Sorry Tesla, Goliath has finally woken up.
San Francisco’s worn out streets have borne witness to more boom and bust cycles than just about any other city in America. It seems as if every time some figures out how to print money, whether by panning for gold or writing lines of code, the dreamers among us flock to these hill-ridden streets to make our fortunes. But the 1,800 journalists that Audi flew in from around the world for the world premiere of the e-tron had no dollar signs in their eyes, just the same bewitching look of curiosity that led them to commit to this trade in the first place. And there’s a good reason for our obsession too. Given that most of the e-tron’s fact sheet has already found its way online, Audi has been itching to show off the physical manifestation of those numbers without that tacky camouflage ruining the gorgeous body lines.
And boy are they gorgeous. Unlike BMW’s Vision iNEXT, Audi thought the best way to attract customers to the electric revolution would be to make its world-beating EV look, well, attractive. Donning the body style best suited to push the e-tron from dealerships to driveways in droves, this battery-powered crossover takes full advantage of its powertrain by sending the front and rear axles to the ends of the vehicle. Without the need for a fire-breathing engine in the engine bay, the hood line can remain low and the overhangs short.
Despite a roomy greenhouse, the e-tron’s visually wide stance and gradually tapering rear give the impression that the EV is crouching, probably on the prowl for Teslas it can eat for breakfast. Angled headlights and a large octagonal grille with active shutters (used to cool electronic components) perfectly define the word “confidence” while the taillights, which have been merged together by a thin lighting strip, make it so those stuck behind the e-tron in traffic will have some eye candy to console themselves with.
Getting stuck behind the e-tron is an event that other road goers will have to contend with frequently given the e-tron’s powerful but whisper-quiet grunt. In order to earn its famed quattro badge, engineers loaded the e-tron with two electric motors, one behind the centrally-mounted battery pack that pushes 187 horsepower to the rear wheels and another up front sending 167 horsepower to the front tires.
System total sits at 354 ponies, but that number can temporarily jump to 401 horsepower for ten seconds by increasing the front motor’s output to 214 horsepower—a feat that brings the motor’s heat levels to the outer edges of what engineers are comfortable with. With that kind of power, the e-tron can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Unlike Tesla, Audi doesn’t manage its 250 miles of range (on the European test cycle, EPA numbers have yet to surface) by sticking hundreds of AA-sized batteries under the floor in a cell formation.
The engineers still placed the 1,541-pound battery in the floor so the e-tron can remain friendly with the laws of physics, but it contains its juice within 36 modules, each with 12 battery cells inside. As a luxury brand, Audi must adhere to the high demands of customers who want cutting edge electrification without compromise. To meet expectations, engineers ensured that the e-tron’s dual braking system, which includes standard disc brakes as well as a highly sophisticated regenerative braking system, feels like a single entity rather than two separate braking systems.
It’s the norm for electric cars to induce range anxiety within buyers accustomed to quick fill-ups at gas stations. Since making cars is one feat and building an infrastructure to keep them rolling is another, Audi has partnered with a company called Electrify America to keep the e-tron juiced during trips around town and during cross-country road trips.
Electrify America already has 50 charging stations in most major cities and along the I-80 and I-10, but plans to have 500 stations in the US by July of 2019. Charging the e-tron won’t take long thanks to the 150 kW charging capability that allows for the battery to reach 80% with only 30 minutes of charging. Navigating to charging stations will be made easy by Audi’s new infotainment system. By placing a wireless phone charger where the MMI knob used to be, Audi will force buyers to rely on a dual-touchscreen system for interaction with the car’s electronics. Until we spend more time with the system, we can’t say whether Audi has shot itself in the foot or started a revolution by ditching the knob-based MMI system. To its credit, the screen does seem to require assertive presses that respond with the same satisfying click we’ve learned to expect from the rest of Audi’s cockpit buttons.
There are certainly a lot of screens because Audi has replaced the e-tron’s side mirrors with cameras and two OLED displays, one sitting below each A-pillar. While the system won’t be available to us Americans until regulators approve it, it feels intuitive and easy to use—the driver’s side screen doubles as a touchscreen that controls the display angle of each mirror.
If all those batteries and OLED displays sound expensive, you’re not wrong. Remember, the e-tron may be a Tesla killer, but it’s not gunning for the Model 3. As such, you won’t be able to walk out of the Audi dealership with one for less than $74,800 for a Premium Plus model. The Prestige model, which gets massaging seats and the driver assistance package, starts at $81,800 while Edition One, reserved for the first US buyers, starts at $86,700.
Though Audi won’t deliver the e-tron until the second quarter of 2019, you can preorder one now without being afraid that production delays will keep it from getting to your driveway this century.