Technically talking, my first drive of the all-new, absolutely electrical 2019 Audi e-tron by no means noticed its cutting-edge electronically managed all-wheel drive system contact a public street in Namibia, South Africa. The all-electric SUV isn’t as a result of attain US roads till subsequent yr, however when Audi requested us if we needed to place its new EV quattro system by means of its paces nicely prematurely, we didn’t flip the automaker down. Seems, whereas the brand new e-tron might not fairly be prepared for launch, that doesn’t imply it’s not up for some significantly foolish drifting.
With public asphalt off the menu, I as an alternative headed to the center of the desert by way of a small bush aircraft, then from there to the salt beds the place a makeshift “ice track” had been carved out. Whereas we’ve skilled the e-tron’s distinctive recuperation know-how earlier than, that was solely from the passenger seat. This may be the first time Audi allowed us to take the wheel ourselves.
It exhibits a degree of confidence you won’t anticipate for what might be Audi’s first all-electric SUV: this was to be no tip-toeing round a placid course with anxious engineers pleading for me to be extra cautious. Then once more, the 2019 e-tron comes on the heels of the 2019 Q8, Audi’s flagship SUV, which like nearly every part arriving from Ingolstadt recently was bristling with know-how. The EV solely cranks that up additional.
Virtually the identical measurement because the Tesla Mannequin X, although slightly wider and with a extra aggressive stance, the e-tron is strictly a five-seater. Meaning, with an identical wheelbase to the Tesla, you’re taking a look at an entire lot of cabin area for each individuals and their baggage. Contained in the trunk you’ll discover room for 23.three cubic ft of cargo. Throughout our safari drive, which I would definitely rank as a light-weight off-road driving expertise, our two rear-seat passengers had no complaints.
Audi powers the e-tron with a pair of asynchronous motors, a smaller one up-front and a bigger model within the again, with an preliminary energy cut up of 45-percent entrance to 55-percent rear. Don’t anticipate that ratio to remain fixed, although, even for a minute. In on a regular basis driving circumstances you possibly can anticipate the majority of the facility to return from the rear: that, Audi says, ought to assist maximize battery energy. Change to Sport mode and each motors work collectively to supply a boosted output of 355 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque. That’s sufficient for zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds.
I didn’t anticipate Audi to encourage me to check that out, however I used to be flawed. The monitor setup consisted of an extended straight for acceleration testing, a drift part, a slalom for efficiency, after which lastly a dealing with check. If I’m being trustworthy, I drifted the e-tron anyplace I might, on any flip the place it was even remotely attainable.
Hitting the lengthy stretch, after drifting round a decent left-hander, I used to be capable of smash the accelerator and kick increase mode into motion, quickly getting the automotive again as much as 70 mph. It’s eerily exhilarating, as a result of the e-tron comes with out the engine howl you’d sometimes anticipate from efficiency driving. When increase mode kicks in, firing certainly on zero cylinders, you simply get the sense of urgency to hurry in the direction of probably the most thrilling a part of the monitor: a decent – however just-wide-enough – hairpin left hand flip. However earlier than I get to that, let’s shortly go underneath the sheet metallic to see simply what the 2 motors are doing at this second in time.
The entrance electrical motor is mounted parallel to the entrance axle, and may obtain a peak output of 125 kW or 168 horsepower, and 182.2 lb-ft of torque. Its counterpart within the rear is rated at 140 kW or 188 horsepower, and 231 lb-ft of torque. Two-stage planetary gearboxes – with a single gear vary – route the facility to the driving axles.
Every motor is provided with its personal energy electronics module, which works together with the drive management unit to course of the sensor knowledge coming from the accelerator pedal, the brand new brakes, and the electrical all-wheel drive system. It’s the latter which was giving me that sideways leisure, and although Audi isn’t precisely new to quattro automobiles, how this specific one works could be very totally different.
Like, say, the mechanical quattro system within the Q8, the thought is simple: monitor what’s occurring on the entrance and rear wheels, and feed energy to whichever requires it, or has probably the most traction, as shortly as potential. The place the Q8’s quattro depends on a mechanical connection between the entrance and rear axles, nevertheless, the e-tron does its balancing act electronically.
As I stated earlier than, the e-tron will primarily use the rear motor in regular or sedate driving. Torque is thus biased towards the rear axle, giving the SUV the kind of shove and general driving dynamics of a rear-wheel drive automotive. Ought to extra energy be required, or if the driving circumstances demand extra grip up entrance, the system can usher in energy to the entrance axle as properly. However there’s extra to this technique than simply reacting to wheel slip.
It will probably predict if the e-tron will slip as you assault a nook, as an example, or for those who’re more likely to understeer or oversteer. When this occurs, the quattro drivetrain will take solely 30 milliseconds to react, many occasions quicker than a mechanical drivetrain would require. It’s notably noticeable when every of the wheels are independently delivering torque management throughout entry and exit at larger speeds via the dealing with sections of the monitor. Assume surgical knife-sharp reactions, because the central suspension management unit predicts wheel slip 50 occasions quicker than a mechanical model would take, after which routinely brakes the within wheels in corners in order to push torque to the surface and tighten up the flip.
