In reviewing Audi’s for a few years now it is a brand I have come to love and trust. It is one of the three pillars of luxury car brands in Germany alongside BMW and Mercedes. Partly in response to Dieselgate but also the rapid advance of Tesla in the electric vehicle market, the Volkswagen Audi Group has ambitious plans for electrification. The Audi E-Tron is the first fully electric car from Audi and is size-wise longer, lower and wider than the Q5.
Having driven the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3, and Jaguar’s I-Pace I am getting familiar with fully electric cars. I have also attended the up and coming Formula E races. This season Audi will race at Formula E. I like to take cars on road trips, combining luxury cars with luxury hotel experiences. I was taking this Audi to fashion shows at London Fashion Week, through to Kent, Gloucestershire, and Sussex.
I never had the comfort of a home charging station to keep the E-Tron battery topped up. It was a frustrating experience for me.
I was relying 100% on the UK charging infrastructure, I was using Audi’s GPS to guide me as well zap-map.com.
Which is why manufacturers need to be as clear about their electric cars’ energy efficiency.
All of these cars’ official consumption figures are listed in their literature or online, but not every manufacturer is equally forthcoming with their EVs’ efficiency information.
Which is why it’s important that you, as a buyer, keep in mind to ask for it before you sign on the dotted line.
Because while you’ll need to pick an electric car that won’t leave you stranded, you’ll also need to pick one that you won’t pay over the odds to run. The best electric cars, after all, are not simply those which can travel the furthest on one charge, but those which can do so using the least amount of electricity.
For example, take the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi E-Tron.
Both have an identical official efficiency figure of 2.8mpkWh, at best. But the Jaguar will cost around £7,000 less to buy and travel 292 miles on a charge, compared with the Audi’s 271. On paper, then, it’s already the more attractive option and knowing it will cost you no more to run will probably make it even more so.
Range Anxiety An EV Common Prejudice
How can long charging cycles be avoided and the range of electric vehicles extended? This is the most annoying and frustrating problem every car brand at present is facing and the scarcity of public charging stations. Is this enough to help electric mobility make the breakthrough into the mainstream?
London Fashion Week
I was attending London Fashion Week for the first time in three years. To start a trend and be the first woman to turn up in electric cars! It was important to market a sustainable fashion message. I began with the Tesla Model 3 followed by the Audi E-Tron. My first event was at London Ritz Hotel, where I swapped the Model 3 Performance with 325 miles range for the Audi E-Tron with a 215-mile range.
Does 110 miles range more make a huge difference? Yes it does to both my mind, meetings and unforeseen problems.
I had to leave the comfort of Tesla’s higher range and its supercharging network for lesser miles and unknown charging infrastructure. Audi’s answer to the lesser range is to make it capable of charging at 150 KWh speeds. With this speed, I should, in theory, be able to charge from almost 0 to 80% in 30 minutes. In reality, there are only three charging stations in the UK capable of this (source Zap-Map)
The UK is blessed with a grand total of three 150 KWh Chargers
My second stop was not so far at the Savoy Hotel in London where I was attending a catwalk, the gorgeous red E-Tron looked majestic. I quickly asked if the hotel offered any charging facilities to its clients and I was told all they could offer was a three-pin plug (3 kw).
My range anxiety turned as red as the stunning Catalunya Red E-Tron.
I drove the E-Tron from London to Ashford and the first thing I noticed that the E-Tron felt very familiar to other Audi’s. The infotainment has not been compromised so for any Audi lover they have kept it familiar to other Audi cars. Compared to Tesla’s one it is also lesser of a learning curve.
The drive felt composed and more comfortable than the Tesla Model X, where is the performance takeoff is not as Ludicrous as Teslas. It is still a respectable 5.7 seconds from 0-62 mph. The top speed is electronically limited to 124 mph to conserve battery power. The interior felt premium quality like all other Audi’s.
The gear stick was a nice change and the handle was super comfortable, practical and stylish.
To get the E-Tron going, there were two safety steps and the double parking buttons, for me, was not needed. However, for those new to electric cars, I understand why it was kept there. Audi’s motto here is to make the E-Tron as familiar as possible for a smooth transition of its buyers.
