With the e-tron 55 quattro, Audi is bringing high-tech, high-end electric mobility to India.
As someone who writes about cars for a living, I sometimes think about how things may have fallen into a rut; so many auto journalists seem to write and rewrite the same old cliches, re-working the same tired old lines to fit new cars. With a fair bit of chest puffery and bravado thrown in for good measure. For those keen on portraying ‘the hard man of motoring journalism’ image, it’s fashionable to bemoan the passing of the manual transmission, which ostensibly provides more control than any automatic. Hotshoe, rocket-boy road testers are wont to dismiss things like anti-lock brakes and traction control as mere impediments to going faster and getting sideways. And then there’s the rhetoric about engines. We hacks love writing about engines; we exult in the glory of screaming, high-revving V6s and howling, turbocharged V8s. We dismiss inline-fours as being a bit working class and, of course, we worship V12s at the altar of performance. And that brings us to the new Audi e-tron 55 quattro. Because it simply doesn’t have an engine. None, whatsoever.
The 5-seater e-tron all-electric SUV doesn’t have an internal combustion engine under the hood, but what it does have is not one but two electric motors — one each for the front and rear axles — for a combined peak output of 300kW (402 horsepower) and 664Nm of torque. For anyone who’s ever thought electric cars are probably a bit dull and a bit slow, you need to get inside an e-tron 55, put it in ‘Dynamic’ mode, and floor the throttle; acceleration is instant and neck-snapping, and a bit shocking the first time you experience it.
We’ve all read about how electric motors produce full-fat torque right from the word go, but the e-tron’s low-speed acceleration in Dynamic mode still caught me by surprise. The electric motors transmit power to all four wheels via a single-speed fixed ratio transmission, and Audi claims a zero to 100kph time of 5.7 seconds, though the e-tron 55 actually feels quicker than that. Top speed is a claimed 200kph and while I only did around 140-150, I’m sure the twin electric motors are quite capable of pushing the e-tron 55 (which weighs close to 2,500 kilos, so isn’t exactly a lightweight) to 200. The e-tron 55’s electric motors are fed by a 95kWh lithium-ion battery and, depending on how you drive the vehicle, maximum range can be anywhere between 359-484km. Drive it in Dynamic mode with your foot down, and the range drops pretty fast. I suppose keeping the e-tron in Comfort or Efficiency modes might be better for those who suffer from range anxiety, and it helps that performance in either of those modes is still very impressive.
With an 11kW AC home charger, the e-tron can be charged to 80 per cent in 8.5 hours, or you could get Audi to install a 22kW AC fast charger at your home or office, which will provide an 80 per cent charge in 4.5 hours. For much faster charging, the e-tron 55 can be hooked up to a DC fast charger; Tata Power is one company that’s setting up a network of 25kW and 50kW fast chargers across the country, and these will cut charging times to around two hours for the e-tron.
Besides the rapid acceleration from low and medium speeds, the other remarkable thing about this SUV is its poise, ride quality, and handling. It’s a big, heavy SUV after all, but the e-tron does quite well when pushed hard around corners. Riding on 20-inch alloy wheels and with adaptive air suspension, the e-tron remains reasonably taut and composed, taking standard road-testing manoeuvres like rapid lane changes and high-speed cornering in its stride. The air suspension offers a very pliant, comfortable ride, and the e-tron isn’t bothered by speed bumps, potholes, etc. At the same time, the chassis and suspension also offer adequately high levels of dynamic performance with confidence-inspiring handling at higher speeds, some of which may be attributable to the vehicle’s quattro electric all-wheel-drive.
The car is also very, very quiet; only a faint whine that’s barely discernible most of the time, can be heard from the electric motors once in a rare while. The vehicle’s weight, however, shows during hard braking from high speeds, when the e-tron bobs and pitches a bit. It’s still easily controllable with a firm hand on the steering wheel, so isn’t anything to worry about. Overall, the e-tron 55 behaves reassuringly like a conventional IC-engined Audi SUV, with similar ride and handling characteristics, so there will be no EV-specific learning curve for those who are driving an e-tron for the first time.
The e-tron’s interiors, too, will be familiar to anyone who’s driven any of Audi’s big SUVs before. The cabin is plush and luxurious, with enough space for five adults. Dark leather upholstery, brushed metal trim, power-adjustable front seats and Audi’s very useful ‘virtual cockpit’ fully digital instrument panel with heads-up display, all look and feel familiar. Where the e-tron steps things up is the infotainment system, with two touchscreens (slightly angled towards the driver) that allow one to customise the car’s wide array of settings, and adjust the climate control system.
The 16-speaker, 705-watt Bang & Olufsen music system works particularly well, and the uniquely shaped gear-selector level looks cool. The India-spec e-tron 55 gets conventional rear-view mirrors (instead of the rear-view camera-based system that you see in pics here) but we do get Audi’s predictive cornering lights and ‘digital matrix LED’ headlamps, which are not only very powerful, but also capable of projecting animated light sequences. I didn’t get a chance to drive the e-tron at night so couldn’t experience this first-hand, but maybe next time.
The e-tron 55 quattro, along with its slinkier, slightly more stylish sibling, the e-tron Sportback 55 quattro (both are mechanically similar and offer similar levels of range and performance) are due to be launched in India later this month. Prices haven’t been announced yet but are likely to be around Rs 1.10-1.15 crore. In terms of competition, the e-tron has the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC to contend with, which are priced at around Rs 1.04-1.12 crore, and offer range and performance that’s more or less similar to the e-tron 55’s.
The e-tron is well-equipped to take on the competition. Like its IC-engined Audi cousins, the e-tron is a big, handsome, well-built SUV, and one that’s ready to make a clean break from the past and embrace the future. Indeed, Audi has already announced that it will stop developing new IC engines at the end of 2025 and in 10 years from now, by the year 2032, will only be selling electric vehicles.
With its nice mix of style, cabin space, dynamic performance, range and dayto-day practicality, the Audi e-tron 55 quattro is a viable, practical alternative to conventional IC-engined luxury SUVs. Potential buyers, once they experience the e-tron’s electric power, may never want to go back to petrol or diesel engines. And as for automotive journalists, we’ll have to learn a whole new lexicon and start working on a new generation of cliches that can work for battery packs and electric motors. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to do it.
Audi e-tron 55 quattro
Battery 95kWh lithium-ion; Power 300kW;
Torque 664Nm; 0-100kph 5.7 seconds;
Top Speed 200kph; Range 359-484km
Price Rs 1.15 crore (estimated)