at a time when many manufacturers are finding electric high-performance luxury vehicles quite lucrative (read: bmw, jaguar, mercedes-benz, porsche and tesla), audi is jumping in with both feet by way of its new e-tron, which starts at a little less than $76,000. the five-passenger, all-electric suv is packed with new tech and features that we've already talked about at length, but the 2018 orange country auto show is our first time seeing it in an auto show setting, where we can walk around it, poke at it and even take a closer look inside.
the sleek and stretched look screams "performance suv" when compared to stablemates like the standard q7 or q5 models, and there are very deliberate front-end details to let even the casual observer see that the e-tron is meant to look quite different from the more mainstream audi designs. this particular vehicle is a euro package (hence the 55 quattro nameplate) but does highlight the u.s.-application rearview mirrors (europe will get the smaller camera arms on the doors with small screens on the inside).
front to back
the front end in particular has a distinct, lowered wide-body look, with bold horizontal, anodized accents in the front grille and two dominating side slits in the front bumper to help cut through the air more efficiently. the grille itself is meant to look louvered, while the hawk-eyed design of the headlights are both piercing and well-integrated into the corners of the body. a string of horizontal led lights contrasts with the well-defined quartet of hood lines that run through the windshield to the roof with the two pronounced roof rack rails. this will be intimidating when seen closing in on you in the rearview mirror.
on the sides of the e-tron are more subtle body lines through the front and rear doors, leading to a more structured hipline, almost a haunch, that moves over the rear taillights. audi designers have kept the familiar fender arches, but they're smoothed slightly in keeping with the performance theme. access to the charging port is done with a light-touch button above the driver's-side front wheel well. for balance, the passenger side has the same small access door cut into the body but without any charging plug behind it. (why don't electric cars have charging ports on both sides of the vehicle?)
at the rear of the all-electric crossover, brakelights wrap around the body with a long horizontal bar providing information about brake touch and pressure. there's nothing special about the rear hatch, and the rear camera will sync with other surround-view cameras to stitch a 360-degree view for the driver and passengers to help with parking and tight-squeeze situations.
inside, looking ahead
inside, as you might imagine, materials choices are typical audi, with firm leathers and cool-to-the-touch metal accents. the standout feature is the center grip-handle controller, very likely to provide hints about future interior changes coming to the rest of the lineup. although i wasn't allowed to sit in the front seats of the preproduction vehicle and scroll through the different information screens and vehicle controls, i was told that the grip system is designed to make adjusting just about every interior feature simpler and more intuitive.
in the rear seats, where i was allowed to sit, headroom and legroom will be a little tight for average and tall passengers, with simple air-conditioning vent controls and just a pair of usb charging ports available, easily seen and adjustable in the rear of the center console. i found rear seating to be firm, with a comfortable reclining angle, although the seats do not slide forward or back.
a good start
on-road handling and launch capabilities will no doubt be the key for vehicles in this segment, as the i-pace from jaguar and model x from tesla have set the bar, saturating much of the auto enthusiast world — for better or worse — with plenty of strong opinions. and we're guessing the new long-range batteries and quick-charging technology highlighted here (more details to come) will help the new e-tron fit in nicely to the coming wave of all-electric vehicles.
whether this will be jaguar i-pace killer everyone wants or a solid placeholder until e-tron 2.0 comes out, it's a good start. expect more info to come as we get seat time and see how it does in the real world.
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