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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Audi's Q4 E-Tron could be their best Electric Car

 The new electric SUVs also represent a strategic shift of sorts because they’re the first models Audi will build on the modular electric vehicle platform designed by parent company Volkswagen. This architecture, which Volkswagen refers to as the MEB platform, is powering everything from the entire VW ID lineup of electric cars and SUVs, to EVs from sub-brands like Škoda and Seat, and even a Europe-focused SUV from Ford that’s part of an alliance the created in 2019.

Audi Q4 E-Tron

The new Q4 E-Tron will start at €41,900 and the Q4 Sportback E-Tron at €43,900 when they go on sale in Germany in June, with sales spreading wider into Europe after that and to the US before the end of the year. That timing may just be perfect. The original E-Tron (and its own Sportback variant) were struggling mightily near the end of 2020 in the US, but sales have shot up dramatically despite the higher price tag. President Biden is making a big push to encourage electric vehicles, including potentially extending or expanding the $7,500 federal tax credit.

Audi’s actually spent about two years teasing electric versions of its popular Q-series SUVs, and one of the more remarkable things about the Q4 EVs announced Wednesday is just how much they resemble the concepts the German automaker revealed in 2019 and 2020. They both retained the same large faux front grille and aggressive body work that the concepts featured, which should help them stand apart from competing electric SUVs that are more likely to blend in — like the original E-Tron, the Mercedes-Benz EQC, or even to some extent the VW ID 4.

Audi says the Q4 E-Tron measures 4,588mm (about 15 feet) long, 1,865mm (about 6 feet) wide, and 1,632mm (about 5.4 feet) tall. While the company calls it a “compact SUV,” it has a wheelbase that’s more comparable to a midsize SUV and interior space on par with a full-size SUV, which is thanks to all of the EV tech being moved to the underlying MEB platform. It’s a bit smaller overall than the original E-Tron and the Tesla Model Y.

The base models are built on a 55 kWh version of the MEB battery pack (with 52 kWh of usable energy), and Audi says they’ll get about 341 kilometers (212 miles) and 349 kilometers (217 miles) on a full charge, respectively. While that’s a healthy chunk of range for the size of the battery pack, those estimates are based on the less stringent European WLTP test cycle, meaning their EPA range estimates will likely be a bit lower.

Buyers who want to take their Q4 E-Tron farther (or drive them longer between charges) will have to pony up for one of the more expensive configurations, all of which are built on an 82 kWh battery pack (with 77 kWh of usable energy).

The midrange Q4 E-Tron will travel the farthest, offering 520 kilometers (323 miles) of range. (There is no midrange Sportback.) Then there’s the top-of-the-line Q4 E-Tron and Sportback E-Tron, which can respectively travel 488 kilometers (303 miles) and 497 kilometers (309 miles) on a full charge. The VW ID 4 also uses an 82 kWh battery (and even has the same amount of modules — 12 — in its pack), and it just got rated for 260 miles by the EPA.

One of the reasons the top models don’t get quite as much out of that larger battery pack as the midrange Q4 E-Tron is that they come with all-wheel drive powered by a pair of electric motors, one on each axle. This setup makes these most expensive models the quickest, but that extra weight — the top-line Q4 E-Tron weighs 2,135kg (4,707 pounds), versus 1,890kg (4,167 pounds) for the base model, and the Sportbacks are five kilograms heavier — means they won’t be lightning-quick. They can make the run from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in 6.2 seconds, which is about three seconds faster than the base models but still slower than some of Audi’s competition.

While the starting price is lower, buyers will have to pay extra if they want the most fanciful tech features that Audi is promising in the new Q4 electrics. The headliner is an augmented reality heads-up display system that Audi first showed off in March, which has a larger viewing area and more advanced (and animated) overlays than the typically static options found on many modern cars — including navigation markers that “float” on the road ahead of the Q4.

Audi has, for now, abandoned plans to roll out a hands-free driving feature like GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s BlueCruise, but the Q4 E-Trons will have a suite of optional driver assistance features that leverage three radar sensors (one in front, two in back), eight ultrasonic sensors, and five cameras.

Those who don’t want to pay extra will still get features like a wireless charging pad for their smartphones, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Audi has also revamped the steering wheel in the new Q4s to include backlit touch surfaces and flat buttons for a sleeker look.

But the Q4 E-Tron and Q4 Sportback E-Tron are the German automaker’s best chance yet at going truly big in the electric vehicle space. By leveraging Volkswagen’s more efficient and more cost-effective MEB platform, Audi is ready to make a far more compelling pitch with these new EVs — one that will look all the more attractive as governments around the world continue to emphasize and incentivize a consumer shift to electric vehicles. It may still be far behind Tesla when it comes to total EV sales, but Audi’s not in bad shape to capitalize on the rise of electric vehicles considering its role at the heart of the Dieselgate scandal just a few short years ago.

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