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2019 Audi E-Tron First Look: Targeting Model X

Competition heats up in the E-SUV segment

Competition heats up in the E-SUV segment

The ominous drip-drip-drip of would-be Tesla Killers prophesied in Angus MacKenzie’s Rise of the E-Machines piece in May continues this month with Audi’s E-Tron midsize SUV. It’s expected to deliver somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 hp and 400 km (248 miles) of range thanks to its 95-kW-hr battery pack, and it’ll generally be priced above Jaguar’s I-Pace but below Tesla’s Model X.

Size-wise the E-Tron also splits the difference between the existing I-Pace and Model X, measuring 8.7 inches longer, 1.7 inches wider, and 4.2 inches taller than the Jag and 5.3 inches shorter, 5.2 inches narrower, and 1.7 inch lower than the Tesla. Its 115.1-inch wheelbase is shortest of the three. Its dimensions are close to those of a Mercedes GLE Coupe or BMW X6, including the cargo capacity with seats up or down (28.5 and 57.0 cubic feet). Within Audi’s lineup, think of it as a Q6.2.

Like its e-competitors, it packages a giant 1,543-pound (700 kg), 90.0-inch-long, 63.6-inch-wide battery pack under the floor between the axles. The battery breaks some new ground and earns some patents by segregating its cooling system completely below the sealed battery compartment, with a special proprietary gel/glue material conducting the heat from the cell modules down to the aluminum coolant channels. This ensures there can never be intermingling of battery acid and coolant. The pack is also surrounded by an extruded aluminum crumple zone for added crash protection. And if one of the 36 cell modules goes bad or somehow gets damaged, it can be removed and replaced. The pack lends considerable torsional rigidity to the E-Tron’s modified MLB-evo unibody structure.

Battery cooling is critical when using the latest SAE J1772 DC fast chargers, which can jam an 80 percent level of charge into the pack in just 30 minutes at a rate of 150 kW. Overnight charging at home is enabled by the onboard 9.6-kW charger when using a 240-volt 40-amp Level 2 charger. Audi has teamed with Amazon Home Services to simplify the process of ordering and setting up a home charger, and of course after it’s set up the myAudi app eases management of charging and preconditioning the vehicle. And although it’s not quite free Supercharging for life like you can get with a Tesla, new E-Trons will come with a pre-purchase of 1,000 kW-hr of charging at Electrify America charging stations.

For now Audi is remaining tight-lipped about U.S.-spec power, torque, and curb weight, and the EPA hasn’t completed testing for the final range specs (that 248-mile (400-km) estimate is from the similar Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure). In Euro trim the front and rear motors combine to produce 355 hp and 487 lb-ft in general driving, with “boost” power of 402 hp available in Sport mode when you engage the accelerator’s kickdown switch. Audi says that’ll produce a 0–60 run in 5.5 seconds en route to an electronically limited top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h). And like Tesla, but not Jaguar, Audi is rating the E-Tron to tow 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg).

In normal acceleration, this first ever electric Quattro system routes power first to the rear motor, engaging the front one predictively as conditions demand. The motors are of the asynchronous type rather than permanent-magnet type, so there’s no magnetic drag torque when coasting (as the front axle usually does). The motors also earned a few patents for an innovative cooling system that routes coolant from the power-control module to the spinning rotor (a trick that requires fancy water bearings) and finally to the stationary stator. Both motors contribute to regenerative braking, which is offered at three levels, selectable via steering wheel paddles. Presuming there’s room for the energy in the battery, they can provide up to 0.3 g of braking by regen alone, after which an electrically boosted integrated brake controller blends in as much friction braking as required. Single-speed 8.4:1 reduction transaxles are used on both axles, with brake-based virtual torque vectoring at the rear. (A three-motor setup with honest-to-goodness torque vectoring has been rumored for a possible S or RS variant.)

Audi claims that by centralizing control of the traction, stability, braking, electric motors, and standard height-adjustable air suspension with variable damping into a single master controller, the E-Tron will deliver new levels of traction, stability, and handling. The system even incorporates the navigation and camera views to predictively advise the driver when to lift of the accelerator for optimum efficiency. Oh, and the standard Audi Drive Select program now offers seven profiles, including off-road settings that can raise the body ride height by 1.4–2.0 inches above standard ride height.

Style-wise the E-Tron looks way tamer and more mainstream than the I-Pace, EQC, or Model X. The designers sought to telegraph its electric-ness with little cues like horizontal elements in the daytime running lights and taillamp designs that mimic battery-charge status icons. Black inserts on the door trim telegraph the battery location as the center of power in much the same way that hood bulges are used to the accentuate powerful combustion engines within. Meanwhile, its Quattro-ness is telegraphed via blisters over the wheels. Audi claims the E-Tron will be first to production with the slim cameras seen above in place of side view mirrors, but sadly they are not yet legal in the U.S., so we’ll soldier on with clunky normal mirrors shown in the videos below.

Inside, the seat upholstery is sewn to look like printed circuits. A pair of tactile-feedback touchscreens like those that have rolled out on the A7 and A8 control almost everything, the 10.1-inch upper one handling the infotainment, phone, navigation, and special e-tron screens; the lower handling climate and comfort functions. Like a smartphone, the screens can be configured for various favorites and startup screen functions. Speaking of climate control, a heat pump greatly reduces the system’s power consumption.

Built in a spanking-new plant in Brussels, Belgium, that has been certified CO2 neutral, the E-Tron will start at $75,795 USD when it hits the market in the second quarter of next year. That price buys a pretty well loaded SUV with a standard panoramic sunroof, 705-watt 16-speaker 3-D-sound Bang & Olufsen sound system, and 12-way power heated and cooled front seats. The Prestige trim adds $7,000 USD for a head-up display, Valcona leather, massaging seats, and the full driver-assistance package. A First Edition model tops the lineup at $87,695 USD with night-vision assistance and a color and trim package that gets Daytona Gray pearl paint, 21-inch black wheels, orange calipers, black leather with gray piping, and gray ash wood trim. Oh, and those prices are before the federal tax credits that Audis still qualify for.

Taking a page from EV guru Elon Musk, the E-Tron can be reserved with a fully refundable $1,000 USD deposit toward deliveries, which will start in the second quarter of 2019. Audi claims 10,000 folks have placed orders in Europe already—none of whom will spend years waiting for delivery.