Skip to main content

Peek under the sheet metal of Audi’s upcoming e-tron EV

Audi is as excited as a couple expecting its first child. Named e-tron quattro, the brand’s first series-produced electric car will break cover in just a few short months. We haven’t seen it yet, let alone driven it, but we’ve just heard its heart beat for the first time. The early ultrasound reveals electrification creates a car that’s fundamentally different than the firm’s other SUVs.

Though still fully camouflaged, the SUV doesn’t look the least bit electric. Nothing about its design or overall proportions hints at gasoline teetotalism. And yet, Audi designed it as an electric car from the get-go; there won’t be a version of the e-tron quattro powered by an internal combustion engine. Not at launch, not ever. The sheet metal hides an electrified version of the MLB platform used widely across the company’s lineup. In this application, it’s built around a 1,576-pound, 95-kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted directly under the passenger compartment, right in between the axles. It’s about the size of a mattress but – sorry, Audi– it doesn’t look nearly as comfortable to sleep on. Tempur-Pedic, this is not. It’s got other tricks up its sleeve, though.

250 miles on a charge should be enough to meet the needs of most commuters.

Let’s dispel a myth: electric cars require cooling air. They sometimes need less of it than comparable gasoline-powered models, though it ultimately depends on the type of car and the drivetrain it uses. But, the idea that they don’t need air at all is a misconception. Just ask Audi; the company spent a great deal of resources developing an effective thermal management system, and it begins by funneling air through a grille and using it to cool a radiator. The system always maintains the battery pack between 77 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, its optimal operating temperature. The chiller installed behind the left side of the front bumper kicks in when needed to provide additional cooling.

Significantly, Audi separated the cooling system (which is filled with a mixture of water and anti-freeze) from the battery cells to make sure they don’t end up drenched if the car rolls over. This could cause a short-circuit or, worse, a fire. The “safety first” approach led engineers add thick side beams that absorb and dissipate energy if the car gets t-boned. 35 bolts secure the battery pack to the rest of the car, and its thick aluminum housing doubles as a skid plate. It also gives the car a smooth, flat underbody that helps make it more aerodynamic.

Crack open the pack and you’ll find 36 shoebox-sized modules each packed with a dozen individual cells; those are the components that store the electricity. Audi explained paring down the number of cells facilitates the task of monitoring them by reducing the battery management system’s workload. Cells that no longer hold a charge bump down driving range so it’s important to identify the culprits.

So, what’s the range? Audi quotes approximately 250 miles in real-world driving conditions, though that’s on the European testing cycle. Numbers for the American market won’t be available until closer to the car’s market launch. That figure places it ahead of the Chevrolet Bolt and behind the Tesla Model X and the Jaguar I-Pace, two of its closest rivals. Your mileage may vary, though. It’s like commuting in a car with a gasoline- or a diesel-burning engine. If you describe your driving style as conservative, you’ll use less energy than your co-worker who drives flat-out, balls-to-the-wall from stop sign to stop sign; it’s basic physics. Range will also depend on which accessories (such as the heater and the air conditioning system) draw electricity.

Motorists will charge their e-tron at home about 85 percent of the time.

250 miles on a charge should be enough to meet the needs of most commuters, but Audi went the extra mile — pun slightly intended — to quell range anxiety. The brand’s market research shows motorists will charge the e-tron at home about 85 percent of the time. On-the-road charging (at charging stations installed on highway rest stops, for example) and destination charging (e.g., at Starbucks, at the mall, or at the office) will each represent between five and 10 percent, depending on the user and the geographical area.

To that end, Audi will offer two home charging solutions. The basic 11-kilowatt charger takes eight and a half hours to top up the battery pack. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s fine for someone who gets home from work and doesn’t leave again until the next morning. The faster 22-kilowatt option slashes that time to four and a half hours. When a full charge won’t cut it, there’s a trip planner application that will help owners pick the best route, find charging points along the way, and provide an accurate estimated time of arrival that factors in the time required to stop and top up the battery with an adequate level of electricity. It will display this information on the driver’s smartphone and, when requested, on the car’s dashboard-mounted touch screen.

We expect private businesses will build high-speed charging stations out of concern for the environment or, more realistically, to access the wallet of electric car owners who have 30 minutes to kill before they can hit the road again. Electrify America, a company created by the Volkswagen Group to improve the charging infrastructure, will also build a network of 290 electric car charging stations across the nation by the end of 2019, including some planted outside of select Walmart locations. E-tron owners will have access to the network, though charging won’t be free. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet. That’s just the beginning of a much broader project.

Audi e-tron
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

“Infrastructure is a key aspect. People have to feel safe. I don’t mean that in terms of safety, I mean it in terms of ‘I am going to continue to be 100% mobile.’ They want a way of filling up, and they need to have multiple options along the way, regardless of where they’re going. There is going to be a great increase in the presence of charging stations, which in turn will provide customers with a lot more peace of mind,” Filip Brabec, Audi’s vice president of product planning, told Digital Trends.

Proactively solving the infrastructure problem requires more than peppering America’ road network with charging stations. No one wants to sit on the side of I-80 for eight and a half hours, counting blue cars while waiting for watts to trickle into a giant battery. That’s why the e-tron will become the first volume-produced electric car compatible with 150-kilowatt charging, which is capable of zapping the battery with an 80 percent charge (roughly 200 miles) in 30 minutes. To put that figure into perspective, Tesla’s Supercharger stations top out at 120 kilowatts.

“Infrastructure is a key aspect. People have to feel safe.”

