I've been an Audi fan for years and after seeing the etron at the Paris Auto Show and comparing it with the Jaguar I-Pace, and the Mercedes EQC (exterior and interior), we placed an etron on order thinking we'd receive it in January or February. But with the delays on delivery and the shocking EPA rating of 204 miles, we cancelled our order.
We joined forums for most of the EVs out there to follow their progress. Initial deliveries of the I-Pace revealed numerous problems, particularly with the Infotainment/MMI - sometimes causing the car to just stop. We started to despair that we'd be waiting at least another year for a better electric SUV.
Before continuing, I should note that I have great admiration for Elon Musk and Tesla and believe that without them, the auto industry wouldn't be moving ahead so aggressively with EVs. Unfortunately, the cars just don't fit our active outdoor lifestyle (and wouldn't survive some of the places we park). Carrying bikes, kayaks, surfboards, etc. on a Model S or a Model 3 is somewhat impractical, and quite frankly, I really don't like the looks of the Model X. On the other hand, the charging network is what makes Tesla the leader - at least until recently.
Our SUV Requirements
With the Bolt, we've learned quite a bit about EVs, so we have pretty strong expectations for new EVs, and especially a high-end 'luxury' SUV with all-wheel drive:
- Range: we have a place in the mountains that's 175 miles away at 4000' elevation. We need to be able to make it there without stopping to charge along the way.
- Sports equipment: as mentioned above, we need room to carry our toys.
- Room for a spare tire: Driving over Altamont Pass the weekend before our 1200-mile trip to the eclipse, our Bolt narrowly avoided a sharp piece of metal in the road. Not so for several cars on the side of the road with blown-out tires in 110-degree heat. We decided that since we are often in remote areas, we didn't want to be without a spare. Fortunately, the Bolt has space under the back cover where we now carry a slightly deflated full-sized spare, our universal EVSE, extra extension cables, and a few toys.
- NAV and a good Infotainment/MMI: the Bolt lacks a navigation system and we often have problems with Android Auto, particularly in remote areas (where we often find ourselves).
- Fast charging: When we do our regular 350+ mile trips in a day, we need to charge. Because the Bolt and all current EVs have a dramatic taper in their charging rates (e.g. the Bolt charges at a max of 45 kW up to 60% then drops to 34 kW up to 80%, then to 16 kW to 90%, then rapidly down to 6 kW or less as it nears 100%), a typical charge from 20% to 100% takes over an hour and a half on a 50 kW charging station (though on most long trips, you can stop charging at 80% and stop more often). Even the Teslas have dramatic taper as state of charge (SOC - percentage of battery charge) increases. We need better for longer trips.
- Handling: Most newer EVs have excellent handling due to the low center of gravity. We do a lot of mountain roads and expect a nimble vehicle.
- Comfort and quiet: If we're going to pay for luxury, we expect luxury.
- Single-pedal driving: While not a hard requirement, we love the single-pedal driving of the Bolt. Put it in max regen (L mode), and you can almost never use the brakes. It's also an indicator of strong battery regeneration. On the Bolt, L mode slows the car at negative .3g and with the paddle gets almost negative .4g, strongly recharging the battery as you slow or go downhill.
As spring arrived so did the first etrons, along with software fixes for the I-Pace. Suddenly I-Pace owners were raving about their cars. Audi of Steven's Creek had an etron to test drive so we made an appointment there and with the Jaguar dealer down the street.
The Audi etron
Our first impression of the etron was that it was much larger than what we remembered seeing in Paris - probably more car than we needed. Eric, the knowledgeable sales assistant took us through all the features of the etron. We were impressed by the interior room and especially the fact that it had a spare tire. As in many of my former Audis, skis can pass through the back seat, still leaving room for passengers. This etron was a loaded Prestige with 21-inch wheels.
Once seated inside, what immediately struck us was the silence. Noisy Steven's Creek Boulevard could not be heard - at all. This would prove to be the case on our test drive - the car is eerily quiet on the inside. No question, the interior is what you'd expect in a luxury car.
Eric took us through the sophisticated Infotainment/MMI system which includes a separate screen where you can hand-write commands. Overall, it was intuitive and easy to use. Wanting to test the regen in search of the elusive single-pedal driving, I put the etron in economy mode and set it to max regen.
Starting on city and neighborhood streets, we quickly discovered that single-pedal driving is not possible. However, the big surprise was that when touching the brakes, the regen increased substantially. Eric explained that the brake pedal is similar to the paddles on the Bolt up until it reaches negative .3g at which point the friction brakes kick in. This is identical regen to the Bolt without using the paddle, so while it's not single pedal, the regen is strong.
We were also surprised by the handling. For such a large, heavy vehicle, the etron cornered well and hugged the road on tight fast turns. Still, consumption was nothing like the Bolt. While we typically see almost 5 miles/kWh with the Bolt around town, the Audi was averaging a bit over 3 miles/kWh.
Moving onto the highway, we went 8 miles at a steady 70 mph. Here's where we got our biggest surprise. The etron averaged 2.8 miles/kWh. That would result in over 230 miles of range at 70 mph? With 21-inch wheels? This was not even close to the EPA combined rating of 204 miles. More on that shortly.
As I mentioned before, even at highway speeds on a rough concrete surface, the etron was silent and the ride was smooth. We were impressed. Still, it was much more car than we needed.
