If you've looked at blog posts in my EV category, you know that Karen and I are big fans of electric vehicles. We bought our first all-electric car in 2013, and fell in love with the Chevy Bolt that we leased at the end of 2016. It became our primary car as we learned that EVs are ready for long trips as well as short ones - we regularly drove it on trips over 350 miles in a day, took it to the mountains, and even on a 1200 mile trip to Oregon for the eclipse. However, the one place we didn't take the Bolt was to the snow. For that we kept our reliable Audi Allroad.
As I mentioned in my post on the Paris Auto Show, we started looking for an all-electric small SUV. The Audi etron looked very promising, but when the EPA came out with a rating of 204 miles, we had doubts we could make the 175-mile trip to the mountains (which includes a 3500' altitude gain) without stopping to charge. As we discovered after a 4-day test drive, this didn't appear to be a real problem. It looked like the EPA severely underestimated the range of the Audi etron so we put one back on order.
Taking our etron home
Our last three weeks in France saw non-stop major named storms with more rain in days than the region normally sees all year. Our French friends asked us if we could take the rain back to California with us and our friends here in California asked us if we could bring the rain back from France. We promised to do our best.
True to our word, the rain stopped in France the day after we left and it started in California the day after we returned. We raced over rainy highway 17 to Steven's Creek Audi where Cassandra Crawford had our Galaxy Blue etron waiting for us. We had ordered 19-inch wheels to maximize range of the car.
As papers were signed, we saw the rain increasing, and our first experience in our etron was trying to make it back over sinuous highway 17 in nearly zero visibility rain and wind with tremendous amounts of water on the road. As we later learned, bombogenesis had turned the first major storm of the season into an epic one with hurricane force winds and rain. The etron, with its all-season tires got us home safely.
Before heading into the Sierra, we wanted to put snow tires on the etron. With the Allroad, I had discovered that Michelin X-Ice tires not only handled snow well, but actually gave us better mileage than the tires we used in the summer. Ultimately, we kept them on all year. I ordered the Michelins and two days later put them on the Audi. We drove our Bolt around town that weekend, planning to take our etron on its first trip to the snow on Monday.
Sure enough, he experienced the same thing. Later after a few more curves at speed he noticed that the image of the car in on the dashboard was showing lines beside it. Karen handed me the owner's manual and we quickly determined that active lane keep assist was on. However, it didn't look like it in the MMI. I searched further in the manual and discovered that you could turn it on or off with a small button on the end of the turn-signal lever. Our tire expert pushed the button and the car's handling returned to normal. We were a bit embarrassed but also confused as to how this was turned on. He suggested that one of his guys probably inadvertently touched the button. We agreed that it was a weird place to put this control.
Our etron's first trip to the mountains
One of the nice features of the etron is that if you put a destination into the NAV system, the etron range guess-o-meter adapts based on the route and terrain changes. As we discovered, it is surprisingly accurate.
We were pleasantly surprised that the charging stations were less than 5 minutes off the freeway. With 60% of the battery left, we plugged in, stepped into the mall for a quick bio break and returned maybe 5-7 minutes later. The etron was at 80% and still charging at 150 kW! Our only complaint here was that the charging cable was a bit short and we had to maneuver the etron to make it reach.
Our drive to the mountains was uneventful. With the 3500' altitude gain and 205 miles driven, we averaged 2.6 miles per kWh. That works out to over 217 miles of range, mostly highway with climate on and chilly temps (30s Fahrenheit) most of the way. This is actually better than the Bolt.
We plugged into our NEMA 14-50 outlet and charged overnight at 8.8 kW as we went to bed with dreams of our first day of the season on the slopes.
I had purchased a TeslaTap from evseadapters.com. We plugged into the Tesla charging station (a destination charger, not a Supercharger), and were pleased to see the etron charging at 9.6 kW.
Three hours later, our 'warm-up-day' skiing done and the etron fully charged, we headed back down to our place. Amazingly, we only used 3% of the battery for the 40 miles.
350 Miles of range in an etron?
The photo above shows the etron with over 350 miles of range (the 38 miles driven to that point and the guess-o-meter showing 313 miles. Clearly, that's not realistic, but upon arriving in Santa Cruz, after 175 miles, we had 40% of the battery remaining. And while 30 miles was downhill, it's still pretty impressive that we saw the equivalent of 292 miles of range.
We made a second trip to the mountains this past week and saw similar results. I note that we didn't stop to charge and made it to our place with 20% of the battery left. And now, after driving the etron for over 3 weeks with 1600 miles on it, our average consumption is over 2.8 mi/kWh. That means that in mixed, mostly highway driving, we're seeing over 234 miles of range, average. This includes a fair amount of cold weather driving (mornings at Kirkwood were as cold as 13 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius)).
I attribute this to the fact that we are experienced EV drivers who know how to optimize regen. We drive in efficiency mode with max regen all the time. I'm sure the 19 inch wheels help too.
Weirdly, unlike other EVs, we get better range on the highway than around town. We're generally seeing 2.6 mi/kWh around town but 2.9 mi/kWh on the highway.
What don't we like about the etron?
The etron is an amazing car - not just an amazing EV, it's a truly impressive vehicle of any kind. It's almost eerily quiet and smooth and has every appointment you can imagine - definitely a luxury vehicle. So what don't we like about the etron?
Well, it's a bit large for us. But we'll live with the extra space until we find a smaller AWD EV with similar range and handling. Our issues are minor. While the middle of the back seat folds down to allow skis to pass through, there is no sack as there used to be in previous Audis. We bought one. The glove box could be a bit larger. Also, the timed charging is not the best. With the Bolt, we put in the location, tell it what hours are best for charging, and if we plug it in, it waits until those low-cost times. It gives us the option to charge as soon as possible (within the ideal window, or as late as possible). With the Audi, it's more complicated and doesn't include the 'as soon as possible' option. If weather changes or there's an outage, you can end up with a car that's not fully charged. And don't forget to explicitly set the timer. With the Bolt, it knows automatically. I just plug it in. Hopefully Audi will figure out how to be competitive with Chevy on that front.
And, the etron has a clever mechanism to give you the speed limit by reading road signs. Unfortunately, we have truck speed signs nearby limiting their speed to 35 MPH. I get warnings if I go over 35 MPH. This occurs often and I find it annoying. I like the idea of a speed warning when I'm 10 MPH over the limit, but if it can't accurately determine the limit, it becomes a bit of a pain. Truck and school zones are the worst but it also sometimes misses signs if there's a vehicle between the etron and the sign. Supposedly it coordinates with the NAV system but I haven't seen that.
The only other thing missing for me is the lack of a heated steering wheel. This is our winter vehicle and I really miss a heated steering wheel on cold mornings. Even our Bolt has one. Yes, you can preheat the car, but when you get out of the ocean after a cold surf session, or finish skiing with freezing hands, wrapping your hands around a warm steering wheel is heaven. Yeah, I'm a wimp!
So as you can see, we love our new SKI-TRON. It's a bit more car than we need, but it's hard to complain about an EV that performs like this. For us it is the ultimate ski vehicle. Even the mountain gave us a thumbs up on the etron's first day at Kirkwood.