What is the Audi e-tron 55
Bridging the size gap between the Audi Q5 and Q7 SUVs, the e-tron brings all the luxury and technology you might expect from each offering and adds emissions-free driving and an enhanced level of ride comfort.
Audi's new rival to the Mercedes-Benz EQC is available in two main specifications; e-tron 50 and the more powerful e-tron 55 with a choice of SUV and sleeker Sportback body shapes, all of which have quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi e-tron 55 spec details
The e-tron 55 has a relatively big a 95kWh lithium-ion battery that powers a pair of electric motors; with one at the front producing 125kW, while the rear unit has 140kW for a combined 265kW and 561Nm under normal driving conditions.
If for some reason that’s not enough grunt, you can draw on an eight-second boost that turns the output up to 300kW/664Nm and takes the 2490kg SUV from 0-100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.
For comparison, the e-tron 50 has a 71kWh battery and 230kW of combined motor power. Both variants are otherwise the same and share a considerable list of standard features that you’d find in other large Audi SUVs and laid out in almost exactly the same fashion.
The vehicle we’re testing is the E-Tron 55 First Edition that brings a host of additional features over the standard E-Tron 55, including: Four-way climate control with rear touchscreen display; 21-inch alloy wheels instead of 20s; premium front and rear LED lighting including Matrix headlights; turn indicators; additional leather trim on the dashboard and armrests; Audi S-Line leather sports seats; aluminium door-sill trims; ambient lighting; 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, head-up display and virtual exterior mirrors.
The First Edition extras add $11,000 to the e-tron 55’s $146,100 price tag. Our test vehicle had metallic paint ($2300) that took the price to $161,900.
What we don't like about the Audi e-tron 55
Not much. If we're nitpicking, the fiddly old-school cruise control stalk taken from the Volkswagen parts bin isn't as user-friendly as steering-wheel-mounted switches.
The MMI navigation's Voice Command isn’t great at picking up street names either.
Then there are the optional virtual exterior mirrors (that come standard with the E-Tron 55 First Edition) that seem like an unnecessary gimmick. Why have cameras and monitors when a couple of pieces of reflective glass can do the job? If one is damaged while your e-tron is parked in the street you could be up for $2000 to replace it.
That said, I did start coming around to them. Their streamlined shape helps reduce wind noise, and you get a wider and deeper view of each blind spot through the 7.0-inch OLED monitors mounted inside each front door below the A-pillar.
But while the picture is crystal clear, the screens’ relatively low position means you have to look downwards, which reduces peripheral vision toward the front.
The screens also make reversing more difficult particularly if you’re backing down an angled or curved path. They are angled toward the driver and not facing perpendicular with the side of the vehicle, like mirrors do, which means it can be difficult to tell where the vehicle is actually pointing.
Driving the Audi e-tron 55
Audi has done well to make the e-tron driving experience retain as many of the German car maker's attributes as possible - regardless of the powertrain. Hop in, and you’ll find little to suggest it’s an EV - even the gear shifter is conventional compared with many other EV models that use buttons.
But of course that all changes once you press the start button and, needless to say, it’s all very quiet. Like most EVs, it emanates a futuristic hum at slow speeds, but it remains quieter than most at higher speeds with very little tyre and wind noise, the latter reduced by the streamlined virtual door mirrors.
Even more impressive is the e-tron's smooth ride. On the pristine blacktop of Melbourne’s Tullamarine Freeway and at the night-time 100km/h speed limit, it’s gentle ride and silence prompted my wife to say it felt like an express train. I had to agree.
Switching to Dynamic mode firms the ride a little, but it’s still incredibly comfortable.
The e-tron handles rougher roads very well too, thanks to the adaptive dampers. You’d think the 21-inch wheels that are standard with the First Edition spec would compromise ride comfort, but they’re shod with relatively chunky 265/45 Goodyear Eagle tyres that provide good cushioning between road and rims.
The Goodyears are not a specific electric vehicle low rolling-resistance product but do an excellent job minimising drag nonetheless. Also, it’s amazing how far the e-tron will coast on a level road before you have to tap the right pedal.
This can actually be a little disconcerting if you’re used to one-pedal EV driving and you enjoy watching the recharging effect on the power gauge whenever you slow down.
