Social media is a double-edged sword. The morning I was headed to the Audi showroom in suburban Mumbai to pick up my eTron for the day, Facebook showed me a memory from exactly two years ago on the same day when Audi first showcased the eTron in India at a closed-door event. That’s a lot of time between whetting someone’s appetite and then offering a discount coupon for the lunch buffet. And two years later, the eTron is still the same car. So, have the effects of time dulled its sheen?
Well, besides the omission of the sci-fi looking camera-based ORVMs, the eTron still looks striking in the metal and is being offered in the 55 Quatrro variant, which comes with a capacious 95kWh battery that Audi claims is good for 350 plus kilometers and isn’t a slouch while doing that. Comparable to the Q7, it does tip the scales at a portly 2.6 tons, thanks to the big battery pack. But it is mounted on the floor of the car so it helps with a low centre of gravity and the twin motors develop upwards of 400hp and 664Nm of legendary, electric, instant torque-on-demand.
Electrifying without polarising
Audi has peppered the eTron with subtle hints that differentiate it from their dino-juice powered cars. So all eTrons get a distinctive four-slatted grille, struts in the LED headlights, orange brake calipers, motorised charging port flaps on each side of the car and black inlays on the side doors that indicate the positioning of the batteries. It looks familiar and fresh at the same time, careful enough not to alienate first-time EV buyers and yet giving them bragging rights over their eco-conscious choice.
Inside, it’s typically Audi-tastic, which is to say that the build quality is off the charts, and the fit is second to none. The swooping dash, angled and layered with a deep recess on the passenger side looks straight out of a concept car brochure and the multiple screens, along with the Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster only adds to the allure.
Build quality is phenomenal and the screens are so perfectly embedded into the dashboard that the tight gaps and shut lines won’t even allow dust to gather between the creases. Even the gear-lever, which is actually a drive mode selector in this case is unique to the eTron and again, offers an experience that is more Captain Kirk than Charlie chauffeur.
Starting the drive with a topped-up battery showing 322kms of range gives you confidence that you can reach any destination that its V6-powered combustion cousin could. But you have to rewire your senses and motor movements in many ways in order to extract the most from EVs. In the eTron specifically, the paddle shifters control energy recuperation and perform a similar function as engine braking in regular cars.
In stop-go traffic, you can quickly gain range that you may have lost while chasing a chital around a series of fast corners, but you have to remember to use the left paddle generously. Tug on it once to slow down the car, tug on it twice to shed serious speed and only use the brake pedal during hard braking or when you want to come to a quick stop. All of these moves will convert the kinetic energy into electrical energy that is poured back directly into the batteries. The right paddle releases the eTron from the clutches of this recuperation and offers a more free-wheeled drive, so to speak. You can get used to this process quickly and during my drive of over 95kms in and out of Mumbai city with a mixed style of driving, I was able to return the eTron with 182kms of range still in the tank. Yes, I said tank. Some things just shouldn’t change.
While on the move, the smooth and frictionless drive of the eTron is the single biggest attribute that hits you first. It’s eerily quiet inside the cabin and the faint whine of the motors confuses your brain. It “sounds” like driving in Manhattan in 2050, but you’re only crossing Marol to head out of Mumbai. The conventional ORVMS don’t add much in terms of wind noise and overall, the calmness you feel inside the eTron makes for its biggest selling point.
Whether it’s bumper to bumper traffic or shoving it in Dynamic mode and giving it the chickpeas, it’s not fazed by external factors. The adaptive suspension is supple on any road surface, even in its lowest setting and might just be the best riding Audi on sale right now! It’s soft without being wallowy and the only real time you feel its massive kerb weight is when you brake hard for an emergency stop. On the other hand, the head pin you feel when you step down on the accelerator is smile-inducing and addictive, but as expected, has massive ramifications on the battery range. But why would you buy a car that costs upwards of a crore to always be civil, right? See a fast corner, the instant torque hurls you forward, past slower traffic and the Quattro AWD ensures your knuckles don’t turn white, or your pants brown. Grip levels are high and the steering wheel weighs up nicely with speed.
In terms of creature comforts, the eTron ticks most boxes like four-zone climate control, heads-up display, dual-screen MMI, powered front seats, 16-speaker 705W premium Bang & Olufsen audio, wireless charging and a panoramic sunroof. Some might find the omission of ventilated seats and wireless Apple CarPlay shocking but that’s the way it is with modern cars. Nothing’s perfect.
But you do get four USB-C ports so ask your passengers to BYOC (cables) to this party. Also, while the haptic feedback from the MMI touchscreens is good at replicating the feel of a real button, it also means that sometimes you have to give the virtual button a proper push instead of a feather touch and with so many controls on the screen instead of physical buttons, it could get a bit tedious. Graphical quality and intuitiveness of the system is great though, with large touch points for most functions and the handwriting recognition on the lower MMI screen works well to enter a destination to navigate to.
What is weird, coming from a brand known for its ergonomics, is the placement of the wireless charging pad which is in the centre console where you have to stick your phone sideways and it is held in place by a clip. There’s no way of telling how much charge is left on your phone and if you’re not connected via Bluetooth or CarPlay, even checking the phone screen will take effort.
Sonically, the B&O system is supposed to have surround sound and 3D processing but no matter the setting, the speaker closest to you always sounded dominant, taking away from the feeling of immersion. Something that the Burmester system on modern Mercs manages so well, the B&O struggles with a coherent soundscape and doesn’t have the same warmth or body to the sound. It’ll go plenty loud and has clarity to boot, but isn’t the best of the breed by far.
Audi claims to have outfitted the eTron with faster charging too, topping up via a 11kW home charger in half the time taken by other full-size EVs. Couple that with its brilliant recuperation and temper your driving style a bit and you could even consider the eTron as your daily driver. Perhaps, your only vehicle too!
Sure, range anxiety is still a real thing until more fast chargers mushroom across the length and breadth of the country, but if your daily run is no more than 100kms, then you can combine fun and frugality like never before.
The eTron is fun to drive, luxurious to ride in, beautifully made and above all, doesn’t look like a compromise in any way compared to a similarly priced ICE-powered SUV. It never once scraped its belly full of batteries on even the biggest of speed breakers or the nastiest of potholes. The ride on 20in wheels and ground clearance doing a sublime dance that will transport you from point A to B like a monorail from Blade Runner.