This week, Audi launched their four-door EV, the e-tron GT, in New Zealand. This is a long-awaited hero car for Audi. It sits at the pinnacle of their EV strategy, an icon of what they can achieve. DriveLife shot to Auckland and then Kerikeri to hear about the car, learn about it, and above all else – drive it.

In Auckland, as is tradition, first up was Dean Sheed who is the General Manager of Audi NZ. He gave us the run-down on the state of play from Audi’s point of view, their future plans and releases.

He mentions that it all started in 2014, when Audi NZ began its electric journey. They imported 5 left-hand drive A3 e-trons from Germany to evaluate for our market. As quickly as 2015, they had the same car on sale here in right-hand drive form.

Then it was the big news; July 2019 saw the launch of their battery electric vehicle (BEV), the Audi e-tron SUV. With an estimated range of 420km from its 93kWh battery, Audi NZ went on to sell 92 in 2019, and 81 in 2020.

Cable Bay

Zoom ahead to September 2020, and the e-tron Sportback was launched, with 15 sold in that year, and 23 sold YTD for 2021. October this year will see the e-tron Sportback S being launched in New Zealand, complete with a three-motor setup. That means two motors at the rear of the car and one in front, giving it a combined rating of 370kW of power and a stupendous 973Nm of torque. Acceleration is 5.1 seconds to 100km/h, and range is suggested at 487Km (WLTP).

Dean went on to discuss charging facilities, and now every Audi dealer has a 50kW DC fast charger, and key dealers have 175kW chargers; that means 3 so far, and one more in the planning stages. While these fast chargers are great, Dean reinforced that most buyers do only three long trips a year, otherwise it’s all around town running which means charging at home the majority of the time.

Audi NZ is still in partnership with Vector, who will come and analyse your home and advise of charging current capacity. Each new e-tron sold now comes with a free wall charger for home, and Audi will subsidise the install cost up to $1,750, which Dean says covers most installs completely.

THE FUTURE

With so much discussion around the end of internal combustion engines (ICE), there was a lot of info around Audi’s plans for this direction. 2025 is the year that production starts of the last new ICE they will ever design. From 2026, no new ICE engines will be built, and from 2033 there will be no ICE production. You can’t get it more clear and final than that.

On the BEV and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) side of things, by 2025 in New Zealand, there will be 20 e-models available, which means Audi is on track globally to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

To enable this change in production to BEVs and PHEVs, there are now four platforms to support this;

  • MEB platform – which is the Q4 e-tron family
  • MLB platform – e-tron SUV and Sportback
  • J1 platform  – at this stage, only for the e-tron GT
  • PPE platform – a yet to be released, premium luxury EV, namely the new A6 e-tron and Q6 e-tron.

The Q4 e-tron will not have a local launch before Q4 2022 due to supply issues, but Dean tells us that it will become the number-one selling Audi in New Zealand. There will be two body styles, three powertrains, as well as 2WD and quattro options.

The all-new premium range on the PPE platform will have twin motors, be 5m in length, 2m wide, and run on an 800-volt battery pack. Range on this car should be 700km, and it will accelerate to 100km/h in less than 4 seconds. There will be a family of body styles on this platform, with production starting as soon as late 2022.

GRAND SPHERE LUXURY MOBILITY

On that PPE platform will be a “luxury class limousine”, which will be unveiled at the 2021 Munich Motor Show. This will be a D-segment car, and big news is that it will have Level 4 Autonomy. That’s a big call to make, with laws not in place to support this yet.

Apparently, future Bentley, Porsche, and luxury Audi models will be built on this platform, and this will include the ‘Sky Sphere Sport’ – a performance version of an urban SUV.

EUROPE

As you’d expect, European developments and regulations play a lot into what Audi does and can do. A plan has been tabled that will see Europe’s CO2 emissions targets drop again, and will effectively ban ICE cars from 2035. This has yet to be ratified, but it’s there, ready to go.

Cable Bay

NEW ZEALAND MARKET

While the 2019 sales of all EVs hit 2.7% of the passenger market, this included 1,871 sales of BEVs. Year to Date (YTD) for 2021 and it has already hit 1,641 – an almost 4% market share and it’s only July.

The PHEV market is growing across all brands, which for 2019 was 926, and YTD for 2021 is already at 2,235.

