e-tron 55

ELECTRIC WEEK: effortless Audi e-tron 55 suffers battery bothers

Besides this one’s Star Wars mirrors and yellow on chrome e-tron badges, you’d never guess that this Audi e-tron 55 quattro S line is a battery electric car. We like that. You fit in to the crowd, rather than stand out as an electric car eccentric.

Slots Between the Q5 and Q7 in Spec & Size

At first sight, it may appear to be a plug-in Q5, but the 4,9 m long e-tron 55 actually slots neatly between the 4,6 m Q5 and 5.1 m Q7. Yet it borrows its front grille feel and LED taillight bar from the A7. Despite weighing almost 2.6 tonnes, it doesn’t look massive. Them lardy batteries, you know? Ride height is 76 mm adjustable to endow it with mild degree of electric off-road ability, and eases access, too.

E-tron 55’s superb Audi-built cabin brings a high-tech SUV edge. It abounds in beautifully stitched leather, quality polished plastic and sublime metal trim. Its fully digital cockpit nicked from the A6, 7 and 8 compliments Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation behind a conventional flat-bottomed multifunction steering wheel. Driver and passenger pews are broadly adjustable and there’s loads of head and legroom across the rear bench. It will satisfy three people for short trips.

Being just a five-seater maximises interior space and e-tron 55 has some cool storage solutions. A vast and maybe too versatile centre console gobbled things up so well we struggled to find them after. We also missed the extra feeling of room BMW achieves in iX by just leaving that gap open. Horses for courses, we suppose. A shortish wheelbase compared to, say a Jaguar I-Pace, does not impinge much. There’s plenty room for four adults in there and visibility out is decent.

Haptic Virtual Buttons. What’s the Point?

The twin haptic feedback full-HD 10.1-inch upper and 8.6-inch lower displays takes some getting used to. They will never be as easy to operate as good old physical knobs and buttons. The haptic thing still requires you to prod the virtual screen buttons. So what’s the point, really? No, we’ll never stop complaining, even if Audi’s system has logical menus and tells you what’s selected. It could be a bit more intuitive though.

It has Bluetooth, wireless charging, CarPlay and Auto too. The system packs a DAB radio, but alas, no AM where our favourite station hides. And The USBs are C only. So you may need new accessory cables too. Add a handy 360-degree parking camera and Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus. Not sure why you need onboard navigation when you mobile phone’s app does the job just as well. Or better.

Our test car even had Audi’s star wars optional virtual wing monitors. Sure, they’re sexy and look fantastic, inside and out. We however only have one word of advice for this gimmick. Avoid it at all costs. Way inferior to good old reflective mirrors, that beauty is skin deep. Placed too low in the car, the monitors are unsorted and poorly developed. It’s impossible to fathom distance through them and they’re useless for backing up. They do not belong in production.

E-tron 55 has a Big Boot. Will Even Tow a Trailer

The e-tron 55 has a very big The 605-litre boot that opens up to 1,755 litres with the rear backrest down to trump the Q5 by over 200 litres. There’s even a 60-litre space under the bonnet, which is better to ignore because that’s where you store all the different charging cables and kit. Perhaps surprisingly, the e-tron 55 offers an 1,800 kg maximum braked towing ability. That’s a quantity most of its electric rivals don’t even quote.

Moving under the bonnet, or wherever its electric power gubbins are distributed, 55 is propelled by Audi’s electric bi-motor quattro all-wheel drive. E-tron benefits all the torque, power and performance you expect from an electric car. Fed by a 95 kilowatt-hour battery that delivers a useable 86.5 kWh at a rated 224 Wh/km, or the equivalent of 2.7 l/100km of the noxious fuel a combustion engine will consume, driving range is rated at 365 km. Which proved a tad optimistic.

Response is immediate, albeit gentler than the e-tron GT we also drove recently, thanks softer gas pedal calibration. Its 300 kW and 664 Nm instant torque still makes acceleration dramatic off the line and straight-line performance impressive. There’’s more than enough punch for most motorists. The e-tron 55 launches like a bullet, overtakes effortlessly and gets most things done by the time a conventional rival’s auto gearboxes would even have woken up.

More Than Enough Punch for Most Motorists

Talking performance, Audi claims e-tron 55 should sprint from zero to a hundred in 5.7 seconds. We basically managed that. Top speed is electronically limited to a spoilsport 200 km/h. To maximise electric range, of course. Like it is on the GT we drove, you can adjust electric energy regeneration via the paddles you’d normally change gears with behind the steering wheel in a piston car and drive one-pedal. Regen deceleration is strong, so you need not even use the bake pedal.

The Audi e-tron 55 quattro really comes into its own on the road. The most comfortable Audi we’ve driven in ages, the first impression is how effortless this car is to drive. That’s made even more noticeable by an almost eerie silence of operation. You hardly hear the wind, even at elevated speeds. Those e-motors are remarkably quiet and the 2.6 tonne e-tron’s 21-inch wheels turn silently, bar a tiny distant tyre rumble.

Compliant and supple too, thanks to its air suspension, the compromise is that e-tron 55 quattro may not be the most agile or sporty drive. It’s also not the best of long distance runners, stymied only by a limited electric range and in our market, hobbled by a still wholly inadequate electric charging infrastructure. Don’t even consider recharging on a Eskom 240 V household socket, but your home wall box will recharge it overnight. 50kW will top up to 80% in under 90 minutes.

E-tron 55 HAs Many Charging Conundrums

It’s better if you have a 150 kW fast-charge point on your regular route. Or at an Audi dealership conveniently sited that indeed has a charger on site. Not all of them do. In Cape Town for instance, you must slum it at Canal Walk because the V&A dealer has e-trons on the floor but no charge point! The Century City dealer charger will however fill your battery while you roam the adjacent mall. We were gone an hour or so and returned to find the battery 100% charged, from a third.

We found range to be a realistic 300 kilometres. But you must work it to achieve that and regenerate at any and every opportunity that arises. So we really wonder where they suck that 436 km WLTP number from? Still a 300-odd kilometre driving range hardly quashes range anxiety. Which fear electric rivals like the iX far better avoid. Maybe next generation e-tron batteries will get there, but we are still a long way form good old gas station refuelling convenience. And speed.

The Audi e-tron 55 quattro’s other major challenge is price. It hardly straddles the gap between the flagship R1.1-million Audi Q5 Sportback 45TFSI quattro S line and the R1.6-million Q8 55 TFSI quattro it’s proportions and specification suggest it should. At over R 2-million, that’s the significant elephant in the room between making an already compromised and still insufficiently supported propulsion source compatible. Even if the car itself is pretty darned impressive. – Michele Lupini

Images & Testing: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Audi e-tron 55 quattro S line
Motors: 2x electric, 300 kW and 664 Nm combined
Drive: Direct AWD
Battery: 95 kWh lithium-ion
0-60 km/h:          2.93 sec
0-100 km/h:         5.88 sec
0-120 km/h:         8.01 sec
0-160 km/h:         14.13 sec
400m:               14.1 sec @ 160 km/h
80-120 km/h:        3.85 sec
120-160 km/h:       6.11 sec
VMax:               200 km/h
Energy Consumption: 20 kWh/100 km
CO2:                0 g/km local
LIST PRICE          R2.045M
RATED:              8
Tagged with: