Electric cars are here to stay. After decades of what amounted to side projects, Tesla came around and dragged the automotive landscape forward a bit. Every manufacturer, it seems, is working feverishly to produce new hybrid and fully-electric vehicles, and Audi is no exception. The 2020 Audi E-Tron is not their first attempt, but it’s by far their most substantial.
Audi wanted me to drive the 2020 E-Tron so badly that they sold it to Steer, a DC-based electric vehicle subscription service. Steer provided the E-Tron for four days while I sampled their subscription model.
What Is It?
The Audi E-Tron is a midsize-ish crossover that seems a bit larger than the Audi Q5 and a bit smaller than the three-row Audi Q7. It is fully electric, powered by two electric motors that, together, make 355 horsepower and 414 ft-lb of torque. In Sport mode, the battery pack unlocks some extra (temporary) juice and provides 402 horsepower and 490 ft-lb. There is one motor located on each axle, providing a version of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi has used a 93.5 kwh battery pack, which they claim will keep you going for 204 miles between charges. The E-Tron is capable of 150 kW “fast charging,” which means you can go from 0% to 80% charge in just 30 minutes. It’s not quite gas-pump-fast, but charging the E-Tron isn’t an overnight process, either.
Aside from the unique drivetrain, the 2020 E-Tron is… an Audi. My Premium Plus trim was the lower of the two offered but was well-equipped. All four outboard seats were heated and the front two were ventilated. Audi includes a host of driver assistance technology, from adaptive cruise control to traffic sign recognition. MSRP of my E-Tron Prestige Plus came in around $77,690.
Driving the 2020 Audi E-Tron
As I said above, the Audi E-Tron is simply A Nice Audi. If you’ve been in one of the brand’s higher-tier sedans or crossovers lately, you’ll feel right at home in the E-Tron. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is standard, as are two additional touchscreens in the center stack. There are very few buttons, and the trio of screens is both impressive and overwhelming at first impression. I did eventually figure out which controls and data I preferred on each screen, although the bottom-most screen is nearly exclusively used for climate control.
The E-Tron impressed with its general high-quality appearance and feel. In many cases, owners of electric cars pay for the technology, and interior design and quality appear to be afterthoughts. Not so with the Audi. Everything is well-executed, well-designed, and gives the sense that your money paid for both the advanced drivetrain and a nice place to sit. It’s incredibly quiet inside and every button, switch, and door pull operates with enough heft to feel premium.
Once on the move, my impression of the E-Tron soured slightly. It’s not a bad car to drive, but it’s not targeted toward an enthusiast and that shows. Throttle response is slow from a stop, unless the E-Tron is in Sport mode, which adds power and reduces range. Leaving stoplights in “Auto” mode was annoying, trying to parallel park with fine throttle control was frustrating. I ended up left-foot braking while parking to ensure I didn’t hit the cars around me. Audi claims a 0-60 time (in Sport mode) of 5.5 seconds and the car feels snappy once on the move, but it’s not “Tesla Ludicrous mode” levels of fast.
The E-Tron is a heavy thing, with Audi claiming a 5,700 lb curb weight. Despite the weight, it takes a corner well. Standard four-corner air suspension allows for ride height control, and the batteries are mounted low, thus lowering the center of gravity. Braking uses regeneration, basically turning the drive motors into generators that help slow the car, extending brake pad life significantly. Paddles on the steering wheel allow for extra regeneration, but the E-Tron is not a car you drive with one pedal. I found myself using the brake pedal like any other car. Brakes produced consistent squeal around town.
Software was the Audi E-Tron’s downfall. Steer delivered the E-Tron with just 1,500 miles on its odometer, yet it already had an “Emergency Call Function malfunction” warning that displayed every time I pressed the Start button. (Ordinarily, Steer would have swapped me into a new vehicle, but as it was a non-critical fault, I kept the E-Tron) The parking sensors would beep at random in heavy DC traffic, the alarm set itself off once, and I even saw a “Service brake booster” message when I seemingly shut the car off too abruptly for its own good.
Charging the 2020 Audi E-Tron
Software annoyances aside, the E-Tron was a pretty nice car to drive. Charging, on the other hand, was just short of infuriating. Steer provided me a “Steer Pass,” allowing for easy charging at Chargepoint and EVgo stations. I elected to not use the Steer Pass and see how a typical “gas to EV convert” may experience their first few public charge attempts. My apartment complex and office do not have provisions for EV charging.
My first attempt to charge the E-Tron was at a supposed “fast charger” located near my apartment. Charging at the Volta station was free, though I paid $8 to park. I plugged in and worked from a coffee shop while the car sipped electrons. After an hour, I hopped in and excitedly hit the Start button. I was greeted with just 12 additional miles of range. Turns out, not all “fast chargers” are equal. The Volta station was a traditional Level 2 charger, which only outputs 6.6 kW. This is the speed of charging to expect with a station installed in your home, and the car would charge fully overnight. It is not very useful in public settings.
The next day, I looked up the nearest Electrify America fast charger. Volkswagen owns Electrify America, and Volkswagen also owns Audi. I figured this was the easiest way to charge the E-Tron, especially considering the station appeared in the car’s navigation system as a “fast charging” option. It was only 10 minutes from home, there were six stations, and I could grab a few necessities at Target while I was there.
After selecting a charger, I looked at the screen to realize the credit card reader was broken. No big deal, on to the next one. The remaining five stations would all accept my credit card, but then claim they could not communicate with the Audi once I plugged it in. I dialed the Electrify America support line – printed on the charger – and was immediately connected to a very nice support agent. She walked me through some troubleshooting steps and even restarted one of the chargers. After 25 minutes on the phone in 35° weather, her final recommendation was to firmly support the charging cable while it attempted to connect to the Audi. Somehow, “press harder” was the solution.
After finally connecting to the E-Tron, I went inside Target to thaw and grab my things. The E-Tron added 59% of range (from 54 to 161 miles) in 24 minutes, and the charge cost me $22.36. I stopped charging at 86%, given I was turning the car in the next day.
I was willing to troubleshoot and had the time to do so. But the whole time I sat on the phone, I was picturing a mom with two young kids in the back of her E-Tron, thinking she’d plug in easily and run in to Target with the kids for an hour. Would she have the same level of patience I did? Likely not.
This is one area where Tesla wins handily. In a Tesla, drivers look for Superchargers (they can also charge at these more “generic” stations) and know that every charger will work with their car and charge at a certain rate. There’s no talk of J1772 or CHAdeMO. Just go to a Supercharger and plug in. Being able to control the whole hardware and software experience puts them ahead.
And of course, once an owner or Steer subscriber got more familiar with the types of chargers, the confusion would evaporate. It wouldn’t take long. But on the surface, it’s all quite confusing.
Drive Softly and Carry a Big Stick
The 2020 Audi E-Tron is an impressive vehicle. It’s not the fastest, it’s not the sexiest, and its software isn’t the most problem-free. But it is an excellent example of a premium electric car that feels just like any other “traditional” luxury vehicle. The charging experience isn’t a ding on Audi, but it speaks to the general lack of coordination as competing charging technologies simmer down into one legitimate standard.