The All-Electric 2019 Audi E-tron Is a $74,800 Warning Shot Across Tesla's Bow

The war for the future is fought in the present, and Audi's got its big gun ready.

Kyle Cheromcha

Audi fired a warning shot across Tesla's bow on Monday night when it formally revealed the 2019 Audi E-tron, an electric SUV that blends futuristic tech and everyday touches in a package starting under $75,000. Unlike most glimpses of the future, this one is very much the present—production is well underway, with the first customer deliveries scheduled for the middle of 2019.

The Germans aren't messing around in their mission to catch up Musk & Co.. At the splashy reveal event at a warehouse in San Francisco, Audi's interim CEO Abraham Schot said that while it's not the first automaker to build electric cars, it wants to be the first to make them the right way. Jumping right in with a popular body style—size-wise, the five-seat E-tron SUV will slot between the Q5 and the Q7 in the lineup—is certainly a solid start.

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Inside and out, the E-tron intentionally shares a lot of styling cues with its gas powered siblings; you won't mistake it for anything other than an Audi. And while Audi clearly wants EV-skeptics to see this as a normal car, its powertrain details make clear that it's anything but. The e-Tron packs a 90 kilowatt-hour battery (the Tesla Model X uses a 75 or 100 kWh pack depending on the trim), which juices twin electric motors mounted on each axle to drive all four wheels via a new version of Audi's famous Quattro AWD system.

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The battery/motor combo is said to be good for 265 kW (around 300 horsepower) and 414 pound-feet of torque in normal driving, while a driver-activated "boost mode" bumps those numbers up to the equivalent of 402 hp and 490 torques for eight seconds on demand. Like with most EVs, the decision to spread out the 1,500-pound battery under the cabin floor should give it a low center of gravity and boost handling. The E-tron will scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, and while that's certainly a good deal slower than a Tesla operating in Ludicrous mode, it's more than enough for any legal commute.

Of course, the biggest question for any new electric vehicle is range. Just look at the flak Mercedes-Benz caught a few weeks ago when it came out with two different estimates for its much-hyped EQC electric SUV, then told everyone to just ignore the lower number. Audi's playing it close to the vest here, revealing a 250-mile figure for the E-tron based on the European WLTP test that Mercedes dodged. One caveat: our country's EPA test numbers are often more realistic (i.e. lower) for electric cars, and we don't have that data just yet.

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But Audi America CEO Scott Keogh provided an anecdote that showcases a key part of the car's range: its new electrohydraulic regenerative braking system, which promises to recapture up to 90 percent of your forward energy to recharge that big old battery. Audi claims it will also transition seamlessly from using friction and resistance braking without the driver noticing.

Keogh said that his team took a pair of E-trons from the waterfront in San Francisco up to Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains earlier this summer, a 175-mile trip that also happens to climb about 7,000 feet in elevation. Starting on a full charge, the convoy rolled into Tahoe with 12 miles of estimated range left. After charging the cars back to 100 percent, they retraced their route home—but thanks to the downhill journey, the E-trons made it to the finish line with 90 miles left in their batteries.

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Audi used a few aero tricks to maximize its range as well, including standard speed-adaptive air suspension, full underbody cladding, and the crazy camera system that replaces side mirrors on European-spec cars (our regulations don't allow for that currently, but Audi and other high-end manufacturers are actively pushing for a change). It all adds up to a drag coefficient of just 0.28, just a bit slipperier than a Jaguar i-Pace.

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Since future owners won't be able to charge their E-tron by coasting downhill every day, Audi is trying to cobble together a charging network to rival Tesla's Superchargers—that's one area where Tesla still wins, hands-down. Drivers in Europe will get a kind of universal access card that will allow them to recharge at tens of thousands of established locations, no matter the provider, while stateside we'll be relying on Volkswagen's Electrify America program (you know, the one that came out of Dieselgate) that promises 500 fast chargers in 40 states by next summer.

With 150kW DC fast charging capability, a tuckered-out E-tron can charge from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes. That's 10 minutes faster than the i-Pace and on par with a Tesla Model X at a Supercharger, though it likely won’t be as convenient as the latter for a while longer. The E-tron has another trick up its sleeve, though: thanks to a new partnership, buyers will be able to order their home charging systems via Amazon and have them installed by certified professionals.

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Reservations for the E-tron are now open at $1,000 a pop, and the $74,800 "Premium Plus" (read: Base) model gets you standard goodies like a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, and a 360-degree surround camera system. The midlevel Prestige trim ($81,800) throws in more tech and creature comforts including a heads-up display, massaging seats, and a driver assistance package, while an $86,700 First Edition adds some unique cosmetic touches like Daytona Gray pearl paint and orange brake calipers. That one's limited to 999 units.

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