Audi e-tron 55 quattro: long-term test review

5 Aug, 2019 12:30pm John McIlroy

Second report: plugging our Audi e-tron into the electric car network is proving to be a game of chance

Verdict

4
The Audi e-tron is proving to be a rela and comfortable family car that performs well. But the UK’s charging network is a letdown – it adds a level of complexity to EV ownership that simply isn’t needed.

Mileage: 2,672 miles
Efficiency: 2.1mi/kWh 

Pick a card, any card. Just as long as it gets you charging. That’s a scenario that is going to become increasingly common for me over the next few months in the Audi e-tron – and I’ve only myself to blame.

You may recall that in the first report on the car, I pointed out that while the UK’s motorway EV charging network (the Electric Highway) is famously fallible, there are several very decent alternatives that can often be found only a few minutes from the main routes anyway.

Audi e-tron vs Jaguar I-Pace

However, I found myself wanting to top up on the way north during a recent trip to Coventry – and realised that I hadn’t done the required prep work to sign up for these alternatives. Sure enough, and not for the first time, the Highway’s Ecotricity charging point at Warwick services let me down.

In a fit of rage, I signed up on the spot to other charging schemes: BP Chargemaster’s Polar network, as well as Chargepoint and PodPoint. At the time it seemed to make sense – although the up-front monthly fees on Polar that will kick in after 90 days are a tad concerning – and I was able to give the e-tron a 30-minute slug of electricity on my way home anyway. In the days that followed, though, various envelopes turned up in the post, containing brightly coloured cards. And it soon became clear that accessing these schemes requires you to juggle these bits of plastic and/or smartphone apps.

The most straightforward is PodPoint, because you can sign up on the spot, give your direct debit details and then start charging.

But I’ve also discovered that Chargepoint claims that its own app can work with “all other major providers” – which makes me wonder why the firm bothered sending out a keyfob-sized card. Either way, the whole process adds a layer of complexity to something that, in my view, doesn’t need to be made any more complicated.

I’m aiming to test all the schemes before the car leaves us in late autumn, but you can see why EV sceptics say it’s not as simple as visiting any filling station. Why not allow payment by anyone, via less card?

Well, that’s something the Government is working on as I write, and BP Chargemaster is already rolling out such a system for its Polar chargers. Initiatives like these can only be a good thing, because they help to demystify the challenges of EV ownership, making these cars attractive to more buyers.

Away from the charging stations, life with the e-tron is refined and comfortable – more so than in any conventionally powered Audi that I can remember, in fact. It’s happiest at 70mph, wafting along motorways in near-silence, and even the optional 21-inch wheels have plenty of sidewall, giving a squishy ride to accompany the air suspension.

I recently signed up for the MyAudi scheme to allow smartphone access to the vehicle functions – not least because it allows on-the-hoof and scheduled charging, as well as air-con pre-conditioning, to be controlled from the palm of your hand.

It was a trickier process than I’d envisaged, though; first I had to set up an online account with Audi, then I had to link that to my car through the depths of the e-tron’s MMI infotainment system. I thought the car’s VIN number would be enough, but another 10-digit code had to be typed in at one point as well. I’d love to hear if other customers have found it equally fiddly – and perhaps more importantly, whether their dealerships have eased their pain by sorting it for them.

The e-tron isn’t cheap to buy, and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t quite bring the same low running costs that I enjoyed with my previous EV test car, the Hyundai Kona Electric. Perhaps Audi customers won’t care so much about this, but the bigger e-tron’s greater energy consumption, and the task of filling a 95kWh battery instead of a 64kWh one, have had a noticeable impact on my monthly electricity bill.

As such, I’m planning to switch in a few weeks to a smart meter and, ultimately, Octopus Energy’s EV-focused Go tariff, which promises cut-price charging bills during the wee small hours. It’s just another part of the electric-car adventure, but I’ll let you know how I get on.

