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2019 Audi E-Tron Review: What a Way to Glide

The EV wars are starting in earnest, and Audi has itself a real weapon.

It was with more than the usual "new test car on the way!" anticipation that I awaited the arrival of Audi's all-electric e-tron SUV in my driveway. After all, for years the German makers have been largely left behind in the EV arena by the likes of Tesla, Nissan, Chevrolet, and, more recently, Jaguar's sleek I-Pace. BMW started with its cheeky but small i3, and now Porsche is in the EV game with its all-new Taycan sport sedan. How, I was eager to find out, would tech-focused Audi measure up with its first-ever all-electric entry?

In terms of size and amenities, the new e-tron fits in neatly between Audi's gas-powered Q5 and three-row Q7. It shares a similar stance and style, too—enough so that most onlookers won't notice that there's anything "special" about it. (That said, my test car's Antigua Blue metallic paint—a $595 extra—garnered plenty of admiring stares and comments.) Electric Quattro-branded all-wheel drive is standard courtesy of the electric motors powering each axle, as are such features as an adaptive air suspension, Bang & Olufsen 3D audio, Audi's Virtual Cockpit display, Audi navigation plus, 12-way adjustable power leather front seats (with heating and ventilation), a panoramic sunroof, and four-zone climate control. My example also sported 21-inch 15-spoke wheels ($1,500) and the Prestige package ($7,000). The latter is really more of a trim and adds everything from driver-assistance aids to massaging front seats, an air ionizer, soft-close doors, a head-up display, and an ambient interior lighting system. Total sticker: $84,890.

In the showroom wars, the e-tron's primary enemies are the aforementioned I-Pace and Tesla's Model X, as well as Mercedes' upcoming EQC. A little smaller and pricier but quicker and more responsive, the Jag boasts an EPA range of 234 miles. The Model X is by far the costliest of the bunch—when you add desirable options it can soar well past $100K—but it's also by far the quickest, as it can sprint from zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds with the extra-cost Ludicrous Mode. The Tesla also leads with a maximum claimed range of 325 miles. The e-tron, in contrast, is the most "normal" of the trio. Excepting the Mercedes, which starts at $68,895, it's the most affordable with a base sticker of $75,795, offers a generous 57 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, and while it may not deliver the sizzling straight-line acceleration of the Model X or the halfback-like chassis moves of the I-Pace, it's designed to charge quickly, glides over the road with unfailing refinement, and is built with battery longevity and unflagging performance as priorities. EPA-estimated range is 204 miles, and Audi claims the e-tron can charge at a class-leading 150 kilowatts at high-speed public chargers—enabling the battery to add 54 miles of range in just 10 minutes. Tesla's Supercharger quick-recharge network may be the most widespread for now, but the e-tron's support system—Volkswagen's "Powered by Electrify America" nationwide network, which will offer DC fast-charging up to 350 kW—is growing fast.

The first thing I noticed upon driving: The e-tron is built like a tank. Almost literally. The thing weighs close to three tons, but what you notice from behind the wheel is a complete solidity and a level of quietness uncanny even for an EV. (The silence is aided in part by dual-pane acoustic glass included in the Prestige package.) There's almost no road or wind noise; just a muted whoosh as the e-tron surges forward. Audi claims a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.5 seconds—but that's only in Boost mode. To access it, move the drive-mode selector to Sport, press the throttle past the kick-down button, and the e-tron delivers a full 402 horsepower for up to eight seconds. In normal driving, though, the 95-kWh battery operates at 88 percent of capacity, yielding a more restrained—but never tiring—355 horsepower. (Anyone who has ever experienced the incredible zooming ability of a Tesla knows that their fun fades quickly as the battery heats up.) Even in its non-Boost mode, though, the e-tron moves effortlessly. You'd never know it tips the scales at 5,750 pounds. Just a smooth rush of torque—and all but silent operation. Unlike some EVs, the e-tron cannot be brought to a complete stop without using the brake pedal—but paddles behind the wheel can be set up to allow for some fingertip control of regenerative braking. Yet again, Audi has clearly opted for a more mainstream driving experience.

The I-Pace is arguably the real looker in the class, and some people continue to be wowed by the Model X's upward-folding Falcon Wing rear doors (I find them more of a gimmick than a practical design), but to my eyes the e-tron is the winner in style and approachability. The exterior design is restrained, classically handsome but not dazzling. The cockpit, on the other hand, is flat-out gorgeous, making the spare Model X cabin look positively bleak. Inside lies a luscious blend of rich materials, artfully designed controls, and functional yet stylish displays. The chrome shifter looks funky at first glance but operates without a hitch. Audi's Virtual Cockpit is a thing of beauty, blending analog gauges with, if you wish, a fabulous moving Google Maps display. The seats are superb. The climate and infotainment touchscreens are snappy and user-friendly. At night, snazzy LED-backed trim pieces alight to create a clublike ambiance.

The spec-chart crowd will ding the e-tron for having "only" 204 miles of range, but that's plenty for most real-world use. Would you take the e-tron on a cross-country drive? For now—at least until the quick-charging Electrify America network is running coast to coast—probably not. But I piloted the e-tron around Los Angeles daily for a week and never recharged the battery once (more than a third of a charge remained when I handed over the keys, too). Drivers using an e-tron primarily for city driving could easily satisfy all their charging needs by occasionally using a 240-volt charger in their garages overnight. A full recharge using that method takes about nine hours.

The Jaguar I-Pace is sexier, the Tesla Model X is ludicrously quick and longer-range, but I like the e-tron best. It's just so solid, so polished and quiet, and so richly appointed and enjoyable to spend time in. What a way to glide.

2019 Audi E-Tron Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $75,795/$84,890 (base/as-tested)
MOTORS 2 AC induction motors, 184 hp and 224 hp, 228 lb-ft and 262 lb-ft (402 hp max output combined in boost mode)
TRANSMISSION 2 single-speed direct-drive
BATTERY 95-kWh lithium-ion, liquid-cooled
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and mid-motor, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 74/73 MPGe (city/hwy)
RANGE 204 miles
L x W x H 193.0 x 76.3 x 65.5 in
WHEELBASE 115.1 in
WEIGHT 5,750 lb (mfr)
0-60 MPH 5.5 sec (mfr)
TOP SPEED 124 mph (mfr)
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