Ashford International Hotel
I arrived at Ashford International Hotel at 11 PM at night, a hotel that has an onsite charging station. Here was my first experience of charging the E-Tron only to find out that the charging station was broken. I was too tired to deal with it at night so the next morning I asked some hotel staff to help me, but they were clueless. I rang chargemaster and it was sorted in 25min but I could only use the three-pin plug 3kw. I still had 115 miles of range in the battery, but it would have been nice to have a topped up E-Tron waiting for me when I woke up. The biggest fear for anyone new to the EV world is range anxiety.
Re charging, a three-pin socket on an extension lead is the slowest form and meant more of a last resort if, for example, you’re stuck somewhere remote with no charging infrastructure. Sadly all the 5 Star hotels I stayed in 5 in total promote they have a charging station but in reality, it’s a three-pin socket. Slow as a snail.
They both didn’t work. And the right one is the faster charger (7 kw) and it never worked.
The Lock Out And More Frustrations
Having returned from Bruges Belgium my next stop from Ashford was to Stratford upon Avon. With 115 miles range the Audi GPS app reminded me to include a charging stop to be able to reach my next destination. Seeing my range go down to 55 miles and with the previous charging experience still in my mind, I opted to stop at Tatsfield, here the chargers are operated by Ecotricity. The first thing I had to do was download an app to then register my credit card to be able to charge. This took about 5 minutes, I wish it was just pay and go. The charges were not working, so I had to call to get it activated which took another 5 minutes. Finally, I was able to get the E-Tron on its first charge.
I was really hot, so I changed clothes and, I threw my overalls in the back of the boot and forgot the Audi keys were in there. Fear and disbelief came over me when I heard the lock sound. I got completely locked out of the E-Tron. The E-Tron was connected to the electric charger getting charged. Next, I had to call Audi to find out that the my Audi App which can unlock the E-Tron, was disabled on press cars for security reasons.
So this should not apply to E-Tron owners but was still frustrating for me as I was in for a long wait. With Tesla I was even as press always able to use the App as a backup.
Two hours into my four-hour wait for the extra set of keys to arrive, a gentleman asked me if I was OK? As my wallet was in the car I took him up on his offer. I was hungry, frustrated and thirsty. I found out he was a bible seller and we talked about modern-day miracles.
He asked to pray for me and the E-Tron, I was waiting for the God app to appear and that Audi would miraculously unlock.
Guess God had other plans, and two more hours later, the extra keys turned up. At least the battery would be topped up? Only to be told by the Audi rep that I used the wrong plug and I should remove the flap from the bottom part of the charger to allow for the fast charging socket.
It resulted in one extra hour to get the Audi to 100%. This unplanned five-hour delay got me way late for the Arden Hotel in Stratford Upon Avon. Huge thank you for the chef who waited for me with a nice bottle of wine and food.
To streamline the E-Tron and add a few miles of extra range the E-Tron is equipped with cameras replacing the side mirror. In each front door, there is a range sucking display to show the rear-view. Mental re-calibration is what mirror-less cameras are all about. Like us all, we have been looking at almost thirty years glancing out of side windows at wing mirrors or revision mirrors.
The Audi E-Tron is the first production car where there are no exterior mirrors. I was told by other E-Tron owners that it would take at least two weeks to get used to it.
As innovative as it was, it became a safety hazard. My right-hand display would blackout on me or go very dull in where I could not see oncoming cars. The only way to fix it was to turn the hazard lights on, pull over and turn the E-Tron off and on and the mirrors work again.
In meeting other Audi E-Tron owners they expressed there is an ongoing issue with the right-hand side cockpit. The left hand side worked perfectly? Software updates should fix this in the future but since the release there has not been one yet.
Another problem whilst I was on the motorway, the sun was blaring into the camera and again only on the right-hand side, I could see nothing. I could tap the screen and icons came up, enabling me to select which mirror I want to adjust, then swipe my finger within a gun sight to tweak the picture angle. This is hard to do when you can’t see at 70 mph and driving.
I was actually literally mirror-less again. Resulting on occasion in that proper old school stick my head out to see for oncoming traffic. Thanks to Audi E-Tron it took the concept of blind spot to a whole new level.
