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TEST DRIVE: Audi Q4 e-tron — A Compelling Package

The automotive industry seems to change at a faster pace than ever these days, despite the apparent resistance some car makers are showing. If customers are switching to electric cars and demanding a wider palette of them to choose from, automakers have no choice. The problem is, this is a massive change, compared to what manufacturers are used to.

 

To handle the uncertain change, some automakers decided to try and mix both internal combustion engines and electric cars on the same platform, creating new plug-in hybrid models. Others decided that a completely new platform destined solely for electric cars is the best way to go. Right now, the latter seems to be the dominant idea in the industry.

 

The Volkswagen group invested no less than $48 billion in the MEB modular electric platform, which will be used across the VW Group’s entire brand portfolio.

Audi is part of that and it’s just released its first MEB-based vehicle — the Audi Q4 e-tron. This new Q4 e-tron is the third fully electric model from the Ingolstadt-based giant, following the larger e-tron SUV and the sportier e-tron GT. Of course, we’re leaving out the Sportback alternatives, because they are the same car overall, with a different styling.

 

All vehicles based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform are rear-wheel drive-based, which is relatively new for Audi. Still, despite Audi’s unfamiliarity with rear-wheel drive, the Q4 e-tron starts out life powering its rear wheels with a single electric motor. Bump up to a higher spec and you’ll get an additional front electric motor.

 

Why does Audi make the Q4 e-tron rear-wheel drive as-standard despite most of its cars being front-drive-based? A couple of reasons. One is packaging, as Audi doesn’t have to worry about the traditional rear-wheel drive running gear, being that the Q4 e-tron is electric. There’s also the improved handling dynamics and performance.

There are other advantages to being an electric car as well, but some disadvantages to list too.

 

When it comes to electric cars, the design of the front end is particularly important for rather obvious reasons. Every car maker out there wants to offer the best possible range on its electric cars and in order to do that, they need to make sure the front end is as aerodynamic as possible. That means you’ll see a lot of blocked out surfaces, simple lines and little to none of the grilles we’ve been used to.

 

In the case of the Q4, the front end is still dominated by the Singleframe “grille”. The only difference compared to other Audi models is that the Singleframe on this car is completely blocked out, to improve the aerodynamics of the car. Our tester also came equipped with the S-Line package which brought forward some fake intakes on the sides and other small details here and there.

 

Another definitive design change EVs are bringing forward is the shorted hood. You no longer need a long hood to house a massive V12 under it, so car makers are expanding the interiors of these cars as the platform underneath allows it. This way, the hoods are now tiny by comparison and it shows when you look at the Q4 from the side. Its profile seems a bit bulky but it’s all done with a clear purpose: to make an efficient and spacious car.

 

Also up front you’ll notice the new headlights which feature a world first as well. On the Q4 you can adjust the Daytime Running Light design using the on-board infotainment system. You can choose from four different designs and it’s a pretty cool trick. After all, Audi knows a lot about design and lights so why shouldn’t it tap into that knowledge to get an upper hand on the competition?

 

The rear end also features clean cut surfaces and a rather monobloc design. The lights do a little dance whenever you lock and unlock the car and look pretty awesome while at it. One interesting detail I noticed at the back though was that the quattro badge was missing, even though our particular tester was an all-wheel drive model. Instead, there’s a huge e-tron badge marked out in the rear bumper that you can’t miss.

Inside the cabin I’d like to say that it’s the usual Audi business at play but there are some caveats to talk about. The overall design feels familiar in every way, with a single exception: the center console. On the Q4 you have a floating center console at the bottom of the dash where you’ll find the gear selector and some other controls, all sitting in the middle of a sea of piano black. Right above it you’ll find a simple HVAC panel, with old-fashion buttons (Thank God!) while going further up you’ll find a 10.1” display that’s optional and features the familiar MMI interface. On the Q4 you can use Android Auto and Apple CarPlay wirelessly.

 

The instrument cluster is, of course, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit we’ve all grown used to by now, with very little changes compared to what you’ll find on other Audi models. Most differences will be related to the units used (as this is an electric car) and the display of the battery state of charge. There’s no rev counter, just a power indicator.

 

Then there’s the steering wheel. With a flat top and a flat bottom, it doesn’t resemble a ‘wheel’ anymore but it’s closer to hexagon in shape. That doesn’t take away any of the functionality though, as other new proposals in the industry do. It looks awesome and works great, being on the thinner side, but wrapped in perforated leather.


One issue I had with the steering wheel though was the introduction of touch-sensitive buttons. It’s something we’ve seen on other MEB products as well, such as the iD.4 or the iD.3 and I haven’t been a fan of this approach ever since I first saw it on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

 

The buttons are hard to use by just touching them as the inputs they receive are seldom accurate. Furthermore, you end up touching them by accident and triggering all sorts of functions. Not once did I end up calling someone by accident because of those pesky touch-sensitive surfaces.

