AUDI’S E-TRON S DECEIVES TO FLATTER

Audi e-tron S
As compelling as e-tron S may be, it has its challenges

Audi is certainly doing its fair share in leading the electric vehicle charge into South Africa. More than just another missile in its arsenal, this e-tron S Sportback quattro makes a for a compelling option, even if it must deceive a little in order to flatter.

The first S-badged electric Audi, e-tron S still has a platform designed for a petrol engine, rather than its own, dedicated EV architecture. Newer Audi EVs like the Q4 e-tron, e-tron GT, and upcoming A6 and Q6 e-trons, have since been designed from the ground up as battery electric cars. Still this Sportback S is unique in the e-tron range.

Electric

E-tron S Shifts Electric Power Around

The beefy 150 kW 355 Nm motor normally fitted in the back the e-tron 55 shifts to this car’s front axle. It makes place for a pair of smaller 132 kW 309 Nm electric motors at the rear. They are mounted with the transmission in a transaxle. Which means it has power vectoring rather than a differential. To allow the rear torque to dance between the wheels. ‘In the interests of agile cornering’, they say.

All that also makes for 40-60 front-rear split electric all-wheel-drive in normal conditions. Combined overall output is 320 kW and 808 Nm. Nudge the gear knob down to S and it will give you 370 kW and 973 Nm for eight seconds. That’s double the time it needs to blast to 100 km/h. And just enough time to reach 800m at 142 km/h.

Clamp braking, for whatever reason, feels a tad contrived. Regenerative braking is via an auto recuperation mode. Use the crisp left paddle shifter to manually step it up in three levels. Unlike the 55 however, where the car retains your selected regen level until you alter it or park it, S defaults back to auto regen after every throttle application.

Audi e-tron S

Will e-tron S Travel 344 km on a Charge?

Audi claims that the e-tron S will travel as far as 344 km on a full charge, according to the WLTP test. However, we never saw more than 290 km on the clock on full charge. We did manage to improve on that quite handsomely with some frugal pedal work on the road to deliver closer to 315 km on a charge. But there’s far more to it than just that.

Those three electric motors are powered by the e-tron 55’s 95 kWh lithium-ion battery. It is charged via two handy ports, one on each side of the car. Your 11-kW home charger should do the trick overnight. Audi has recently deployed 150 kW DC fast chargers along national routes. They deliver 80% charge in 30 minutes. Or a full charge in three-quarters of an hour. The trick there is to make the distance between those stations…

Now, we have charged several cars extensively using their home trickle chargers like this one’s 11 kW device. While it takes time, we found the raw Eskom electricity cost to be around a third, or less of the amount needed to pay for the petrol to travel that distance in a like sized gas car. The e-tron 55 cost about R60 to charge up per 100 km driven.

Audi e-tron S

Electric Charging Shocked

We had the chance to charge this e-tron S on the new Audi Network. The Franschhoek Motor Museum has a bottom-end 22-kW dual AC charging station. It delivers 100 km of range in about an hour. The car was fully charged up in the two hours we were there. It car consumed 44.04 kWh to add 95 km to its range. At a cost of R206.19.

Which means that when charged at Audi’s SA public points, e-tron S will cost R217 per 100 km to run. Audi claims 12 l/100 km for the SQ8 and 6.9 l/100km for the Q8 45 TDI. So, at today’s around R26 per litre fuel price, to drive 100 km will cost you R315 in the petrol SQ8. And you’ll spend about R180 to travel 100 km in the diesel. Not quite what we expected.

Getting down to brass tacks, or should we rather call them copper motor windings, this e-tron S will return about 280 km on a charge. Want the heater or aircon on? Yep, that’s 260 km. Half of that loss is just because it’s cold outside. And driven how you’d probably want to drive your S-badged Audi, you’d be lucky to get 220 km out of a full charge.

Nothing Out of the Ordinary to Look At

Taken at face value, this Audi e-tron S Sportback electric SUV quite ordinary to look at. It shies away from wearing that dunce hat electric cars have become so famous for. Being an S-car, the grilles look hungrier, while broader arches barely accommodate optional 22-inch cartoon wheels. It certainly looks the part.

On the road, e-tron S does not feel hugely different to, say an SQ8. The slightly stronger but 800 kg heavier EV has a major instantaneous torque advantage. It delivers a smooth, linear thrust to make overtaking a synch, speed easy. Boost mode deals with almost anything at the boulevard traffic lights. Our test found it two tenths quicker than Audi says to 100 km/h.

