An e-tron Adventure: Driving the Electric Audi on a Road Trip

A real-world run in Audi’s EV SUV.

Marc NoordeloosWriter, photographer

Earlier this year, I wrote a column about EV travel and the planning it currently involves. Well, my friend finally took delivery of his new 2019 Audi e-tron and asked me if I'd handle driving the electric SUV to the Chicago area. So on an unseasonably warm and humid September day, the journey began from my home in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Lake Forest, Illinois—214 miles via the direct route—to make a stop at Lake Forest Sports Cars, and then continuing into downtown Chicago, which added an additional 32 miles.

Days before departing, I confirmed that utilizing the Electrify America DC fast-charger in Mishawaka, Indiana, was indeed the best option, bumping the 214-mile direct route to Lake Forest up to 245 miles. The e-tron's navigation system and the My Audi iPhone app agreed with this strategy. But on the morning of my departure, the app changed its mind and told me to stop at a random, slower 50-kW DC fast-charger at a 7-Eleven outside Chicago, which would have taken me off my preferred route via the Chicago Skyway. Weird. But because the e-tron can recharge at up to 150 kW and the first 1000 kW of charging via Electrify America is free for e-tron owners, I tricked the navigation system back to the original plan by putting the Mishawaka charger in as a stopover on the way to LFSC.

The clock displayed 7:53 a.m. as I departed, and the e-tron told me it would be 117 miles to the Indiana stop, with an ETA of 10:04. The indicated range with a full, 100-percent charge was 213 miles. My plan for this whole adventure was to drive normally. I ran the air conditioning and the ventilated seats and kept my pace at 9 mph over the speed limit. The e-tron feels quite big and heavy around town, with pretty much zero inherent sportiness. But on the highway, the electric SUV feels solid, and is extremely quiet and relaxing. It brought to mind a lifted Audi A8 more than anything.

Arriving at the Electrify America DC fast charger at 9:52, the e-tron displayed 92 miles of remaining range. I followed the instructions on the charger and plugged the bulky cable into the Audi's charging port. The charger's screen informed me that the credit-card reader was broken, but I could call the 1-800 number for assistance; instead, I used the My Audi iPhone app to tap into the 1000 kW of free charging. All worked smoothly and I popped into the mall next door for a coffee and restroom break as the e-tron took on juice at a substantial 144 kW. At 10:17, I stopped the charging process. The electric Audi showed 198 miles of range and 94 percent battery capacity. The navigation system informed me that it was another 129 miles to LFSC, with an ETA of 12:45 p.m. local time.

The charger added 46 kWh of juice to the e-tron's 95-kWh battery, which would have cost a pay-as-you-go Electrify America user $15.90 for 117 miles of driving—roughly the same as the fuel cost for an Audi Q8 traveling the same distance. It's worth pointing out, though, most EV owners recharge at home the majority of the time via a much cheaper Level 2 charger. The pricier DC fast charging is a convenience for highway journeys, though.

Well, provided the car will release the plug. After five minutes of locking/unlocking the e-tron, multiple pushes of the charger release button, and fiddling with the charger handle, the e-tron finally relented. Audi actually sent a letter to e-tron owners earlier this year regarding this issue, and there's a software update coming in late 2019. Luckily, there is a manual release in case all else fails. Still, it wasn't a problem you'd have with a gas nozzle.

The rest of the drive to LFSC went smoother. Well, mostly. Traffic info via the e-tron's integrated navigation system is accurate and I rolled into the BMW dealership near LFSC at 12:22 p.m. Eastern with 80 miles of range remaining. Why the BMW dealership? Because LFSC doesn't have an EV charger. I used my ChargePoint card to unlock the Level 2 charger at the BMW store but, unfortunately, it displayed "station disabled by host." Well, that was a surprise. I skipped it and decided the range was enough for the 32-mile journey to downtown Chicago.

After seeing some spectacular Italian cars and having a great chat over lunch with the owner of LFSC, Rick Mancuso, I headed toward the heart of the Windy City. Other than typical chaotic Chicago traffic, the final leg was uneventuful. I arrived at my final destination with 40 miles of range on tap, and the e-tron was then hooked to my friend's freshly installed 9.6-kW (40-amp) Level 2 charger.

Outside of the two charging stops and the hiccups related to those stops, along with the need to adjust my driving route, all felt pretty much the same as if I was in a gasoline-powered automobile. In fact, I regularly forgot I was in an EV as I was comfortably and quietly cruising down the highway. One thing that really impressed me was how accurate the Audi estimates the driving range. A friend who owns a Tesla told me that his Model S is far less accurate regarding how far he can drive, with the battery being sucked down at a much faster rate than the estimated range, especially on the highway. I'd need to confirm the full accuracy of his feedback with a back-to-back test with the Audi and a Tesla but it's something to keep in mind. It's not the first time I've heard someone mention this about a Tesla.

Still, the EPA range of a Tesla no doubt looks much better on paper. A long-range Tesla Model X SUV carries a 325-mile EPA rating versus the e-tron's 204. That's a huge difference, even if the Audi is more accurate about range. But once companies like Audi get real-world range up to and beyond 300 miles and continue to grow the DC fast-charging network, the compromises inherent to an EV road trip will diminish dramatically. I wonder where Tesla will sit at that point considering their ongoing financial woes.

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