With the introduction of an entry-level model and the presence of the FTC, the mildly-refreshed 2021 Audi e-tron proves itself as an alluring option.
Featuring better range and lower pricing compared to the two previous model years, the 2021 e-tron hit the market strong. Almost every Audi dealership proffers this electric SUV, including Audi Charlotte, the dealership who kindly provided the review model. Audi Charlotte has several other e-trons currently in inventory, and all of which are priced around $70,000. This e-tron, in particular, featured all standard equipment, aside from the optional $595 Mythos Black Metallic exterior paint and the $1,250 Black Optic Package. However, just because it wasn’t fully optioned does not mean it felt underequipped. All e-trons feature a 402hp dual motor setup, adaptive air suspension, leather interior, 20” rims, and a liquid-cooled 95kWh battery pack.
For all intents and purposes, let's use $66,995 as the base price, including the $1,095 destination fee. There's also the e-tron Sportback, which starts at $70,145, but that'll require a separate review. Regardless, all e-tron models feature three trim levels designated as "Premium," "Premium Plus," and "Prestige." Each trim level is priced at $66,995, $75,895, and $80,195, respectively. If every additional option, including the tow package, is equipped on the "Prestige" model, the price just breaches the $87,000 mark. However, if you're highly conservative when optioning the car, the "theoretical" price of the e-tron can drop below the $60,000 mark, factoring in the $7,500 EV federal tax credit.
While the overall design remains the same as the prior two model years, several minor changes exist. The most important of which is the new standard 20" rims, which look much more fitting in a car of this price rather than the prior model year's. The old base rims just seemed out of place, similar to when U2's Songs of Innocence somehow made it to the forefront of our iTunes libraries. The other change includes the optional Black Optic Package, which gives the e-tron a more aggressive look. Even though these changes are insignificant in the entirety, the e-tron's conventional design will most likely age quite well, similar to the original Q7.
Your expectations should be high for a car with a $66,995 starting price, and the e-tron delivers. The base e-tron excels in interior comfort with leather seating and soft-touch material coating nearly every surface within reach. Heated front seats come as standard, but you'd need to upgrade to the "Premium Plus" trim to get ventilated ones. Furthermore, if you've taken a fancy to massaging seats, then you'd sit at $80,195 with the Prestige trim. Along with massaging seats, the Prestige features soft close doors, Valcona leather, LED ambient lighting, and Audi's "air fragrance package," which includes two scents: summer and winter. According to an Audi e-tron forum, when replacing the $53.73 fragrance cartridges, there's a visible warning on the container stating "avoid breathing" - very reassuring! Since $53.73 is a bit pricy, you can always purchase Audi's spicy Russian-scented gecko for €7.99.
Whether or not you opt for the extras, even the base e-tron's interior layout and materials are quite impressive. There are three main screens, two of which are touch-responsive, and the other one acts as the driver's display. The two touchscreens are highly-responsive and feature embedded haptic motors that generate kinesthetic feedback, so you know you've actually clicked on something (similar to Apple's 3D Touch feedback). While driving this car, I found myself raising and lowering the temperature by a degree just because it felt nice to press. Moreover, every interior button, knob, and dial felt satisfying to interact with. The prime example of this is the finely-crafted drive selector, which presents a metallic finish and carries a considerable avoirdupois.
While driving, the e-tron's well-calibrated air suspension is most noticeable, absorbing most imperfections within the road. Complementing the air suspension is the steering, which feels light, giving the e-tron a similar demeanor to most other luxury cars. Despite the light steering, the e-tron handles quite well on the skidpad - .85g, according to Car and Driver. Even though .85g's may not seem all too impressive, keep in mind the e-tron is an SUV weighing nearly 6,000 lbs. Weighing 5,843 lbs, or roughly three giraffes, the e-tron also requires a powertrain capable of getting itself up to speed in a timely manner.
While the powertrain figures certainly aren't on par with similarly-priced Teslas, it provides enough power to wow passengers and tow up to 4,000 lbs. Unlike most other EVs, Audi chose a different route by making the maximum power unavailable unless in "Boost Mode." When driving normally, 355 hp and 414 lb-ft of torque are at the driver's disposal, and when Boost is engaged, these numbers jump to 402 and 490, respectively. Zero to sixty takes 5.5 seconds with launch control and 6 seconds without. Even without launch control, the e-tron feels very quick; however, there’s a noticeable power reduction up to around 10 mph to prevent wheelspin. The e-tron's most impressive performance-oriented aspect is its mid-range torque, which will silently defeat a TTRS from 30-50 and 50-70 miles per hour.
For the 2021 model year, Audi unlocked a little more of the useable battery capacity from 83.6kWh to 86.5kWh, increasing the range from 202 miles to 222 miles. Interestingly, the e-tron has a relatively large charge buffer, unlike Tesla vehicles. Subsequently, the e-tron will normally charge to "100%," but that "100%" is 91% in actuality. How I see it, since this vehicle's target audience is previous Audi SUV owners, rather than electric car enthusiasts, the objective of this concept was to cause as little confusion as possible to EV newcomers.
Like the previous model years, the e-tron is capable of 150kW fast charging, which can provide a 0-80% charge in just 30 minutes. While this sounds impressive in theory, 150kW chargers are relatively uncommon at the moment. In Charlotte, there are 13 chargers capable of 50kW and only one capable of 150kW. When charging at 50kW, the 0-80% time will slow all the way down to around an hour and a half. While this certainly is a drawback, especially when compared to Tesla's Supercharging network, most e-trons aren't used on long trips, thus rarely requiring public charging. For in-town driving, 222 miles more than enough for several commutes without charging.
In its third model year, Audi's first mass-produced EV has proven that legacy automakers can make great electric cars. Not only does the e-tron provide unique driving dynamics, but it is priced in line with most other luxury European SUVs. Furthermore, since the e-tron is electric, it requires far less maintenance than its gasoline counterparts. While I only spent a relatively short time driving the e-tron, I cannot accurately expound upon the reliability. However, the four-year / 50,000-mile basic warranty along with the federally-mandated eight-year battery warranty should help you make a decision. Regardless, the 2021 e-tron is a fantastic electric SUV, and the interior quality and driving experience are unlike that of any other mainstream EV.
Image Courtesy: Audi Media Center