 

Another issue I noticed was the quality of the plastics in certain places. The dashboard and the top of the door panels are covered in soft-touch plastic which is decent for the price range the Q4 is competing in. Our car was also wearing an optional package that turned all the seats in the car into comfortable armchairs, wrapped in Nappa leather, with quilted stitching. However, the lower part of the door panels, and the entire rear door panels could’ve used a bit more quality, as they are done in rough plastics with a not so pleasing feel to the touch.

Even so, it’s quite possible to get distracted by the huge panoramic sunroof that’s also an optional feature but does bring a certain feeling of space inside. And there’s plenty of space, too.

 

The MEB platform allows the engineers to position the electric motors towards the extremities of the car and the wheels too. This way, the interior space is greatly amplified, you don’t have a transmission tunnel but a flat floor and there’s ample head room too.

 

Our tester was the 50 quattro version which means it’s the most powerful and fastest e-tron Q4 you can buy today. It uses two electric motors, one for each axle, which, together, can deliver up to 295 horsepower and 460 Nm (339 lb-ft) of torque. Mind you, most of the time, the car will be running in rear-wheel drive mode, meaning only the rear axle motor will be used, in order to save some energy in the process. Switch into Dynamic mode and both motors kick in for the best performance possible.

Hidden inside the floor you’ll find a huge battery that comes in two flavors. There’s a small one, rated for 52 kWh of usable capacity and a big one with a total usable capacity of 76.6 kWh. The latter was the one we had for testing purposes and it proved to be quite enough for most scenarios.

 

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that two electric motors that can deliver almost 300 horsepower would drain the battery (even the big one) without trying too hard. However, during my time with the car I noticed that the Q4 e-tron 50 quattro is not that “thirsty”.

 

Around town, the average energy consumption recorded was 18.1 kWh/100 km covered which means, if you do the math, you could cover up to 423 kilometers on a single charge. Outside the city limits, on the highway, at an average speed of 130 km/h that energy consumption went up to 24 kWh/100 km, adding up to a range of about 320 km. On a set of b-roads, with an average speed of 73 km/h, the Q4 showed a consumption of 15.6 kWh/100 km, adding up to a potential total range of 491 km. Mind you, all these results were achieved without cutting down on any comfort creatures and without using eco mode or anything along those lines. The car was in Comfort mode all the time and the AC was working, because the exterior temperature was, on average, 20 degrees Celsius.

Another important question possible EV adopters might have revolves around the charging time, which is known to be a bit of an Achilles’ heel. Well, all Q4 models come with 125 kW charging capabilities, which is good enough for most situations. Provided you find a charger that can deliver that much power, you should be able to charge your car from 10 to 80 percent in about 40 minutes which is more than decent. Testing out the charging capabilities myself, I only found a 75 kW charger nearby and it managed to deliver some 37h kW to the battery in about 28 minutes which is more than enough for most people. Think of it this way: with 37 kWh you could cover nearly 200 km inside the city or an additional 150 km on the highway.

 

As for how those miles would be covered, it would depend on a number of factors. Our tester was fitted with the S-Line package, the sport suspension, sport steering and a number of other add-ons that were meant to improve the car’s handling when driven in a sporty fashion. We didn’t have the adaptive suspension though, which might’ve made things even better.

 

Either way, the Q4 behaved much like an Audi, albeit a rear-wheel drive one. The suspension was incredibly comfortable in almost every given situation, with small bumps being barely noticeable. Not even bigger potholes didn’t send a lot of jolts or a big thud into the cabin, even though we had 21” wheels on our tester. The atmosphere was serene inside the Q4 most of the time.

Switch into Dynamic mode and the first thing you’re going to notice is the sound. The Q4 emits a special sound through the speakers that grows louder with the speed, as a way to offer feedback to the man behind the wheel. It’s hard to describe it but it does resemble the sound spaceships used to make in Sci-Fi movies until not long ago.

It helps keep you in check too because, despite its hefty weight, the Q4 can pile on speed at a rapid pace. And since we had double-glazed windows on our car, there’s little noise to tell you just how fast you’re going, at least in a straight line.

Arriving at a set of curvy roads, if you try to maintain the speed through the corners you’ll instantly get audio feedback from the tires, protesting in anger. The grip is decent but the 2.3-ton car is still heavy and the laws of physics still apply. You’ll feel the underpinnings of the car pushing toward the outside of the corner even though there isn’t a lot of lean to talk about overall.

 

However, despite its 295 horsepower, I had the feeling the Q4 wasn’t designed to carve canyon roads. Instead, the new electric SUV from Audi was created to offer the faithful customer base the German car maker has an alternative to the rivals on the market today.

 

That means the Q4 will most likely be used around town, to go shopping and even to do a school run. For those purposes, considering the range we got out of it, the Q4 e-tron will be perfect. Ask for it to be a sports car (which it is definitely not) and it will fall short. Keep your expectations in check and you won’t be disappointed.

 

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