an established, leading manufacturer and not a Californian startup. But all else is not equal, meaning it’s taken Germany’s leading car brands more than five years to bring out a car that is only almost on par with Tesla, but with a charging network that is comparable to what Tesla offered more than five years ago. That is not very impressive, to say the least.

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