The gargantuan Audi SUV has been with us since the seven-seat Q7 arrived more than 10 years ago, which seems a scary thought. If that’s too big for you, the family comprises the Q5, Q3, Q2 and now the flagship Q8 too, which isn’t as big as the Q7 but is the most luxurious in the portfolio.
That’s the body shapes, but what about the powertrains? Until recently, you could have petrol, diesel or a plug-in hybrid if you were buying either the Q7 or an A3 hatchback. Confusingly, these hybrids carry the e-tron moniker, but they are not THE e-tron, which denotes the new, full electric SUV.
The e-tron is a big five-seater, so feels like it sits between Q5 and Q7. Its true competitors are the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X, for now. But watch this rapidly expanding space for rivals from every single competitor marque you can think of: SUVs show no sign of diminishing in popularity and electric powertrains are the future.
The e-tron looks like any other Audi SUV at a glance, which is a good thing: no one wants to scare the horses away from the brave new world of EVs by giving them outlandish design. There is a funky LED bar running the width of the rear as a taillight, and a cool orange-orange-framed E-tron badge, plus spanky new wheels and the option to replace the wing mirrors with cameras the relay the image onto the inside of the doors. Now that is super cool. But if you don’t go for that, you look pretty standard.
Inside, the interior is updated with two big screens, one of which will tell you how much battery charge you have left and how much you could save if you did things like turn off the A/C.
The charging leads are kept in a plastic tray under the bonnet: simply choose your weapon of choice (domestic lead and plug or public), push what looks like a fuel cap by the driver’s door which then slides down to reveal the socket, plug in, lock your car and away you go. It’s incredibly easy.
Other tech includes all the usual Audi satnav and media systems which are very good; these are all accessed via touchscreen graphics.
One small but stylish development is the automatic gear-lever which is a short slither of metal and leather; it forms a major touchpoint for drivers, often overlooked.
It’s all about the range and charging time, of course. You have several options for charging: do as I did and simply plug it into a domestic socket in your house or garage overnight, which will give you about six miles of range for every hour of charge (enough for the daily school run or perhaps commute). Or you can (and should) get a wallbox installed at home, which will significantly speed things up, giving you 80 per cent charge from empty in about 8.5 hours. The total range is 248 miles, which is enough, but not as much as the Jaguar I-Pace’s 290 miles. Or you can rely on destination charging at work, or the public network. As most owners have already shown, callbox home charging is the way forward.
Audi has given the e-tron air suspension and adaptive dampers as standard, and both go a long way to mitigating the weight of the battery. You can raise the car by 50mm for off-roading, and tow 1.8 tonnes with it, although as we didn’t do that, we can’t say what will happen to the rate at which you lose charge…
The combined power of the two motors gives the car 402 horsepower, with 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds when you use Sport mode, which we wouldn’t advise if you want to keep any battery charge on board…
This is the first of many to come: the e-tron and the I-Pace form the vanguard of a rush of electric SUVs (and indeed other electric cars). OK, the Tesla Model X got there first, but that is one hell of a strange SUV – the e-tron feels very “normal” in comparison, which is no bad thing: the conversation needs to move on from talking about electric vehicles as something “other”, to simply deciding which body shape and brand are right for you, then deciding whether it’s going to be petrol, hybrid or EV.
We very much like Audi’s take on the next step – the e-tron feels characteristically well put together and well thought through. We’d go for those cameras instead of wing mirrors, just to feel like you’ve shown faith in something a bit special, while EVs remain the preserve of customers willing to put their money where their mouth is.