The German automaker's dazzling electric crossover arrives in showrooms in two years. Audi wasn’t about to allow Tesla to be the only carmaker with an electric sport-utility vehicle. So this week, as the US-based upstart EV-maker ramps up for its 29 September showroom debut of the oft-delayed Model X, Audi pulled the wraps off the E-tron Quattro, a concept that presages a production model — one that will wear the Q6 badge — due in 2018. And it’s a stunner.
According to Ralf Gerhard Willner, Audi's VP of vehicle concepts, the company cut the E-tron Quattro's development time by using off-the-shelf parts, including suspension and steering components, as much as possible. Indeed, the vehicle shares its modular platform with Audi’s bigger Q7 and with Bentley’s mighty Bentayga, also introduced in Frankfurt. But that’s not to say the E-tron isn’t brimming with innovative touches. Active aero tricks — including tiny rear-view cameras that pop out of the front fenders, help give the crossover a drag coefficient of just 0.25. Headlamps and taillights employ dramatic organic light-emitting diode (OLED) elements, as do ambient cabin lights and gauges. The technology, which uses an extremely thin film that lights up when subjected to an electrical charge, gives designers unprecedented flexibility — the pieces can be cut into any shape and illuminate in almost any color. An OLED-lit four-ring grille emblem seems an inevitable option. Outside, the E-tron is sleek and handsome, if not significantly different in body style from Audi’s current Q5 and Q7. The real news here is under the skin.
The concept uses a big 95kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which Audi claims allows the E-tron to cruise for an impressive 310 miles between charges. Battery level is replenished via conventional plug-in charging or by wireless induction charging, which uses a plate embedded in the garage floor. (By launch time, Audi may well have perfected its autonomous parking system, allowing the car to enter the garage and start charging on its own.) There’s even a bank of solar panels on the roof, à la the departed Fisker Karma, to goose the batteries on sunny days. And the E-tron Quattro is quick, too. Three motors drive all four wheels producing a combined 503 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, good for a 4.6-second zero to 62mph sprint and an electronically governed 131mph top speed. And because the system accommodates 480-volt rapid charging, the batteries can fully recharge in about 50 minutes.
The production version of the E-tron Quattro will arrive as one of a few Q6 variants, all of them unconventionally powered, including a plug-in hybrid and perhaps even a fuel-cell electric. Of course, there’s no word on pricing yet, but Willner said, “you will not be disappointed.” And of course, other rivals are on the way. Corporate cousin Porsche, which dazzled IAA show-goers with its Mission E electric four-door concept, is working on the electric Cayenne S-Hybrid, and Mercedes-Benz and BMW both have electric crossovers in the works. For now, however, the spotlight belongs to Audi. The E-tron Quattro is the belle of Frankfurt.