With expansive salt beds to play with, Audi inspired me to not solely put all of the drive modes by means of their paces, however attempt the e-tron out for measurement with ESC on, ESC Sport, ESC Off with DriveSelect on auto, after which turning off ESC altogether. Meaning you’re principally by yourself.
It additionally means you’ll be able to drive the e-tron like a lunatic, which I did, with out fascinated by what drivetrain configuration is required for a specific street. The system works seamlessly within the background, and truthfully I couldn’t really feel it at work in any respect. It might be digital, however there was not one of the sense of computerized remoteness that you simply may anticipate.
Had I been on common roads, I feel that may be my key takeaway: no matter which drive mode you turn to, you’re going to have a ton of enjoyable driving the e-tron. Since I used to be typically touring sideways accompanied by large plumes of mud, although, my consideration was elsewhere. There, my huge realization was simply how a lot slip you get between the ESC being on and off at larger speeds, akin to once I was pushing by way of the tight dealing with and efficiency part of the monitor. The hairpin drifting part might be tackled whether or not ESC was enabled or not, although you get extra management with it switched off. Meaning a wider radius of drift and at a a lot greater velocity.
SUVs aren’t sometimes recognized for being sports activities automobiles, however the e-tron by no means felt lower than centered. That mixture of instantaneous torque and intelligent quattro pointing it in the simplest course left me with an actual sense of what the entrance and rear ends have been doing always, up till the second the automotive straightened up.
The tech doesn’t cease there. Audi outfitted the 2019 e-tron with a five-link entrance and rear air suspension system as normal, and so not solely does twiddling with the drive choose system alter the drive and steering settings, however the conduct of the adaptive suspension too. Unusually, the e-tron will get pneumatic springs that regulate individually to go well with the prevailing street circumstances, tweaking the compression and rebound on all 4 wheels constantly as you drive.
Air suspension additionally means the power to regulate the experience peak, one thing which is available in particularly helpful for off-road driving. In off-road mode, the suspension will raise the e-tron to extend the bottom clearance by 35 millimeters or 1.4inches. Choose “lift” mode and the suspension cranks up one other zero.6 inches. Again on paved roads, the suspension will routinely decrease the e-tron by as a lot as 26 millimeters or 1.zero inch from its normal peak, to scale back wind resistance and enhance aerodynamics.
I had an opportunity to see the carry mode in motion the next day, taking the e-tron off on a “safari” designed to considerably mimic what people may expertise ought to they take it off-grid to a cabin within the woods. Whether or not you’re on or off the street, with an axle load distribution of 50:50, and the extra 45-percent torsional rigidity in comparison with typical SUV, I’m fairly assured that the e-tron is able to tackle something an proprietor may fairly be anticipated to throw at it.
Off-grid does recommend roaming past the e-tron’s gasoline of selection, although with a 95 kWh lithium-ion battery it is best to have sufficient to go away the freeway behind. Mounted within the flooring, between the axles for optimum weight distribution, the battery is sweet for round 248 miles on a full cost, on the European check cycle at the very least.
Serving to hit that quantity is the fiendishly intelligent power recuperation system. Carry off the accelerator and, like in all EVs, the e-tron makes use of its electrical motors as turbines to transform kinetic power again into energy for the batteries. What’s extra fascinating is how Audi makes use of braking. Hit the brake pedal, and the e-tron makes use of an all-new electrohydraulic actuator to mix regenerative braking with slightly enter from the normal disc brakes to maximise how a lot electrical energy you possibly can recuperate.
90-percent of the time, Audi tells me, the electrical motors alone can brake the e-tron sufficiently with out requiring the traditional brakes. Certainly, slowing from 60 mph, the system can recuperate a most of 220 kW, which is frankly astonishing within the manufacturing EV phase. As you’d hope, it’s all nonetheless invisible to the driving force: there’s no change in pedal really feel. The place you see the distinction, in reality, is within the vary. Audi says its system is answerable for as a lot as 30-percent of the 248 miles the e-tron can ship.
On the finish of the day, Audi isn’t billing the e-tron as a sports activities automotive by any means, nevertheless it in all probability might do. The “Sport” in SUV right here isn’t simply advertising: the mixture of quattro, electrical drive, and efficient brakes have been greater than adequate for tackling the difficult course Audi had developed, and depart me with little doubt that the e-tron is as much as dealing with what extra typical roads may throw at it.
When Audi provided an opportunity on the identical monitor however at night time, with nothing however the headlamps of the EV to information me round, it’s testomony to the automotive’s dealing with and digital techniques that even with the ESC switched off I had no issues getting round at near my speeds through the day. I shot the above video above with a night-vision digital camera, by the way – in actuality, visibility was an entire lot worse!
There’s a lot extra to speak concerning the 2019 e-tron. I walked away impressed by how quiet the cabin is, to not point out the inside design, know-how, and match & end, and I’ll go into extra element there in a later article. For now, although, if there’s one factor you may be completely positive of, it’s this: if electrical automobiles had a popularity of being quick in a straight line however heavy within the corners, Audi has put that to relaxation, and decisively. Bravo, e-tron, bravo.