I have never cut so many people off at a roundabout. Why was this happening? I worked out cars that appear perilously close on the screen are in fact a couple of meters away. In fact, my distant perception was out of wack. After a few days, I figured out that the screens’ positioning, are mounted too low. Anything that requires me to drop my sight below the window line is a retrograde step, denying me peripheral information about what’s going on around me. They would be much better placed at the base of the A-pillars.
In the ten days, The E-Tron is the most unreliable Audi I have ever driven. I blame it on software lack of updates?
To be fair all-electric cars at the moment are not perfect, but Audi E-Tron proved to have many issues. I felt the software had a mind of its own. I felt simply unsafe thanks to the mirrors-less cameras, boot access (more on that) and GPS miscalculations. I do not stand alone in this comment, I met other Audi E-Tron owners during my ten days and they all experienced similar issues.
In saying that we all agreed the Audi E-Tron is a love and hate relationship with many stories to be told and unfold. It is a car that has taught me the power of community when charging issues go wrong. Or technology failed me.
I was on my own so the Audi E-Tron had ample boot space. I just decided to get my clothes, shoes, and handbags when I needed them. I never took my luggage out in ten days. Especially at London Fashion week, I loved the quick clothing change challenge and access to my outfits. But something strange began to happen on most occasions and on the first day. I would hear a peep and the boot would just decide to shut literally on me. Meaning it didn’t sense that I was still there. I learned the art of getting out of the way each time it did it. I have never had this experience with any other Audi. So I assume it will all be fixed with an extra software update or changing a faulty sensor.
I was not injured during these clothes changing boot challenges.
Luxury Hotels Need To Embrace Electric Cars
With my first charge on the way I made it to my hotel in Stratford upon Avon and the next day I visited another hotel close by in Chipping Campden. How can I summarise the hotel charging experiences?
I would expect London and its luxury hotels to be very organised regarding electric charging stations. I was attending events at London Fashion Week alongside my own. The trend was all about sustainable fashion and I wanted to set an example as the first woman to turn up in an electric car during this iconic event. The Ritz and Savoy staff could not tell if they had electric car chargers, and once they found out it was only the standard three-pin plug. In charging times this will take 48 hours to complete from 0 to 100%. For example, if the hotel had a 50kw charge my three-hour hair appointment would have given me almost 90 to 100% charge.
I was in shock, that the two most prestigious hotels in central London are not interested in embracing electric cars seriously. I think there should be a minimum 22 KW charger at a hotel to at least provide a meaningful full charge for customers having an overnight stay.
Please note hotel staff in my experience this week have no clue about how to charge and what their offering is regarding car chargers. The absolute minimal 3kw three-pin plug seems to be the most common one they have.
I had a few more charging frustrations, at least I worked out to only go for 50kw chargers with the right plug. Apps like zap-map are like gold. My frustrations boiled down to five things:
Different providers – There are lots of different car charging providers each with its own app and payment solution. This takes a while to set all up but once it’s done it should not be time-consuming anymore. Make sure your 4G phone has internet access before entering an unknown EV charging provider.
Broken down EV chargers – nothing is more frustrating than finding a broken EV charger and having to call up to get it fixed. This happened three times for me and as a good gesture some of the providers gave me a free charge for the inconvenience, but I had to push for it though. If you don’t ask you won’t get is the motto here.
Poor signage – everyone can find a petrol station, we know what they look like and we know the brands. With EV chargers it is different they are smaller and sometimes there is an absolute lack of signage.
Charging at Audi Dealerships – I found out through a friend of mine that some Audi dealerships have 50kw chargers, these chargers do not show up on the E-Tron app. I went to a dealer in Worthing to charge the E-Tron and it could only be done during opening hours, as it was Sunday I was too early as the dealership only opened at 10:00. I turned up at 8 am, I wanted to go to church and ask God why he left me stranded for four hours with the E-Tron?
I would have loved to have seen a 150 kw charger to fully make use of the E-Tron. If the Volkswagen Audi group is serious about electric vehicles, get fast chargers around its dealerships that are accessible 24hours.
