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The 2019 Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 5/21/2019 Joey Capparella

a blue car parked in front of a building: The 2019 Audi e-tron electric SUV is capable and refined in the mold of Audi's conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, but it could offer more than that. Read the full story here.
Some electric vehicles come from unexpected sources: Tesla essentially appeared out of thin air, and who ever thought that Jaguar would be a pioneering player in the luxury-EV space? But the idea of Audi building an EV is such a logical next step for the company that it was starting to seem weird that it hadn't happened already. The brand has a well-established tech-focused image, and even many combustion-powered Audis these days seem to be striving for the ultraquiet, ultrasmooth driving character of an EV. The arrival of the fully electric 2019 Audi e-tron SUV, then, hardly feels like a revolution.

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a car parked on the side of a road: The 2019 Audi e-tron is a new electric mid-size SUV that tries hard to imitate its gas-powered siblings, for better and for worse.© Audi The 2019 Audi e-tron is a new electric mid-size SUV that tries hard to imitate its gas-powered siblings, for better and for worse.

If you ask Audi, that's by design. The company is dead set on positioning the e-tron as a "normal" car, with the implication being that normalcy is something that can't be found among its chief competitors, the daringly styled Jaguar I-Pace and the Falcon Wing–doored Tesla Model X. Larger than the Q5 and slightly smaller than the Q8, the e-tron is a conventionally styled Audi SUV that, save for its powertrain, won't draw much attention when parked next to its Q-badged stablemates in a showroom.

a car parked on the side of the water: Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight© Audi Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight

Now Available in the U.S.

We first drove the global-spec e-tron last year in the Middle East, and it is now ready for prime time in the United States with a few changes. The camera side-view mirrors available in other markets will not make it to the U.S. due to federal regulations, meaning there are conventional side mirrors on the doors and blank spots on the front door panels where screens would otherwise be. Americans will have to make do with only one charging port on the driver's-side front fender, while other markets can conveniently opt for one on each side. And the European car's black cladding around the wheel wells is painted body color for our market.

The U.S. car also is saddled with a bit of extra baggage from the EPA: a range estimate of just 204 miles, a disappointing number in this class. Audi is defensive about this figure, as it probably should be given that its aforementioned rivals-let alone several cheaper, nonluxury electric cars-can get many more miles on a charge. (The I-Pace is EPA rated at 234 miles, and the least expensive Model X hits 250 miles.) The company provides plenty of reasoning (read: excuses) for the low number, namely that the e-tron only uses 88 percent of its 95.0-kWh battery capacity for the sake of longevity and repeatable performance.

a car engine: Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight© Audi Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight

Audi also is keen to point out the e-tron's charging advantages. At certain DC fast-charging stations, the e-tron can recoup energy at an impressive 150 kilowatts, meaning it's able to charge from zero to 80 percent in about 30 minutes and add 54 miles of range in just 10 minutes. But 150-kilowatt-capable stations aren't exactly plentiful, at least not until Volkswagen's Electrify America initiative (part of the company's penance for the Dieselgate scandal) finishes building out its fast-charging network. For those who will charge at home, the e-tron's 9.6-kilowatt charger can run off a 240-volt outlet to charge the car in about nine hours.

Quiet and Comfortable on the Road

Like many other Audis, the e-tron is exceptionally quiet. That may not sound like much of an achievement for an electric vehicle, as it doesn't have the sound of a gas engine clogging up your eardrums. But in fact, creating a quiet and refined cabin in an EV can be difficult because the lack of engine noise exaggerates other sound sources such as road and wind noise. The e-tron is one of the quietest electric cars we've driven, with a remarkably hushed cabin that allows very little noise to permeate even at brisk highway speeds.

a view of a car: Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight© Audi Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight

What the e-tron lacks is a sense of engagement from behind the wheel. The car handles well given its prodigious mass approaching three tons, and it takes a confident set in corners. But the numb steering is dead on-center and never invites the driver into the experience. It also doesn't feel all that quick. Audi quotes 355 horsepower in normal driving and up to 402 horses are available for up to eight seconds at a time in boost mode. But even flooring the car from a dead stop won't make your passengers squeal. It's perfectly adequate for passing and never feels slow, but we've come to expect a certain level of excitement, especially from luxury EVs, thanks to Tesla.

Regenerative Braking

The goal of making the e-tron as normal as possible influenced how Audi tuned its brake-by-wire system. Regenerative braking is an important part of the package, as it is with any EV, but Audi has shied away from the one-pedal driving systems that are found in many other electric cars. The e-tron's default setting is to leave the regen in auto mode, which assumes that the driver will be using the brake pedal regularly. In this mode, even if the brake pedal is depressed, the car uses the regenerative brakes up to an 0.3-g threshold (the hydraulic brakes kick in beyond that). Auto mode does ratchet up deceleration when your foot is off the accelerator occasionally, for instance if it senses a car in front of you or if it knows you're about to go down a hill based on the navigation system.

a bag of luggage sitting on the seat of a car: Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight© Audi Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight

There's also a more configurable manual mode for the regen, which allows for use of the paddles on the steering wheel to increase the slowdown with two different levels. The lower of these barely slows the car at all, while the higher one reaches 0.1 g of deceleration. We preferred driving the car in this max-regen mode, but we still wanted a setting beyond what's available. Given the system's configurability, it would be nice for Audi to at least offer drivers the option of a setting that can bring the car to a stop without using the brake pedal. It doesn't help that the pedal itself doesn't feel all that linear in its response, with an overly strong initial bite.

A Wholly Rational EV

Perhaps the e-tron's greatest strength is its packaging. It is airy and spacious inside, with a back seat that's downright palatial for two and plenty spacious enough for three. There's also a lot of cargo space-29 cubic feet behind the rear seats, four cubes more than the I-Pace-and the car feels intrinsically usable on an everyday basis. It also tows up to 4000 pounds and even has a spare tire.

It's hard to argue with this practicality or with Audi's wholly rational approach to building an EV. The e-tron is a competent, well-engineered piece that makes few compromises compared to Audi's gasoline-powered SUVs. But at this point, buying an electric car-especially one that starts at $75,795-is still a bold, somewhat irrational choice, a decision to go against the grain. By working so hard to make the e-tron fit the mold of its conventional vehicles, Audi may have missed an opportunity to make this EV an appealingly different option for early adopters. But we're not far enough into the EV era to know what's right and wrong, and maybe Audi's conservative approach can convince its existing customer base to make the switch.

a car parked in front of a building: Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight© Audi Audi e-tron Is an EV Hiding in Plain Sight

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