Filling up a tank of gasoline and paying for it takes about seven minutes, so zero-emissions road-trippers will need to take a laid-back coffee break. Faster 350-kilowatt charging will reduce the time required to obtain an 80-percent charge to about 12 minutes in the coming years, Audi predicts. Still, motorists who choose to go electric will need to tweak how they travel.

“It’s similar to how we learned to live with smartphones. We used to have cell phones with batteries that lasted a week. Now, we all carry around chargers. Airports have ways for us to plug in, hotels have ways for us to plug in, and so on. I think that sort of aspect, obviously on a different scale, is going to happen with electric mobility. We’re going to look at life choices differently,” he said.

Audi will introduce the e-tron quattro at the second annual Audi Summit it will organize in Brussels, Belgium, in August. It’s a country known for trappist beer and cheese, not electric cars, but the choice of venue isn’t as random as it seems; e-tron production will take place in a CO2-neutral factory located on the outskirts of Brussels. Sales will begin shortly after, though we likely won’t see the SUV in American showrooms until the 2020 model year. You might be in luck of you want one fast. Asked about the potential of a reservation system, Brabec told Digital Trends it’s something the brand could consider.

Editors' Recommendations

Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
2024 Audi Q8 e-tron first drive review: 300-mile luxury EV cruiser
Audi Q8 e-tron in a dark brown color.

Audi was very early to the full-size EV SUV game when it launched the original e-tron back in 2018. But EVs have come a long way in just five years, and the e-tron was looking a bit long in the tooth (and short in range). It's fine timing, then, for Audi to refresh its offering with the 2024 Q8 e-tron, an EV powertrain version of its Q8 two-row luxury SUV.

Though the new model is on the same overall platform as the original, and shares many aspects with the gas-powered Q8, Audi was able to find improvements in performance, range, and driving dynamics -- plus, a thoroughly refreshed design -- to get competitive.

Read more
No mere EV, the sensor-stuffed EX90 is Volvo’s towering tech flagship
Front three quarter view of the 2024 Volvo EX90.

Volvo has reinvented its image over the past decade, taking its cars from stodgy to stylish, and keeping pace with tech developments. Now, it’s trying to do that once again.
The 2024 Volvo EX90 is the Swedish automaker’s new flagship — and it’s electric. This three-row, seven-seat SUV packs all of Volvo’s latest infotainment and safety tech, so its electric powertrain is an important statement of Volvo’s commitment to going all-electric in the future.
The EX90 isn’t a standalone EV. Its styling and tech will set the tone for future Volvos. The business case isn’t EV-specific either. The EX90 has the same form factor as Volvo’s popular XC90 SUV, which it one-ups in tech. Volvo isn’t trying to prove that it can make an EV; it’s already done that with the XC40 Recharge and C40 Recharge. It’s just trying to make a good car.
“There are no gimmicks in the EX90.” Volvo Cars CEO Jim Rowan said in a keynote at the EV’s reveal in Stockholm. “All the technology that’s there is there for a reason.” And boy, is there a lot of it.

Stylish and sustainable
The EX90 is a conventional SUV design with the sharp edges shaved away. There isn’t even a hint of a grille, the door handles sit flush with the bodywork, and the wheels have smooth inserts between the spokes. It’s all to help minimize aerodynamic drag — an important consideration for an EV, as it helps increase range.
The result is a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.29, compared to 0.33 for the current Volvo XC90 three-row SUV (lower numbers are better). The EX90 isn’t the slipperiest electric SUV around; the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV has a 0.26 Cd. But Volvo’s designers retained a more traditional SUV shape, in line with the gasoline Volvo XC90, without resorting to the Jell-O mold shape of the Mercedes.
“The profile and a bit of the plan view is a bit rounder than maybe we’ve done in the past,” Volvo exterior design boss T. Jon Mayer told Digital Trends. “It’s not a jellybean blob by any means, but there are very minute details of how much roundness you put around the edges. This detail work, as well as a longer rear overhang, help keep air flowing smoothly around the car while following the minimalist ethos of Scandinavian design, keeping the bodywork visually clean.
The EX90 is a conventional SUV design with the sharp edges shaved away.

Read more
2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV preview: The EV lineup grows again
Front three quarter view of the 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV.

As Mercedes-Benz has steadily expanded its EQ range of electric cars, the lineup has become a bit like the late stages of a Tetris game. It’s mostly complete, but with a few gaps still left. And the 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV is the piece that perfectly fits one of them.
Mercedes recently launched two other electric SUVs at opposite ends of the price spectrum. The EQS SUV is positioned as the lineup’s flagship, while the EQB is the entry-level model. The EQE SUV slots between those two in size and, presumably, price. The latter hasn’t been confirmed yet, and likely won’t be until the EQE SUV’s planned March 2023 on-sale date.

As the name says, the EQE SUV is a utility-vehicle version of the EQE sedan, which will likely beat it to showrooms by a few months. Mercedes did the same thing with the EQS, which is available in both SUV and sedan body styles.
With its tall, upright profile, the EQE SUV definitely looks like a proper SUV compared to the low-slung EQE sedan. Park it next to an EQS SUV, though, and you’ll have to get out a measuring tape to spot the differences.
The EQE SUV is 0.6 inch narrower and 1.2 inches lower than the EQS SUV, but the most significant difference is in length. The EQE SUV is 10.3 inches shorter than the EQS SUV, with a 2.1-inch shorter wheelbase. And while the EQS SUV has three-row seating, the EQE SUV has two rows. Based on our experience with the EQS SUV’s third row, that’s not a big loss.
The interior design theme carries over from other Mercedes EQ models, with an expansive sloping dashboard designed to accommodate many screens, and multicolor ambient lighting that should look pretty dramatic at night. However, leatherette upholstery is standard, rather than real leather, which Mercedes is now spinning as a vegan option.

Read more