(Pocket-lint) – The Audi e-tron S – the marque’s top-end sporty version of its all-electric SUV – is an absolutely stunning machine. It’s also stunningly overselling on its range potential, which makes it a bit of a conundrum.
This is one super peppy drive, one super comfortable place to sit, and houses one super tech suite in which to indulge. But you’ll be needing to work out the maths for charging stopovers and laying that foot away from flooring the pedal to conserve battery – which seems to somewhat counter the very reason for buying a sport version of any vehicle in the first place.
But then we did approach the e-tron S is a more unusual way: by trying to see just how far would could push it on an epic 36 hour road trip covering 750 miles. But with a sound system this good and seats this comfortable, basically living in the e-tron S was a breeze – even with all those charging stops.
To look at the Audi e-tron S is, in our view, the best looking of the range. It’s what’s added that sets it apart from the softer looking models – the matrix LED headlights; massive 21-inch alloy wheels; and the S Exterior Styling pack – to give an already stylised machine that extra visual bite.
It’s a big ol’ beasty, too, riding on air suspension – you can adjust the height depending on drive mode, as applicable – but the Sportback style sees that rear roofline drop for elegant lines that cease it looking too bulky.
If anything the e-tron S is all muscle – both in terms of power output and visual design – with shoulders and ass that have been tonking hard in the gym. Those wheel arches in particular set the car on a poised stance, so it always looks like it’s ready to go.
And, believe us, it really will go – with a 0-62mph time of just 4.5 seconds, which is all the more impressive considering its 2.6 tonne weight. That’s all thanks to the triple motor setup, which is another part of the behind-the-scenes design that makes this a true ‘S’ model – with a combined 500bhp output.
Interior & Tech
If you like how the exterior looks, then the interior steps things up a notch once again. As we said up top, we lived in the e-tron S – even slept in it, given distance and time and charging – and it’s a very spacious and cosy place to be.
Well, it is if the temperature is correct. Which highlights one of the quirks of an electric vehicle: pop on the heated seat and, you guessed it, it’ll chip into the range potential. Try and put the blowers on warm through the air-conditioning and, if you’re charging, the zero heat of the engine will mean zero heat output. Not an ideal winter car for a number of reasons then.
This particular e-tron S configuration came loaded with the Comfort & Sound pack (£1,895), adding a Bang & Olufsen soundsystem that is, well, completely out-of-this-world good. A chonky subwoofer, super balance, customisability, and even 3D Surround options make for an audio experience that’s better than most at-home hi-fi setups.
That ‘pack’ otherwise doesn’t add a huge amount in terms of comfort, as the e-tron S already has that wrapped up. It comes with sports seats as standard, supremely comfortable and good-looking with their diamond stitching in place too. Being the top-end e-tron, there’s also electronic adjustment as standard too – you don’t need to buy the add-on pack for that.
But it’s really the core of Audi’s screen-based setups that impresses. There’s a 10.1-inch main display, where all the main settings live, flanked by a lower positioned screen to control climate and shortcuts. The touch response has a firm haptic feedback, so it’s easy to use, and while we initially found the screen layers ‘hid’ things away – the most important controls are still buttons on the steering wheel and various stalks.
But it’s really the visual of how these dual central screens sit alongside the Audi Virtual Cockpit – the screen beyond the driver’s wheel – that sit so complete within the car. And as this is the top-end model of the pack, there’s interior lighting as standard, which even adapts based on the drive mode (red for dynamic, green for efficiency, and so forth).
The Virtual Cockpit is particularly useful for seeing range potential, as that’s a critical component to owning this car, but you can also toggle between navigation, phone, music and such like too. We had Apple CarPlay running much of the time, if that’s your preference, although even without it Audi’s tech setup as standard is among the best you can experience right now.
Power & Range
But here’s the thing about the e-tron S: it doesn’t really go all that far. The WLTP rating says it has 221 miles of range maximum – which, as anyone who knows about that rating system will tell you, means take of 10 per cent as a minimum.
Thing is, the most the e-tron S ever told us it would go on a full charge was 180 miles – and even that wasn’t realised. Sure, it’s not exactly super warm in the UK, where we’re testing this car, but even at 8C it shouldn’t be too much to the detriment of range. Except, upon rejuicing the car that maximum figure only ever decreased. A second charge said 156 miles. The third charge 142 miles. As if the car was learning and didn’t want to disappoint.
To put that in perspective: the 95kWh battery on board (86.5kW of which is available) is the same capacity as you’ll get in the Jaguar i-Pace or Tesla Model X. Except both of those can genuinely propel much further. Both are lighter, too, which is something that adversely affects the e-tron S’s range overall – being 2.6 tonnes isn’t exactly in sync with a battery-powered vehicle.
Driving style will of course have some impact on that range potential, too, although not by as much as we had thought. Selecting ‘S’ – i.e. ‘sport’ from a double press back on the drive selector – and only a few miles would fall off the potential range figure. You’ll more or less get what’s on the clock, but will need to bake in a near to 10 per cent ‘safety net’ – so a 142 mile maximum was, for us, more like 130 miles, by which point you’re approaching Honda e territory.
So the e-tron S is a conundrum: it’s super fast, wonderfully comfortable, has a great driving style all considered, but it just won’t really get that far. Which might see you laying off that power pedal – which contradicts the very reason for owning the ‘S’ model in the first place. In which case, we’d trickle down the range to the ‘normal’ e-tron Sportback, save a heap of cash, and gain extra range in the process.
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The Audi e-tron S is a kind-of wonderful contradiction in terms. Which makes it a bit of a conundrum. There’s no doubt that its style, interior, tech setup, driving style and sheer pep are all massive plus points. It’s a car that takes the premium Audi expectation and successfully brings the ‘S’ badge to the marque’s EV range.
But in so doing it throttles the range potential to excess. Which might see you driving more reservedly – which isn’t the point of an ‘S’ model at all. So while we can recommend the Sportback as a more balanced approach, unless you’re going to be driving the e-tron S in relatively small circles then you’ll never get the true value out of it. Speaking of which, it costs a pretty penny anyway.
It’s less ‘sporty’ and the tech setup isn’t as solid, but it’s still a cracking drive with better range for a more digestable price point. For us, this is the king of EV SUVs.
Writing by Mike Lowe.