The all-electric Q4 e-tron is one of the most significant car launches Audi has ever made, and is poised to shape the future of motoring. This could well be your next car. Words by Dara Foley
Audi has certainly played the waiting game when it comes to all-electric vehicles. The brand – although developing an EV strategy with group partners like VW and Skoda – has been patiently keeping its cards close while the other manufacturers have been rushing out their electric and hybrid offerings, often directing their efforts at the luxury end of the market. After all, until now that’s where the money was. But where the real battle to transition from internal combustion to greener motoring will take place is at the entry level and middle market for new car sales. Mitigating climate change needs to be in the hands of the masses.
Audi’s intent to offer a full quality car, packed with well-conceived features, and at a price that is more reasonable, clearly demonstrates how important this launch is.
Q4 e-tron prices start from just over £42,000 which means – especially in the company car class with extra incentivised P11d benefit – it’s competing heavily on price and with all its upgraded features, attempts to eclipse its premium competitors.
In fact, Andrew Doyle, director of Audi UK, says that the company forecasts this will be its second most popular car by sales volume in the UK after the A3. That, over the coming years could make it the most in popular EV of the 2020s. Piqued interest and demand is certainly there too. Audi’s launch comes at a point when customer attitudes to cleaner, greener cars are changing fast. All the key points of resistance, such as price, charging point availability, battery technology, range and even the ‘let’s wait and see’ mindset (a bit like flatscreen TVs) are all being addressed, not to mention the shame of having to buy new fossil fuel vehicles when the world around us seems so very fragile.
On merit alone, the Q4 e-tron is a remarkable SUV, sized as you might imagine, somewhere between the Q3 and Q5. It has handsome Audi styling and there’s a full array of trim options in the range, as well as add-on packs for extra tech and features, motor and battery power variations as well plenty of driver comfort upgrades – and there is a pacy-looking Sportback version. For most however, the standard options will tick all the boxes and the features stack up well against Audi’s competitors.
Inside the car is typical Audi quality. It is sleek and comfortable as well as spacious. As the transmission comes direct from motor to wheel there is no need for the transmission ‘tunnel’ so the rear floor is completely flat, giving plenty of leg room for all three rear passengers. The boot is cavernous enough for a fully luggaged family, and throughout the car there are clever little stowage compartments. With its clean lines, the dashboard looks uncluttered and simple, however, tap the brake pedal (the car senses the proximity key – still in your pocket – and is ready to go) and the dash illuminates and comes to life… all very high-tech and space-age.
In fact, the driver is thoroughly spoiled with a futuristic dash featuring Audi’s famous configurable virtual cockpit. There’s also a large 10.1-inch touch-screen infotainment system, and a very cool HUD (heads up display) option which uses augmented reality to project driver information seemingly onto the road, and the steering wheel has touch-sensitive controls. There’s a lot of innovation to take in, but it is intuitively designed and does not overwhelm – although even I, rather embarrassingly, could not work out how to turn the radio off. Everything else was quickly mastered – even the regenerative braking paddle system mounted behind the steering wheel. The footbrake habit is a tricky one to give up, though.
With the HUD also comes a number of driver safety features such as the lane deviation sensor – intelligent metrics monitor the white lines on the road ahead and let you know if you are drifting lanes with a vibrating prompt through the steering wheel. It reminds you of speed limits and when approaching a give way or roundabout, the car will automatically assist braking – this bit can be overridden by tapping the accelerator like cruise control, but really, why would you want to? However the automatic emergency braking (AEB) system is there to protect pedestrians, cyclists and avoid potential collisions.
While the car is just a short step from fully-automated there still remains the joy of driving; for example, acceleration is an instantaneous straight line when there is no gear change to perform. Thanks to the adaptive suspension system and considering the battery weight, the drive is very comfortable. The dense centre of gravity does give it a sportier feel, gripping the road nicely and manoeuvring around town is easy with a tight turning circle and parking made possible by having the rear wheel drive. Refined padding throughout negates any noise and vibration. Inside is noticeably quiet and utterly serene… I had now worked out how to turn the radio volume to silent.
The Q4 e-tron range boasts really good sound systems and there’s even a top quality Sonos option, but for most, the standard options will suffice as there’s very little background noise to contend with. The distance range on a full charge depends on the battery power and motor combinations but the entry level ‘35’ version with a 58kWh power pack and a 168bhp motor gives a quoted 211-mile range on a single charge, while the other higher spec models – ‘40’ and ‘50’ versions – claim just over 300-mile range.
Yes, EVs do require an organised attitude to charging, and you might experience ‘range anxiety’ on longer journeys but the ingenious myAudi app on your smartphone will help direct you to a nearby charging point in any emergency and will also tell you if it’s available. The e-Tron Charging Service (eCS) network accesses 175,000 charging points across Europe and connects with some of the largest charging networks in the UK such as BP Pulse.
The chances are you are more sensible than you think and will plan accordingly and trickle-charge overnight at home. Interestingly, various energy companies such as Octopus Energy are working to combine EV charging with domestic supply tariffs at very attractive green energy prices. To help customers make the switch, Audi is currently offering a free 7kW Solo wall charger to all new qualifying customers (and fleet customers) who order a vehicle by 31 December 2021.
Overall, the barriers, excuses and preconceptions of EVs are being stripped away and we’ll all need to embrace, sooner rather than later, the change to electric motoring.
Audi has a great product here and it’s one that you will like and that’s well worth exploring. Go Bristol, lead the charge. ■ • Bristol Audi, Lysander Road, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol BS10 7FF;