You can’t get around that 2.830 kg feeling of bulk. Yet steering is satisfying, with a welcome heft to it. Albeit that it may be a tad too heavy for certain tastes. It can be reluctant to change direction, but the e-tron S really works as a grand tourer. Clever and pliant, its air suspension all but eliminates body roll. It literally flattens undulating surfaces.

Audi e-tron S

Drives Best in Drive Mode

Efficiency, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic settings are backed by an Individual drive mode. That allows you to tailor the drive system, suspension and steering to your own wants. To be honest, there isn’t a huge difference between modes. Regular Auto relaxes the powertrain to deliver the drive you want from this car. A knob selector would be welcome though.

This e-tron certainly delivers familiar Audi comfort. Ride is plush considering the girth of those great big rims and just the slither of rubber around them. There’s an occasional distant wheel wobble and a modicum of tyre roar on some surfaces.

The hushed cabin is well insulated. It’s so quiet that you tend to her hear sounds that a combustion engine would normally drown out. That shouldn’t matter, considering e-tron S’ excellent 705W 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. It keeps you entertained in a plush multi-colour ambient lit cabin.

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E-tron S Drips with Luxury

Dripping with gloss black and bonus Nappa leather, there’s even a bit hard plastic in there. Comfy diamond driver-memory power stitched Valcona hide front seats lack ventilation or massaging. The power-adjusted S steering wheel is however heated. Legroom is ample on the firm rear bench. Headroom isn’t bad either. And The 615-litre boot grows to 1,665 litres.

Audi’s fine digital dials are easy to set. One tab has a neat, if puzzling Google Maps view. The haptic touch Infotainment and climate screen are intuitive, neat and logical. Navi prompts local parking and charging info and the pinch to zoom doesn’t drop a pin every time. There’s an easy re-centre button if you do. But you do miss real knobs and buttons in there.

Brilliant LED automatic Digital Matrix projector headlights bring comic level animation when switching off and on. Other e-tron S trinkets include a phone charger pad, tyre pressure monitoring and an auto-dimming interior mirror. Add keyless entry and start, LED taillights, LED puddle lamps, rain sensing wipers and a power tailgate.

Electric

Audi e-tron S is Competitive in Most Areas

This one fortunately had real old school power folding wing mirrors. Rather than those shocking video gizmos you can specify if you think you’re Vader’s niece.

So, the R2.42-million 370 kW and 973 Nm e-tron S EV rushed to 100 km/h in 4.31 seconds in out tests. It may eke 300 km out of a full battery charge. It’s slightly less powerful but more efficient than its R2.2M e-tron 55 counterpart. BMW’s R2.2M iX xDrive50 has 385kW and 765Nm. We tested it to 100km/h in 4.29 seconds. BMW claims a 630 km WLTP range.

Audi’s comparable R1.85-million 373 kW 770 Nm petrol SQ8 meanwhile sprints to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds. It should manage 1,000 km on its 75-litre tank.

Audi e-tron S

Refreshingly Competent & Consistent

In conclusion, for the money, the Audi e-tron S Sportback quattro suffers from a woeful range. That tied in to a still limited and surprisingly expensive charging infrastructure, fails to deliver true usability. Which is not what we are being led to expect from electric cars.

We however found this Audi reassuringly familiar, powerful and comfortable. It’s refreshingly competent, consistent and as quick as any other Audi with an S on it. It handles well enough and rides comfortably too. All of which should make it easy for an EV fan to overlook its lack of range and extra cost. – Michele Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Audi e-tron Sportback S quattro
Motors: 3x asynchronous electric
Output: 370 kW 973 Nm combined (Boost Mode)
Drive: Direct AWD
Battery: 95 kWh lithium-ion
TESTED:
0-60 km/h:        2.04 sec
0-100 km/h:       4.31 sec
0-120 km/h:       5.90 sec
0-160 km/h:       10.48 sec
400m:             12.6 sec @ 173 km/h
80-120 km/h:      2.87 sec
120-160 km/h:     4.58 sec
CLAIMED:
VMax:             210 km/h
Energy            Consumption: 21.7 kWh/100 km WLTP
CO2:              0 g/km local
Warranty/Service: 1y unlimited/5y 100K km
LIST PRICE:       R2.425M
RATED:            8
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