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Electric Audi road test: new German SUV a luxury game-changer?

When it comes to electric vehicles, sometimes it’s hard to be an early “adaptor” in New Zealand, especially when it comes to charging the car.

You can go down a few routes: wall unit at home, using free charging stations (that you can use only for 30 minutes) or start an account with ChargeNet for fast charges.

Tesla has its own charging network.

There’s a portable three-pin AC charging cable that you can use to charge your vehicle at home. But what if it takes 48 hours to charge to 100 per cent from that cable?

That’s the problem that Audi New Zealand faced when it decided to sell the all-electric e-tron here. It’s not alone. Volkswagen, NZ and Kia faced similar long AC charging times with their electric vehicles.

For best charging, a wall unit at home is recommended, so Audi NZ is working with HRV to install a 32-amp wall unit for e-tron owners.

The Audi e-tron is a five-seat SUV that is sized between Audi’s existing Q5 and Q7 models. It has a 95kWh lithium-ion battery driving the twin electric motors that achieve quattro all-wheel-drive.

It develops 265kW output and 561Nm of torque. In eight-second bursts of boost those go to 300kW and 664Nm.

The e-tron can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds using boost mode. Combined cycle energy consumption is rated between 26.2kWh/100km and 22.5kWh/100km.

Audi claims a range of 417km based on the WLTP consumption test cycle — a number that’s most likely to be achieved in the lower speed, high regeneration environment of city driving.

Driven had the $157,000 quattro advanced for a long weekend. But if you’re testing it for four days and don’t have a wall charger of any brand, and there’s only 130km left on the battery and road trips planned, what do you do?

For Driven, it was spending an hour at ChargeNet’s station at Henderson’s Pak’nSave carpark charging to 80 per cent. Audi NZ has added a ChargeNet fob for the press vehicles for situations like this.

The upside to charging at Pak’nSave in West Auckland was that the ChargeNet station was empty. No queuing, no petrol or diesel car in the spots (as I found at The Warehouse Taupo during a test of the Kia Nero). ChargeNet was smart to locate the station at the furthest part of the carpark.

The Audi e-tron also has steering wheel-mounted paddles to use the regenerative braking — with coasting also adding to its range.

A great example of these functions was a 70km round trip: from central Auckland, on to the motorway, then 80km/h country roads, with some windy bits thrown in. By using the paddles and coasting, we took only 40km off the battery.

The e-tron is a large SUV but, due to its low centre of gravity, is agile while the air-suspended ride combines initial suppleness with progressive roll control.

The instant torque you get from the EV’s two electric motors makes overtaking easy, though you never forget you are in a large vehicle.

Driven’s model had e-tron’s video door mirrors — the side mirrors are replaced with small cameras on stalks and the image is projected on a screen on the corner of each car door.

It’s a clever bit of tech but they take some getting used to, unlike Range Rover Evoque’s clear sight rear-view mirror that works from a sharkfin on the roof and offers an amazingly clear vision behind, better than the naked eye.

Standard side mirrors are in your peripheral vision, whereas the video door mirrors aren’t; plus they are temperamental. Adjusting the mirrors, including the passenger-side one, is done on the screen with your fingers, and sometimes it won’t click into place, and it’s not as quick or as straightforward as using a knob.

On one occasion the driver side of the screen was blank, and bright sunlight on the screen made it hard to see. Plus there’s the expense of replacing cameras if they are knocked off.

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