With Volkswagen about to Launch its ID3 and ID Crozz soon, there will be pent-up demand for its own chargers.
Not Enough 50 kW or 150 kW Chargers – In the UK there are now more than 9,300 public charging points (PCPs), more than the petrol station forecourts (8,400). However, my experience felt like there were hardly any around the UK. The 3 kW and 7 kW chargers are useless for everyday driving, so they should be discounted. A 22 kW charger is great for overnight charging. The 50kw infrastructure is there but not as many as the petrol station forecourts which fill up in 3 minutes and have 10 to 20 on each forecourt.
However, investment is there so it should get better in the future. Just like Sweden, I know if I went there with the Audi E-Tron I would be fine regarding the charge.
New plans by both public and private organisations will help to grow the charging infrastructure. Audi is part of an alliance call Ionity with three other car brands. It hopes to build 400 ultra-rapid charging stations in Europe by next year including 40 in Britain.
My frustrations are a bit different from others. But if you want to rent it before you buy it then it is a very hard sell at the moment. If you mainly use the E-Tron to commute to work and back home you will have always your E-tron topped up via an EV wall box at home, the UK government has grants for these installations. This is good if you have the privilege to be able to do so. In apartment blocks or communal garages, this can be difficult. I tested the E-Tron on a road trip without the safety of a home EV charger, so take this also in mind.
Tesla Model X Versus Audi E-Tron
If we have to compare the E-Tron vs the Tesla you have to compare it to the Model-X. The Model-X has crazy wing doors that might not be to anybody’s liking. The E-Tron is more of a subtle entry into the world of fully electric SUVs. The E-Tron will appeal to Audi aficionados and people that are more conservative. The Model X starts at £82,200 and has a 315 miles WLTP range whereas the E-Tron is £70,800 with a 215 miles range. The Model X is available as a seven-seater where the E-Tron has only five seats.
The biggest difference between the models is that with Tesla you get access to its supercharger network which is fast and plenty full. The beauty of Teslá’s own charging network is the speeds that can be 50kw, 120kw or 150kw. When you are lucky and have the 150kw charger you can charge from 0 to 80% in about 20 minutes. This is bliss. How many hours did I lose in charge times and obstacles with the Audi – E Tron?
Audi E-Tron Conclusion
The sound of the Audi E-tron was super amazing and I loved zooming around the cities in it. The fuel cost was fabulous especially after getting some free charges from broken down EV stations. It cost me 20 pounds for ten days and I did around 500 miles.
The E-Tron is a gentle and familiar introduction to the world of EVs. You will have the prestige brand that comes with the Audi badge, the Interior and exterior exude that premium quality. Where the E-Tron is behind is the 215-mile range. To compensate it has a 150 KW fast charging capability but the UK charging infrastructure is hardly there at the moment. So buyers will have to be confident that the superfast charging infrastructure is going to catch up fast with the latest EV developments. Porsche’s Taycan has even higher charging speeds of 350 KW. I will review this too. But the same issues will apply in the UK, lack of supercharges.
As the world is moving away from combustion engines to electric I am sure we see a rapid change in charging infrastructure and speeds.
Electric cars are all about software and the E-Tron has software issues for this reason the E-Tron was the worst Audi experience. Software issues can be ironed out. Audi is updating in October for the first time. Tesla updates on a regular almost daily basis because the feedback frustrations come from the drivers. Audi should adopt the same approach, no need to reinvent the software wheel here.
I would love to test the E-Tron in two years’ time when the software is fully functioning and the UK third party charging infrastructure is more mature and consistent. A lower range can be compensated with faster charging.
The reason I am standing on the E-Tron is simply a message of pure anxiety and frustration. If I could I would just fly away with my Audi umbrella.
I contacted Audi afterwards to clarify some issues with the display of the side-view camera.
Audi has identified that in a small number of cases the OLED interior screen projecting images captured by the virtual door mirrors in e-Tron models can darken. Some adjustments can be made in the MMI that may improve the contrast. A software solution is in preparation, we are expecting this in the coming weeks.
Thank you to Audi for allowing me to be part of an EV revolution. Whether we like it or not, it is here.