CLEAN CAR PROGRAMME

While Audi NZ welcomed the programme, supply of BEVs is still a problem. There’s still a lot of misinformation out there, and Dean says many people don’t realise there are three bands in the programme; Rebate, Neutral, and Penalties. Audi has a mix of vehicles in each band, with surprising cars like the Q7 in the neutral band.

There’s also some confusion over the rebate scheme, which has an $80,000 cap but this is the on-road transaction cost of the car. That means any options and on-road charges can push a car through the $80,000 cut-off for the rebate very easily.

e-tron GT

Audi NZ covered off the specs for the e-tron GT. It’s built on the new J1 platform, which is shared with Porsche for the Taycan. Up front is their signature, single-frame grille that can be grey, body coloured, or black depending on buyer choice.

On the sides at the rear, there are heavily pronounced quattro blistered guards, with functioning air vents behind the front wheels. At the back, there are full-width rear taillights, just like the e-tron SUV, and an automatic boot spoiler that raises at 180km/h.

Audi suggests there are 4 things a GT needs to be: powerful, stable and effortless driving, latest tech, comfortable, and they are certain the e-tron GT covers all of these.

MODELS

In New Zealand, we will have access to two models: the e-tron GT quattro, and the e-tron GT RS. Each is wider and lower than an RS7, with a height of 1.41m, length of 4.9m, and a width of 1.96m.

Buyers get to pick from 9 exterior colours, 3 styling packages, 4 caliper colour options, and 7 wheel options (from 20” to 21”). There’s also 4 interior colours with 5 inlay options, so it’s unlikely any two New Zealand e-tron GTs will ever be the same.

Standard is a non-opening panoramic glass sunroof, or there’s an option of a carbon fibre roof that saves 12Kg in weight. Audi expects mainly e-tron GT RS buyers to go for this option.

Up front there’s LED headlights, or Matrix Laser headlights (on the RS) which have a range of up to 600m. The Matrix headlights have a light animation sequence that is apparently inspired by the power of a sound wave.

There’s also an ‘e-sound’ – AVAS, or Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System. This isn’t your typical EV noise; in the RS models, there is a ‘sport’ sound for people inside the car and also outside the car. The sound is transmitted through speakers in the front of the car, and inside the cabin.

Thankfully the e-tron GT is a 5-seater, and unlike buyers in Europe we have just one front-seat option; the top-spec Sport Seat Pro. This is 18-way electric, is heated and ventilated, and finished in Nappa leather. There is also a leather-free interior option, with upholstery made with a high percentage of recycled material.

Cargo space is reasonable at 85 litres in the frunk, and 405 litres in the boot. If you have the optional sound system then boot space drops to 350 litres due to the sub-woofer.

PERFORMANCE

This model has 2 electric motors, each using ‘hairpin windings’ instead of traditional windings. There’s 320kW of combined power in the rear motors of the quattro, and 335kW in the RS model. Up front, it’s 175kW for both.

Combined power is stated at 390kW in boost mode, which only allows you to draw this much for 2.5 seconds. Combined power in the RS is 475kW if you use launch control. Otherwise, it’s 350kW base model/440kW in the RS. Torque is listed at 630Nm for the base model, and 830Nm for the RS.

The rear motors have a 2-speed transmission with a short first gear for acceleration in Launch Control, or Dynamic mode. The battery pack is an 800-volt system, heating and cooling runs at 400 volts, the chassis components run at 48-volts, and the rest of the ancillary systems run at 12-volt. With that high-voltage battery pack, on a hyper-charger you can get a 100Km range into the car in five minutes. Using WLTP measurements for range, the e-tron GT has a rating of up to 487Km, and 472Km in the RS model.

So, what about performance? In Boost mode, the GT will get to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds, and it’s 3.3 seconds in the RS. 0-200km/h is 15.5 seconds, or 11.8 in the RS. 

Weight is a fairly hefty 2,350kg, 2,420Kg in the RS.

Quattro AWD is standard and is variable 100% front to rear. It’s apparently 5 times faster than the traditional mechanical quattro system. All-wheel steering is standard on the RS, with up to 2.8% turning; it’s optional on the quattro model. All-wheel steering can reduce the turning circle by 60cm at low speeds, and is optimised for driving at higher speeds over 80kmh by turning in the same direction.

