Audi take first step

to electric future

Audi e-tron 55 quattro, front static
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, side action
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, front static 2
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, front action 1
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, front action 4
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, front action 3
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, top action
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, rear action
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, charging
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, boot 2
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, rear seats
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, dash detail
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, dashboard
Audi e-tron 55 quattro, boot 1

AUDI has started its charge towards an electric future with a car many will find reassuringly familiar - and all the better for it.

While some rivals want their battery powered flagships to stand out in a crowded car park the new Audi e-tron 55 quattro simply looks like.. a big new Audi.

More particularly, a big new Audi SUV, slotting in below the much bigger Q7 and modestly larger than the latest Q5, both of them fossil fuelled.

Its oh-so Audi lines wrap around a car with the potential to cover up to 241 miles between charges and refill overnight from a charge box in the owner's garage for next to nothing on off-peak electricity.

Also good news for the likely business user tempted to turn to plug-in motoring is a modest 16 per cent BIK rating and zero tailpipe emissions, helping offset the £71,520 cost of entry to Audi's new world of watts and volts.

Helping too is the current £3,500 government plug-in grant that applies equally to the still posher £82,270 Launch Edition and predicted strong residual values when the time comes to switch the car for something newer.

Audi says it's invested two billion euros in bringing the e-tron to market and that by 2025 a third of all new Audis will support some version of electric drive.

The 402bhp e-tron goes into electric battle against rivals like the dearer Tesla Model X and less expensive Jaguar I-PACE, both of them more powerful, lighter and faster than the Audi and with longer ranges too - which might seem to put the new arrival in third place before we've even driven off on a test drive.

But the real world (once again) fights back and arms the e-tron with the sort of virtues that has helped make the Audi brand so formidable in the fight for upmarket car buyers.

Starting with impeccable build quality of the sort that has you fingering the upholstery and stabbing at dashboard controls just to feel the love that's gone into making the e-tron feel so deliciously put together.

Then you discover that with two electric motors powering front and rear wheels (for all-wheel quattro drive) this is a car that feels fast when asked to deliver, with 62mph arriving in 6.6 seconds in normal drive or just 5.7 seconds with sport selected.

Top speed is limited to 124mph to help the battery prolong its life - it's warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles - but the delights of Audi electric progress are evident at much slower speeds.

There's the almost total lack of drama inside the cabin at a sensible main road cruise, the merest whisper of wind noise and distant thrum of tyres drowned out by the gentlest conversation. This is a very relaxing car indeed.

A comfy one too, thanks to air suspension that sinks a little at speed to help the car cleave more cleanly through the air or can be raised if you dare to take the car gently off-roading.

More surprising perhaps is the way this heavy car (approaching 2.5 tonnes with driver on board) feels actually nimble when you need to make enthusiastic progress, helped by a ride that stays controlled on our less than ideal road surfaces, despite the challenge of big 20-inch alloy wheels.

They expand to a bigger still 21-ins for the Launch Edition, which also has a first outing for what Audi calls virtual door mirrors - or little cameras where a conventional mirror would be place, relaying images to screens on the inside of the front doors. Very cool, very Audi.

Much more down to earth is a cabin with plenty of room for a quartet of adults (five at a slight pinch) and made more spacious by a lack of transmission tunnel down the centre. The big boot, with 660 litres of space with the rear seats in place swells to a van-like 1,725 litres with them down.

A smaller storage area under the bonnet (it's a 'frunk' folks - thank the Yanks for this combined front/trunk) which is mostly full of charging cables. Those will top up the battery to 80 per cent in half an hour at the rare (for now) 150kW public chargers or in nine hours via a domestic 11kW wall box.

Other electric details include steering wheel paddles that can provoke more emphatic braking when you lift off the accelerator, pushing charge back into the battery and extending the car's range.

Standard kit includes the leather trim, air suspension, satellite navigation, cruise control, quattro all-wheel drive and LED headlights. Launch Edition adds features like larger wheels, glass sunroof, upgraded headlights, adaptive cruise control and those sexy virtual door mirrors, along with a styling pack.

Whichever version you choose you'll have to get used to adjusting sound system and heating from touchscreens that work less well in the real world that old fashioned switches that distract less when you should be watching the road ahead.

That might be the only place on the march to more modern motoring where this new Audi fails to make a convincing case for itself. Otherwise the future is looking quietly efficient.

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