7 things I learned by riding in the prototype Audi e-tron electric SUV
Audi is joining the full fat electric car revolution with its upcoming e-tron SUV. At a recent event at Pike’s Peak in Colorado I was given a ride in a prototype to see just how the German firm is taking on Tesla, Jaguar, everyone else who’s got an EV in their future head on.
Here are seven things I found out…
1: It doesn't look weird because it's an EV
Okay, the e-tron I was riding in was covered in bright camo and hashtags, but looking at the car’s silhouette didn’t make me wonder whether we’re in for a future of mental angles and Jetsons-esque bubbles. It looks, from the outside, like an SUV. Inside, it feels like a normal car, albeit one with a few different displays on the binnacle for energy levels rather than petrol…
2: It's as quiet as they come
Yeah yeah, we all know EVs are super quiet, but the e-tron does the silence thing immensely well. Where others let wind and tyre noise in, the e-tron (on the super smooth roads down Pike’s Peak) was a chamber of silence and tranquility.
Over the rougher stuff there was a hint of tyre noise – special acoustically damped rubber can only do so much – but most of the time it was whisper quiet. Its trick camera-instead-of-wing-mirrors set up meant there wasn’t any wind noise from the wings either. Rolls-Royce and co might have to start getting worried.
3: Cameras instead of wing mirrors are too cool for words
Mirrors? Pah! Who uses them any more? How many times have you used your phone’s selfie camera for a cheeky look at your own face before a meeting, date, or whatever? The e-tron’s camerawings give a real time, high definition view of the road falling away behind you right inside the cabin, and they’re touch adjustable, which is super cool. While the current crop of cars out there (thanks, legislation) have to put up with big lumps ‘o glass poking out of their faces, the e-tron has cool, aero friendly wings.
4: It's heavy, but comfy
Electric cars weigh a lot thanks to the massive battery packs needed to get them moving more than three feet. My driver for the ride mentioned that the e-tron weighs between two and three thousand kilos, which is… lots. However, it has some pretty beefy air suspension in place to try and hide the bulk when you’re on the move. Yes, you do feel the weight shift if you drive aggressively, but nowhere near as much as you’d expect. The rest of the time, as well as being quiet, it was smoooooooth.
5: Range anxiety is taken care of in many ways
One thing that’s still holding people back from dropping their readies on an EV is range anxiety – the worry that they’ll run out of juice and be stranded, miles away from delicious electrons.
Short of making the car one giant battery with a driver’s seat attached, manufacturers are limited by battery tech for now. That said, Audi’s been smart in how it can use the car’s momentum to claim range back from the road. The e-tron will claim energy back from the brakes as and when you use them, which is pretty standard for EVs, but it has other means…
The car, using GPS data, car-to-X tech, and its long range radar can be set to recoup energy every time you lift off the gas automatically, essentially using engine braking to get your battery topped up. You can do it yourself though – the car can simply coast along and use as little as possible, or you can set the ferocity of the regen yourself using the ‘wheel paddles (like a gearbox… kinda). That means when you lift off the car will decelerate at either a gentle, or more severe rate, and feed the battery. Of course, riding down Pikes Peak showed this off rather well – gaining range at an incredible rate.
6: You'll save money on brake pads
A bonus of having the car slow itself using the motors to regain power is that it doesn’t put strain on the brakes. In fact, at the halfway point down Pikes Peak there’s a brake temperature check – if your stoppers are warmer than 300F you have to take a break to let them cool lest they fail on the way down. The e-tron’s brakes, after some punishingly steep roads, were cool enough to touch. In the long run you’ll get through fewer brake pads. Bonus!
7: Being an EV doesn't make the e-tron any less of a car
It’s easy to see EVs as something a bit alien, different to what we’re used to. There’s no noise, you don’t fill it with liquified dinosaur. You may expect it to feel different as you’re driven in it. You don’t. It’s a normal car that works a little differently.