You can choose from 3 brake options for your GT; steel discs, ceramic, or tungsten carbide. The carbide discs are 10 times harder than steel, are more corrosion resistant, and produce 90% less brake dust. They are standard on the RS and an $8,250 option on the base model.  

Ceramic brakes are still at the top of the brake options tree; they save 20kg of unsprung weight. Cost of these brakes is $25,000 on the quattro, and $15,000 on the RS.

CONSUMPTION AND CHARGING

Audi suggests that the e-tron GT will consume power at an average of 20-22kwh/100Km.

At last, an EV with a charging port on each side. But while the e-tron GT does have two charging ports, only the passenger side can take DC or AC charging. On the other hand, as Dean suggests 90% of charging is done at home anyway, so that’s from either side of the car.

If you are AC charging, currently the maximum the car will take is 11kW, but this should be up to 22kW on cars produced after November this year. DC charging can take a maximum of up to 270Kw.

Of course, there is a heat pump as standard for interior heating/cooling, and there’s also thermal battery management with 4 circuits for maximum efficiency.

PRICING

The base model e-tron GT quattro is $194,500, while the RS is $273,500.

Audi NZ says there’s 95 e-tron GTs coming in soon, so supply is pretty much sold out with 60 already presold.

Audi mentions that this is the first electric car ever developed by Audi Sport, and is also the highest-powered production Audi ever. That’s great for the company, since New Zealand is the number one market for Audi RS in the entire world by percentage of total models sold.

They go on to say that the design brief for the e-tron GT meant that it had to feel like an Audi, look like an Audi, and drive like an Audi. The model is produced at the same factory as R8, in a plant which is the first Audi factory to be carbon neutral.

MONDAY – DRIVE TIME

After a quick flight to Kerikeri, sitting on the tarmac for us were some e-tron GTs, waiting to be driven. I jumped in as a passenger first, in the quattro model. Needless to say, it started to rain, and it rained for pretty much the rest of the day.

The interior looks like any other Audi, except for a new shift selector. It’s a small toggle that you shift up for Reverse, or down for Drive. Simple stuff. Road noise seemed a bit pronounced but this is often the case in an EV. Looking in the back, I can see the recesses in the rear floor area for the rear passenger’s feet. Audi has designed the 93kWh battery pack so it’s not full-size under the rear floor, allowing for your passenger’s legs to sit better.

With my driver taking occasional chances to pass slower traffic, it was obvious this car can really move it. In Mangamuka township, we switched places. I thought this was perfect timing, as I used to live in Kaitaia and know the corners of ‘the Mangamukas’ very well. We hit them and I pushed the e-tron GT along. With those cambered corners, the GT ate the road up, easily being the best-handling car I have driven over this hill. With so much torque, the hill simply disappeared, and corners were too easy, the car sitting relatively flat, and grip from the AWD helping keep things in check.

On the north side of the Mangamukas, we settled back into cruise mode, with the occasional passing of slower traffic. Passing is as simple as stabbing the right pedal, and you will get past that slower traffic quickly and safely. I’m keen to see just how much more performance the RS has, as the base model has plenty.

In Awanui, north of Kaitaia, we swapped into a silver RS model, me back as a passenger. The red seat belts were a bit of a giveaway that this was the fast model. With my driver sometimes sticking the car into Dynamic mode and using Boost mode to pass cars, it was plain to see this car was faster than the base model. You could feel its extra power, even from the passenger seat. Road noise with the 21” rims on the RS model was a bit louder than the quattro, but bearable and acceptable.

The RS has the Sport noise function, and we could sort of hear it sometimes, but it wasn’t obvious.

In Kaeo, I got into the driver’s seat, and took off. Okay, when you floor it to engage Boost mode (when the drive mode is set to Dynamic), it can absolutely fly off from the mark. Whiplash is almost the order of the day, and this RS can haul it. Passing slow cars was even easier than in the quattro. Mashing the right pedal will get you a bit of a stomach punch, and the car propels itself forward at a hell of a rate.