Audi e-tron: first report

Comfortable pure-electric Audi e-tron SUV makes a fine initial impression as it joins our fleet

Mileage: 200 miles
Efficiency: 2.1mi/kWh

So you’re tempted by the idea of an electric car, but still worried that when you do need to charge up mid-journey, the infrastructure will let you down? Don’t be. That’s our first lesson with the Audi e-tron, the latest addition to the jumbo-bg fleet and a car that has all of the comfort and tech you’d want for long trips.

Without doubt, the Electric Highway network, which is the only one available in Britain’s motorway service stops, is fickle at best. But as our header image proves, there’s an ever-increasing range of alternatives within a stone’s throw of the major routes.

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To blood our e-tron, we went to the latest BP Chargemaster hub at Milton Keynes Coachway – two minutes off the M1 and equipped with eight fast-charging bays that can be accessed through the Polar scheme.

The e-tron is Audi’s rival for various Teslas plus Jaguar’s I-Pace and the forthcoming Mercedes EQC. It’s a Q5-sized SUV that runs on pure electricity, has five seats and a boot that can cope with a family holiday.

Underneath, though, the e-tron sits on the same MLB Evo platform as everything from the Q5 itself to the likes of the A6 saloon. And that means that, in the kindest terms, it risks being a teeny bit of a bodge, because it’s really an EV made out of a platform that wasn’t originally conceived for a vehicle without a combustion engine.

The end result is a car that has a 95kWh battery but also one that weighs (take a deep breath) 2,490kg. As a result, the official range of the e-tron is just under 250 miles – on the modest side of impressive.

Still, after the first few weeks with the car, I can report that this figure is slightly out of kilter with the e-tron’s strengths because it is, simply, one of the most comfortable and refined Audis that I’ve ever experienced.

Its twin electric motors are only really audible around town, yet even then they’re hardly intrusive. And once you’re up to speed, the way it isolates you from what’s going on around the car is so effective that it can be a tad unnerving at first, though that feeling soon passes, I can assure you. The ride is decidedly un-Audi-like in its sophistication, too.

Our e-tron doesn’t have the ultra-trick digital side mirrors – there are curious ‘blanks’ in the door panels where their screens would be – but it does have the second AC charging port on the passenger side, giving us a little flexibility when it comes to parking up beside any public bays.

This, in turn, brings us back to our visit to BP Chargemaster’s flagship site – and the fact that, during the couple of hours we spent there, we saw only one other EV using the Milton Keynes facility. That was a BMW i3 that turned up for about 20 minutes’ worth of juice (giving the owner enough time to go and grab a coffee at the nearby coachpark café) before heading off again.

It won’t be the only charging base on site for long, either; workmen next door were preparing to install a hub for IONITY, the fast-charging network that has big funding from car makers as it spreads across Europe.

As Tom Callow from BP Chargemaster explained during our visit, the firm is gearing up for another huge expansion of its capacity – and many of the points will be faster again than those at Milton Keynes, further reducing the time each vehicle needs to occupy a bay.

“The worries about public charging availability are largely unfounded,” he told us. “We know from looking at the usage patterns that there’s already huge capacity in the network, and that’s growing by the day, even as EV sales increase.”

My home charger will still account for the vast majority of the e-tron’s fill-ups – as it would with almost every EV customer, I’d wager. But over the next six months, I can still see me taking advantage of the car’s long-legged, relaxed nature. And calling on the UK’s widening charging infrastructure will be a part of that experience, too.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Key specs

  • Model: Audi e-tron 55 quattro
  • On fleet since: May 2019
  • Price new: £71,520
  • Engine: Twin electric motors, 402bhp
  • CO2/tax: 0g/km/£320
  • Options: 21-inch alloys (£950), remote preconditioning (£100), Power doors (£675), head-up display (£1,450), Storage and luggage pack (£125), City assist pack (£1,125), Tour pack (£1,950), Matrix LED headlights (£1,350), privacy glass (£475)
  • Options cont.: Illuminated door sills (£175), acoustic glazing side windows (£525), panoramic glass sunroof (£1,475), Comfort and Sound pack (£1,895)
  • Insurance: Group: 50/Quote: £930
  • Mileage: 2,672 miles
  • Efficiency: 2.1mi/kWh
  • Any problems?: None so far
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