[TEST DRIVE] Audi's e-tron is the electric car that doesn't feel like one
HONGCHEON, Gangwon — The first thing you need to know about the Audi e-tron, the automaker's first electric vehicle to launch in Korea earlier this month, is that it doesn't feel like an electric vehicle.
Why is that? Because the German automaker has managed to get rid of the neck-snapping acceleration and uncomfortably smooth driving experience that are two of the biggest complaints that fans of gas-powered vehicles have about electric vehicles (EVs).
Of course, many EV fans like the smooth, silent ride the cars tend to offer, but by moving the driving experience closer to that of a regular combustion engine-powered car, Audi has taken the EV far closer to the mainstream.
Audi Korea offered reporters a chance to get to grips with the new e-tron at a two-day media session in Hongcheon, Gangwon, starting Monday, and provided the majority of its lineup for test drives including the e-tron 55 quattro.
The Korea JoongAng Daily got behind the wheel of the e-tron 55 quattro to drive nearly 120 kilometers (75 miles) for two and a half hours, including intense winding courses through the mountains of Hongcheon as well as long stretches of highway.
Comfortable yet efficient
Having driven most of the EVs available in Korea, the most noticeable feature of the e-tron was that the car didn't respond to accelerating and breaking with a scarily high level of efficiency, one of the biggest issues when moving from a gas-powered vehicle to an EV.
Since a battery-powered engine doesn’t need to warm up, EVs tend to shoot forward as soon as the driver steps on the accelerator and come to a complete stop very quickly when braking.
Like all vehicles, drivers do eventually get used to the requirements of their own vehicle, but the dramatic change can be intimidating when getting behind the wheel of an EV, especially in somewhere highly congested like Seoul, where you have to accelerate and brake every 10 seconds or so.
For the e-tron SUV, the response was just fast enough to feel comfortable switching between braking and accelerating.
While the response is not as abrupt as other EVs, the acceleration is still very impressive. The car comfortably accelerates up to 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour) without any problem, and even at that speed it feels both stable and quiet.
Officially, the e-tron can go from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 6.6 seconds.
On winding courses, the car firmly gripped the road, partially thanks to its lower center of gravity as its 95 kilowatt-hour battery is under the passenger compartment. It also has two electric motors with one on the front and the other at the rear axle.
Despite the heavy weight, the car was agile enough to smoothly navigate hilly and curvy roads.
One thing that takes a while to get used to in this luxury EV is the complete absence of side mirrors, which have been replaced by cameras to show live footage on displays mounted inside each door.
When changing lanes, it does require an unnerving amount of faith to trust what was shown on each display, without a good old-fashioned mirror to confirm it for you. The display quality is pretty high and clear, even in dark tunnels. The function was clearly practical when it was raining — the two-day test drive was mostly in wet conditions — since there were no issues with the windows or side mirrors fogging up.
The e-tron 55 quattro offers a relatively short range on a single charge compared to its rivals.
Its official drive range is 307 kilometers per charge, less than its direct competitors: Jaguar’s I-Pace at 333 kilometers and Mercedes-Benz's EQC at 309 kilometers. Tesla’s Model X, an SUV type, can drive more than 400 kilometers. BMW’s new iX3 is expected to offer a range that exceeds 450 kilometers.
Audi Korea says its highly efficient regenerative system which recharges the battery from the motor’s kinetic energy will compensate for the shortage. It can extend the range by up to 30 percent which, according to the carmaker, is the best in the industry.
It worked efficiently during the test drive session.
The vehicle, which started out with 280 kilometers left on its battery, finished the 120 kilometer route with 175 kilometers still remaining, meaning around 15 kilometers were recharged through its internal system. The course also included multiple steep hills, which probably used more power.
When rolling downhill, controlling the speed only with the brake, the regenerative system was evident. The 195 kilometer remaining range visibly increased to 201 kilometers after driving downhill for a couple of minutes.
“You can drive from Seoul to Busan on a single charge!” is a typical marketing slogan for almost all EV sellers in Korea. Audi Korea, technically, cannot use this phrase as Seoul and Busan are 390 kilometers away from each other by road.
An official from Audi Korea, however, said he did drive the car from Seoul to Busan with a maximum speed of 118 kilometers per hour on a congested Friday night.
For urban driving, the e-tron 55 quattro is flawless. It offers a more natural driving experience and performs comfortably in heavy traffic.
However, one cannot deny that when it comes to EVs, range is a crucial element.
The vehicle starts at 117 million won ($97,000).
BY JIN EUN-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]