Audi is charging into the luxury SUV electric vehicle (EV) category with its E-Tron. The category has grown since the stylish Jaguar I-Pace and the quirky Tesla Model X first electrified the market. The Mercedes-Benz ECQ and an electric version of the Porsche Macan are also poised to enter the market in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Recently, Consumer Reports presented its initial impressions of the Audi E-Tron in a First Drive review. Testers at CR appreciated the five-seater’s quiet, luxurious cabin, smooth powertrain and comfortable ride on even the bumpiest roads. These qualities are what drivers have come to expect from an upscale brand such as Audi, regardless of whether the vehicle in question is electric.
The E-Tron’s base MSRP is $74,800. The testers drove a vehicle that had a driver-assistance package with adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, and traffic sign recognition plus a cold weather package with heated rear seats and battery preconditioning. That brought the total price for CR‘s tester to $80,450.
But the testers also uncovered a number of things they didn’t like about the EV. Their complaints are worth considering, given consumers’ expectations of value if they decide to buy a luxury EV. Here is a list of things the CR testers found wrong with the Audi E-Tron.
1. Touchy Haptic Feedback
The E-Tron has dual touchscreens like its gas-powered sibling, the A8 sedan. One of the displays is dedicated entirely to climate control. CR testers were impressed by the two-screen interface. But it took some time for them to get a feel for the haptic technology used on the screens. In this technology, a driver touches a button on the screen and the computer responds with a mild pulse that feels like a physical push-button—that is if the driver’s fingertip makes just the right amount of contact with the screen.
2. An Unintuitive Gear Selector
The mild exasperation that the CR testers seemed to have with the E-Tron’s haptic technology ramped up when they encountered the EV’s odd gear selector. The selector is actually a large toggle switch that a driver activates like a thumb-shifter to move forward into Drive or backward into Reverse. An added problem is the Park button awkwardly protruding from the side of the gear selector. One tester especially didn’t like this feature, since she accidentally put the vehicle into Park without realizing it.
3. A Tricky Charging Port
Compared to the charging ports of other EVs, the door for the E-Tron’s charging port is more complicated than necessary. Instead of a straightforward, push-to-open latch door, the E-Tron’s door is powered. The driver must press an unmarked button next the door to open it and then press the button again to release the hose when charging is complete. Testers felt that a powered door was unnecessary and prone to failure over time.
4. Visibility Issues
The E-Tron shares a similar profile with the Jaguar I-Pace: a low, sloping roof that swoops down toward the rear. This design choice in the E-Tron results in a narrow rear window that provides a limited view. The wide front pillars of the EV makes it difficult to see pedestrians and other objects in the driver’s direct line of vision, according to the CR testers.
5. Laid-Back Acceleration
Although Audi boasts that its 402 hp motor enables the E-Tron to go from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds, testers at CR thought that the EV was a tad too unhurried if a driver needed to change lanes or merge from a stop quickly. But the reduced torque that seems to be engineered into this SUV did have an upside for the testers: the E-Tron had “no spinning of wheels” unlike other EVs they’ve driven. They valued its smooth power once it was moving.
6. Long Charging Times
Testers were irked by the long charging times associated with the E-Tron’s larger battery. They pointed out that if the battery has only 15% of charge remaining, it may take up to 12 hours to charge on a 240-volt connector. DC fast charging is a better alternative since Audi asserts that the E-Tron’s battery can be charged from dead to 80% in about a half hour, and drivers can add 54 miles of range in only 10 minutes. CR testers intend to try DC fast charging as they continue testing the E-Tron—if they can find an outlet nearby. Right now, these outlets are few and far between.
7. A Lack of EV Verve
The E-Tron checks all of the boxes for a luxury SUV, and that may be enough for some buyers. But CR testers suggested that this SUV doesn’t have the same kind of electric vehicle excitement that a Tesla Model X has. A review by Car and Driver late last year supports the testers’ suggestion: although Audi has maintained its brand character in the E-Tron, it still is short on driver engagement.
A “Normal” Car Pretending to Be an EV?
In the Consumer Reports review, the testers revealed some annoying usability and design issues in the E-Tron. But the bigger issue here has to do with the vehicle’s identity. Even though Audi seems to be marketing the E-Tron as the luxury choice for traditionalists in the EV market, it still doesn’t stand out the way the Model X or the I-Pace does.
And as for efficiency, the E-Tron’s range on one charge falls short at 204 miles, as compared to the I-Pace’s 234 miles and the Model X’s 295. That does raise the question of whether Audi wants its luxury EV to be as efficient as its competitors.
For now, it’s a little hard to tell if there really is a middle path between quirkiness and high style in this market segment yet, but maybe Audi can keep the E-Tron on it.
All images provided by the manufacturer unless otherwise noted.