There’s been a certain euro manufacturer lately that’s pretty much grabbed the spotlight by launching a small electric SUV. It’s never fun being the bridesmaid, but it does mean more development time.

Can the $148,500 Audi e-tron fend off the $144,900 Jaguar I-PACE? Is it a better car than the I-PACE, or are buyers going to be more the ‘loyal to Audi’ type, rather than those who might swing either way.

Shortly after the e-tron pricing was announced, Jaguar dropped its price of the I-PACE to lower than that of the Audi. If there ever was a sign that Jaguar was seeing the e-tron as a genuine threat, that was it.

Audi invited us to the New Zealand reveal of the e-tron in Auckland. First up would be some low-level tech talk, followed by a reveal of the car.

Day two would be a very short drive of the e-tron. Since the initial press cars are all left-hand drive, we’d be accompanied by a chaperone, and our ‘drive’ would only be for 20 minutes, so not really enough time to get a feel for the car, but enough for a first impression.

THE REVEAL

First up though, we heard from Dean Sheed, Audi NZ General Manager. He says by 2025, Audi will be selling 30 electrified cars (to some degree), with about 12 will being 100% EV. Locally, there will be four EV cars for sale by the end of 2021.

But what about the e-tron? This car was launched in San Francisco late last year, and is built in Belgium. This plant is the first to be globally 100% C02 neutral, with roof-mounted solar panels that span 5 football fields, or 137,000sq/m, and these solar panels power the entire plant.

Eight days after it was officially announced in New Zealand, the entire year’s production run for New Zealand was sold out. Dean smiled a lot when he said this – and who can blame him.

Currently there are four e-trons in country, and all are left-hand drive. Audi have been using these cars for training their techs around the country in understanding and repairing high-voltage electronics. Since the e-tron runs a 400-volt battery system, that’s pretty important.

We’re still 8 weeks away from the first delivery of right-hand drive e-trons, so that’s not too long to wait. In fact, New Zealand is the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to get the e-tron, so Audi New Zealand are pretty proud of that.

The four LHD e-trons have also been used for other things, like making sure the car fits in with the public charging infrastructure, and also to improve and design home charging options. One option that is available is via a partnership with Vector and HRV. HRV and Vector will assess your home, then provide you with an electric report showing your power household usage, and then specify and install a domestic charger.

With standard charging facilities at home, Dean suggests an overnight charge will get you around 180km of additional range.

The new e-tron is capable of accepting a very high 150-kilowatt charge – the first EV in the world to achieve this. Since many of New Zealand’s ‘Fast Chargers’ are 50kW, you can see this is a massive improvement. Some Audi dealerships will have the new chargers, with the odd one having 175kW chargers onsite. This reduces the charge time for the customer considerably.

Speaking of batteries and charging, one of Dean’s first statements was that the e-tron “obliterates the range debate”. According to Audi, the e-tron should do around 420km on a single charge. That’s on par with the I-PACE, but the e-tron does have the ability to tow up to 1.8 ton.

Still on batteries, Audi knows that too much heat and too much cold are bad for batteries, so the e-tron’s battery bank is encased in its own air-conditioned housing, to ensure a steady temperature at all times. The entire battery bank weighs in at 700kg, with 432 individual cells within the battery – and each cell is serviceable. Battery capacity is 95kW.

Mechanically, there is an electric motor front and rear, meaning the e-tron will be all-wheel drive. Power output is considerable at 300kW, and there’s a massive 660Nm of torque to call on. Mind you, with the car weighing just under 2.5 ton, it needs that torque. The e-tron will get to 100km/h in just over 5 seconds. Later on, there will be a performance version of the car.

Another world-first are the e-tron’s virtual mirrors. The key reason for these is to lower the drag coefficient to give you 30-35km of extra range per charge. Using fibre optic cables, cameras and OLED screens inside the doors, you can pinch and zoom the view on the screens. In AWD mode the car will show you the ground to see what you can’t see. Apparently there’s also digital processing of the image, so it’s much more ‘usable’ at night, and this processing can also remove raindrops from the image, should some get onto the camera lens.

Then, they pulled the covers off the two cars on display. Thankfully, Audi haven’t gone in the wrong direction and made the look weird or out of the ordinary. It looks similar in size and shape to a Q5, and I’m happy about that.

Audi have had a direction with the e-tron that it’s to be as ‘normal’ as possible. It still has the resemblance of a grille at the front, and looks the better for it. It can tow, it has five seats and a decent 660 litres of boot space with the second row up. The only few differences I could see over a petrol or diesel-engined car was the different gear selector, the opening panel for charging the car, and the slightly ugly wheels.

Otherwise it looks the same as any other Audi, one of the show cars even having a pod on the roof. Dean went to great pains to inform us that not only could the Audi take a roof rack, it can also take bikes on the roof, unlike a certain other EV.

While there is just the one charging point on the left side of the car at the moment, there are future plans to have a charging point on both sides of the e-tron.

THE DRIVE

The next day we turned up for our brief drive. It wasn’t a long drive, as Audi had a number of journalists and potential buyers lined up for drives. Although it rained off and on, it didn’t matter – a short drive was only going to be a taster.

We headed out of the showroom, and cruised through the suburbs of Kingsland, and eventually onto the motorway. As you’d expect, progress was silent, and driving the e-tron felt similar to the Q8. The whole dashboard/centre console is very Q8ish, except for that transmission selector. It looks pretty futuristic, but is simple to use.

Performance in Comfort mode wasn’t touchy or jerky. You could feel the performance potential, but with people lined up to drive the car, I wasn’t about to test out full-throttle acceleration. Performance can feel a little subdued in Comfort made, as that 2.4-ton weight comes into play. The paddle shifters allow you to increase or decrease the amount of regenerative braking, and the level of this can also be adjusted.

Both drive cars for today had standard mirrors, so there was no testing out of the virtual mirrors.

The e-tron is a nice drive and so far lives up to promises. Will it beat the popular I-PACE and the Mercedes-Benz EQC? We can’t wait to get one for a full review, then we can find out.

Initially, there will be two models available in New Zealand; e-tron 55 quattro and e-tron 55 quattro Advanced. The base model is priced at $148,500 and the Advanced model $157,000.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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