The Jaguar I-Pace
Thanking Eric, we made our way down the street to the Land Rover/Jaguar dealer excited to drive the I-Pace. The experienced salesperson explained that the I-Pace was a big seller - they couldn't keep them in stock. We inspected the exterior and admired its sleek good looks. Its size was also more in line with what we're looking for - a small SUV.
When we opened the rear hatch, we discovered a spare tire. It took up most of the cargo space and the salesperson explained that there was no room for a spare in under the back cover. As for interior room, the back seat was tight. With Karen in the driver's seat, I had little legroom in the back.
Ready for our test drive, we asked to set the I-Pace up for max regen. Neither I nor the salesperson could figure out how to do it. Additional personnel couldn't help. After nearly ten minutes of navigating complex screens that didn't seem to make sense and which seemed to arbitrarily erase previous settings, we finally found it. And we were off.
On the city/neighborhood streets, we found that the I-Pace handled better than the Audi. It's smaller, lighter, and more nimble. As expected from the 234-mile EPA rating, the I-Pace showed nearly 3.5 miles/kWh - more efficient than the Audi. As for single-pedal driving, it's close. The I-Pace regen slows the car aggressively until it reaches about 3 or 4 miles per hour. At that point, you need to apply the friction brakes to fully stop. I think single-pedal could be possible with some practice, anticipating a bit more coasting run out before stopping.
We moved onto the freeway, taking exactly the same route we did with the etron. Acceleration down the on ramp was strong, probably better than the etron (per the statistics), but for us a difference of 1 second in a 0-60 acceleration is not terribly important. What we did notice upon getting up to 70 mph, was the interior noise. Plus, the ride was rough. It felt very much like our Bolt. Even worse for me, and this is largely a personal preference, with such a small rear window and tiny rear side windows, visibility was an issue. I like being able to see all vehicles around me.
We exited the freeway and to my surprise, the consumption showed 2.7 miles per kWh - worse than the Audi.
We left the dealership a bit disappointed with the I-Pace.
We raced over Highway 17 in our Bolt in time to beat the commute traffic. Although from what I've written so far, it may sound like the choice was obvious, for us, the I-Pace was more our size, supposedly had better range, and was clearly more efficient. The Audi was a lot of car.
With deliveries of etrons accelerating, we followed forums and collected a lot of information.
Here's where we ended up with our criteria:
- Range: the I-Pace has better range around town but doesn't do as well on the highway. Our test was short and there wasn't a huge difference, but several comparison tests have shown this to be true. Also, several drivers in the US and Europe have confirmed that they're seeing much better than the EPA number for the Audi. Even abetterrouteplanner.com shows that we can make our 175-mile trip with 4000' altitude gain in the etron with 15% of the battery to spare. And then there's the charging speed - see below.
- Sports equipment: the etron, being much larger, is the clear winner, especially if skiing is the main reason for an AWD SUV.
- Room for a Spare Tire: the etron has it, the Jaguar does not. With the amount of time we spend in remote places with no cell service, that spare is a must.
- Nav and Infotainment/MMI: the etron is the hands-down winner. I loved the heads-up display, the easy configuration, and the infotainment system. The I-Pace system was confusing. I'm sure you could get used to it, but head-to-head, it just doesn't compare.
- Fast Charging: this is where Audi surpasses all other EVs, even Tesla. Charging at 150 kW, with a taper to 100 kW at 85% SOC and ultimately 50 kW as you approach 100%, the Audi charges faster than anything on the market, even Teslas with the new 250 kW superchargers (they taper much faster). With Electrify America installing 350 kW stations, very long distance trips in the Audi can be done almost as fast as in a gas-powered car. According to some Tesla owners who have been testing the etron, even with substantially less range, on long trips, the etron and a Model X 100D extended will reach their destinations at the same time because of the Audi's faster charging. With upcoming vehicles like the Porsche Taycan and Cross Turismo, soon, EVs will charge as fast as a gas fill up.
- Handling: the I-Pace has it. It's lighter and more nimble and is more in line with what we were hoping for.
- Comfort and quiet: The Audi etron is a true luxury car. It has plenty of interior room and will comfortably seat our tall son-in-law and his wife in the backseat along with 4 sets of skis and equipment for our trips to the snow. The I-Pace, not so much. Worse, the panoramic sunroof in the I-Pace had no option to reduce the amount of sunlight. Even with climate, the car was hot and at certain angles, too much glare. We had to go to max climate to get comfortable. I suspect this would be a significant range killer on the I-Pace.
- Single-Pedal Driving: the I-Pace comes the closest.
Did we order?
When we saw the announcement of the Audi Q4, coming in late 2020 or early 2021, we seriously considered waiting. Ultimately though, after becoming convinced that the etron had sufficient range for our usual ski trips, and would do as well as a high-end Tesla on a long trip, we decided to put in our order for an Audi etron, going all-electric now and planning to trade in the etron for a Q4 or other smaller SUV when they become available.
I'll be doing more posts on EVs as these emerge, and will keep you up to date on our experiences with the etron once we receive it. In the meantime, don't hesitate to ask for more details about this decision or about EVs in general.
Also, since this post, we got to put an etron through its paces. Check out my subsequent blog: Audi etron EPA 204 miles - Debunked!