We eventually turned off SH10 to head towards The Landing, our place to stay for the night. The road to The Landing starts off sealed, with amazing corners – some of them cambered – and open bends where you can see if there is any other traffic coming. Even though many of these are quite tight corners, the RS chewed them up and spat them out. All that torque at hand is bliss when exiting a bend, and then gassing it to get the car launching ahead. I had never been on this road, but I was loving it. The e-tron GT RS is fitted with all-wheel steering, and it certainly helped to get it around these corners. It would be ideal to compare the two models back to back one after the other, but that wasn’t going to happen.

Then the road turned to metal and we slowed down. Still, with AWD the car did well, and the suspension handled all the rutted corners very well. I was aware this car touched 2,500Kg, and that’s a lot of weight on metal roads with extremely wide tyres.

But we made it to The Landing, and parked up for the night. For those who don’t know, The Landing is something special. Anyone can book to stay there, but you generally have to book an entire house. There’s a number of houses to choose from, all very different and all beautifully finished. To give you some idea of the quality of the place, their past guests include people like Barack Obama and Mick Jagger (not at the same time). The visitor’s book is filled with names such as these.

Before dinner, we had a winery tour and then a wine tasting. The winemaker, Keith, managed to impart a lot of knowledge to us in a short time, and the wine tasting part of this was a highlight.

After dinner, a bunch of us went out with a guide to find some wild kiwi. While The Landing doesn’t have any sort of a breeding programme, kiwi do roam the grounds regularly at night. While there was a full moon on this night, we were still hopeful, especially after our guide, Chantel, said she’s seen up to 50 kiwi in one night, and 20 on regular occasions. But this wasn’t to be our night, although some of the group spotted one or two near their own quarters on the way back.

TUESDAY

Since we had arrived at night, at last we get to see what this place is like in the daytime, and it’s glorious. A stunning location, and perfect for the e-tron GT launch. After breakfast, we were taken on what I can only describe as a history New Zealand lesson with Brett, one of the staff. His knowledge of names, places, and dates was astounding. We were shown a large Norfolk pine that is over 200 years old – it was planted to commemorate the first European child born in this country. A bit further on – just a minute’s ride in a Polaris – and we saw the concrete foundations of the first-ever school in New Zealand.

Part of the 1,000 acres that is The Landing includes Marsden Cross at Rangihoua Bay; the location where Samuel Marsden held his first service. Story after story was told of the early European settlers and how they interacted with Maori. It was a great way to start the day, and I am extremely grateful I got to experience Brett’s knowledge and passion for the history of this area.

The Landing now has its own winery, and currently has 10 hectares planted in grapes. The grounds are impeccable, and it takes 10 staff just to keep them in perfect condition. Two staff spend their entire working days just mowing lawns, and it shows. The location is simply stunning. As an example of this, the house I stayed in – Cooper Residence – apparently has the second-largest collection of Maori artifacts in the country, and that’s second only to Te Papa.

As much as we all wanted an instant lockdown to occur and force us to stay at The Landing, it was time to hit the road back to Kerikeri. But Audi had one more surprise in store for us; Audi NZ had negotiated with Kerikeri Airport to allow us to drag the e-tron GT RS down the runway.

This would be the first time anyone had ever done this at Bay of Islands Airport; driving on full throttle down the 1.2Km runway, and then we’d drive back through a slalom to test out the car’s handling, a 2.5Km sprint in total.

Ready for some runway action

Once it was my turn, I teamed with Richard from DownForce, who was running the driving side of this event. We headed out to the beginning of the runway, helmets on and ready to go. We’d be limited to 200km/h, but it would be fun getting there. With Dynamic mode selected, I pushed hard on the brake and mashed the accelerator to the floor, and then let the brake off, setting the car shooting forward using launch control.

And shoot forward we did, my helmet smashing into the headrest as sheer acceleration took over. The car sat flat, planted, and straight. We hit the 200km/h limit and cruised to the end of the runway, my quarter-mile time at 10.9 seconds. I was happy with that.

On the way back to the airport, we went through the slalom, and this just confirmed that the e-tron GT handles very well with all that low-down weight. Interestingly, I’ve been testing the 2,000Kg BMW M8 Competition this week, and I’ve got to say that while it’s almost 500Kg heavier, the e-tron GT RS seems to handle better, although this was only a two-day event, not a full test.

With all that done, it was time to head home. I think the biggest problem now for DriveLife will be fighting over who gets to test the e-tron GT when we get one to Wellington. It’s a stunning car that drives beautifully. Well done, Audi.

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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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