Is the Audi e-tron already a bit old fashioned?
Join us for a review of the e-tron 55 quattro
It feels like yesterday that Audi was hyping up its first proper all-electric car, the e-tron. There were press launches in Namibia and San Fran, as well as dramatic aerial drone displays to get us frothing at the bits about a car that had cameras instead of door mirrors. But it's actually been on sale for a whole two years now, which in electric car years is about a decade.
With that in mind we lived with one for a week to see if the OG e-tron is VG indeed or simply OK.
Watch the video for some waffling, or read on for a review crafted from letters.
What is it?
It's a big family SUV that's powered by the future. Or the devil's energy, depending on your view on electrification. We drove the 300kW Launch Edition, which comes with loads of tech, 408hp from two electric motors during eight seconds of boost mode (310hp in normal use) and a 95kWh battery that's good for 235 miles of real-world driving.
The e-tron 55's maximum charge is 150kW, at which you can get from 0-80% battery in under half an hour
It's very much a cruiser rather than the sort of car you'll see appearing in childish launch control reaction videos, and that's because the drivetrain is tuned for a blend of performance and range – so you're looking at a modest 5.7-second 0-62mph time. It sits on air suspension and weighs 2.5 tonnes.
2.5 tonnes! Wha?
Yup – there's no dodging the fact that the e-tron is a heavy brick of a thing. And that shows the second you try to drive it quickly. It will cover ground quickly enough on bumpy roads, but it doesn't enjoy being chucked about through twisty corners. Drive it like a normal person and it's just fine – in fact, it's one of the most relaxing cars we've ever lapped the M25 in.
Prefer a slinkier roofline? Good news! There's an e-tron Sportback, which is a coupe SUV.
The ride is pretty comfy on level Tarmac, but it's the almost eery sense of peace that really stands out – Audi's done an excellent job of keeping road and wind noise out of the cabin. We did a 150-mile round-trip from Surrey to Essex and felt noticeably fresher at the other end than we would've in most other big SUVs. Perhaps the lack of wind noise was down to the optional door cameras, which reduce the coefficient of drag by something like 0.01 over the standard glass mirrors.
Regardless, the e-tron is happiest when plodding along, and it's incredibly comfy if you don't try and be a Herbert Helmsmith with it. It's not especially quick off the line despite 664Nm peak torque, but once up to speed you still get the trademark instant electric acceleration that's useful for joining motorways.
Tell me more about those mirror cameras
Okay. We didn't really enjoy them, for a few reasons. For a start it takes some adjustment to get used to looking at the inside of the door rather than out of the window. But you'd get used to that over time if you owned an e-tron.
Bet you can't tell how far away the water is
What's always going to be tricky is the way the image makes it hard to judge the width of the car when reversing out of narrow spaces or down tiny roads to park. You also have to touch the driver's side screen to adjust either mirror, meaning you quickly get fingerprints on the glass. It sort of feels like an answer to a question on one was really asking.
Also, they're harder to glance at than a regular mirror, because your eye has to refocus from the road ahead to something 50cm away from your eyes. Sorry Audi. You tried, but I don't think we're ready for them just yet.
What's the rest of it like?
Pretty much like any other high-end Audi SUV. So you get a big 660-litre boot, really spacious rear seats, and an opulent interior that's made from several cows and features a dual-screen infotainment system that's pretty straightforward to use and looks sharp – even if it's still tricky to use on the move. The driver gets a digital dashboard which shows all the usual gubbins.
Here's an e-tron with regular door mirrors. The gear selector is the shiny bit of metal on the armrest-looking thing. It wobbles back and forth to choose direction of travel
Oh, and it plays a little environmentally friendly tune when you first turn the ignition on – though it sounds a bit like Michael Jackson's Earth Song.
What does it cost and should I buy one?
You can now get an entry-level e-tron '50' with a 230kW motor and smaller battery pack, which cost you from £60,000. The more powerful, longer-range '55' that we tested costs from £71,000 – although the one we drove was £88,000 with options.
It's worth noting the cheaper e-tron 50 can only charge at 120kW
So it's not cheap. But you are getting a very luxurious and very lovely car that's simple to drive, easy to live with and chills you out. Arguments against it really come down to the cost and weight (and slight efficiency deficit compared to some rivals).
That weight does slightly make the e-tron feel a bit outdated, because there's already the sense that battery tech has moved on enough to bring weight down – just look at Audi's own e-Tron GT, for example – it's a whole 350kg lighter than the SUV. But if you want a premium, good-looking EV that can carry just about anything you can throw at it, then fill your boots.