It combines to make the e-tron feel 'normal' which is why, if you do want to enable regenerative braking, you have to negotiate the main menu in the 10.1-inch infotainment screen and find Vehicle Settings > Charging and tick a box. Once you’ve done that, you can select from three levels of regenerative braking using the paddle shifters, but only when in the Auto drive mode.
Having driven other EV models in recent times I'm accustomed to regenerative braking. But, as with the virtual mirrors, I came around to the principle benefits of coasting. Sure you’re not charging the battery when you take your foot off the accelerator (unless you manually apply the brakes) but you’re not consuming as much energy to maintain speed.
Speaking of speed, the E-Tron isn’t the quickest EV off the mark, but it’s certainly not the slowest either, and you’ll never be short for oomph at higher speeds.
The Dynamic driving mode also ups performance from the twin-motor set-up, though I rarely needed to engage it beyond Comfort mode and, even then, it was for curiosity’s sake or to impress my EV-sceptic mates.
Funnily enough, even though you’re driving emissions-free, you’re more appreciative of efficient driving. So selecting Sport mode seems like an unnecessary indulgence in a stately large SUV like this.
Indeed, the E-Tron feels like a limousine and the interior looks the part, with roomy rear seats offering plenty of leg- and knee-room helped by the lack of a transmission tunnel that allows all three occupants to stretch their legs.
Up front, the leather seats are firm, but not uncomfortably so, and offer excellent back, side and under-thigh support.
Storage space includes a 600-litre boot that extends up to 1725 litres with the 40:20:40 split rear seatbacks folded down. There is also a 60-litre luggage compartment under the bonnet, which is the best place to stow charging hardware.
Range, economy and charging
The e-tron 55 has an official driving range of 436km, though when driving in summer with the air-conditioning blowing, you’re likely to get closer to 350km, which is still plenty for daily urban driving as well as some trips out of town.
Audi claims a combined power consumption of 22kWh/100km for the E-Tron 55. The extra kit and weight in the E-Tron 55 First Edition increases that to 23.1kWh/100km.
During the week we tested the E-Tron it drove 553km with a mix of freeway and urban driving and averaged 25.1kWh, with the air-conditioning running most of the time.
If you’re charging at home it will take around 42 hours to fully top up the 95kWh battery from a 240V plug. For quicker home charging the e-tron accepts an 11kW AC wall charger than can top the E-Tron 55 from empty in 8.5 hours.
A 50kW DC charger brings the full-charging time down to two hours, or from 20 percent to 80 percent in 70 minutes. This is the more likely scenario for many owners looking for the best balance of range vs time at the plug.
Find a 350kW ultra-rapid public charger and it's possible to pump the e-tron 55's battery to full in about an hour or 80 percent in just 30 minutes.
I charged the e-tron at a Chargefox rapid charger where it sucked up the electrons at 141kW, taking the battery from about 20 percent to 80 percent in just 18 minutes, which equated to 10km driving range every 50 seconds.
Chargefox charges 40c per kWh, so a 65kWh top-up from 20 to 80 percent costs about $25. Not that new owners need to worry about that as the e-tron is offered with unlimited Chargefox charging for six years, along with six-years' servicing and roadside assistance and an eight-year/160,000km battery warranty.
Audi’s aim of making the e-tron appear as normal as possible to lure hesitant EV buyers reminds me of a vegan pub in Melbourne's northern suburbs. It serves burgers that look and taste like the 'real' thing, but are in some ways, actually better.
As with most EVs (and vegan burgers) there are compromises, but the E-Tron is no token effort on Audi’s part. It has the style, space, technology and comfort you’d expect from a large German SUV while bringing effortless performance and a sublimely smooth ride to the mix that will have you making up excuses to drive it.
PLUS Smooth and quiet ride, 150kW charging capacity, equipment levels, cabin comfort
MINUS Dated cruise control stalk, fussy voice command
Model Audi E-TRON 55 First Edition
Motors 125kW Front and 140kW rear
Max power 265kW (300kW boost)
Max torque 561Nm (664Nm boost)
Battery 400v, 95kWh lithium-ion
Charging capacity 150kW
Economy 23.1 kWh/100km
On sale now