Audi South Africa has started its electric drive in all earnest this year, opening the order books on no less than six e-tron models.
After showcasing all of them in the flesh at a glitzy event in Cape Town in February, Audi unleashed the full electric fleet on the media.
First up was Ingolstadt’s all-electric figure head, the lightning-quick RS e-tron GT. Road Test Editor Mark Jones took it for a high-performance test during which it officially became one of the fastest cars The Citizen has tested. To see the results of Mark’s test, click here.
Next up was Audi’s first local all-electric SUV, the e-tron 55 in S Line guise, and its coupe-styled sibling, the e-tron 55 Sportback S Line.
The pair offers all the technology, connectivity, attractive styling and supreme comfort you would associate with an Audi product of this calibre.
The obvious differences being that they feature all-electric drivetrains instead of internal combustion engines … and loftier price tags. The e-tron 55 is priced at R2 045 000 and e-tron Sportback 55 at R2 115 000.
Level up for Audi
Because Ingolstadt’s electric SUVs does not share radical exterior styling similar to that of the RS e-tron GT, the cars themselves did not turn many heads over the few days that we got to drive them. What did get onlookers’ attention though were the futuristic styling of – or rather lack of – side mirrors.
Both the e-tron 55s we had on test featured the R23 900 optional extra called “virtual exterior mirrors”. The presence of these ironically drew more attention than the fact that the e-tron 55 is an electric car.
The virtual exterior mirrors replace the traditional side mirrors, featuring camera lenses instead of mirrors. These create virtual video images displayed on LED screens situated on the upper corners of the front doors. Instead of looking into two side mirrors to see what is behind the car on either side, the driver looks into two video screens projecting virtual footage of each rear side.
Audi is not the first manufacturer to include this futuristic touch on its vehicles, but it is most certainly a first for South Africa. Which will explain the bewilderment from bystanders admitting they thought the side mirrors has simply “broken off”. Only to be gobsmacked upon discovering the images on the LED screens.
Getting your head around it
To be honest, getting used to the virtual side mirrors was not easy. At first you find yourself looking through the side windows into the camera lenses before remembering to cast your eyes down to the LED screen. But this will require the bending of the head for taller drivers or those wearing glasses.
There is also a glare factor that spoils the picture when the sun is at an obscure angle.
But once you get your head around the change, you realise its benefits. The cameras not only display what you would normally see in a side mirror, but extends the picture to include the blind spots in one magnificent wide-angle image.
If you look at it this way, bending your chin down slightly is a total upgrade from the traditional neck-wrenching blind spot observation you’ll be spared from.
And once you are used to the virtual mirrors, you get the chance to appreciate the magnitude of other cool stuff the e-tron 55 and e-tron Sportback 55 have to offer.
These include contour ambient interior lighting, Audi virtual cockpit plus, Audi smartphone interface, Bang and Olufsen premium sound system with 3D sound, MMI navigation plus with touch response and Audi connect emergency call.
Powering the e-tron 55 pair is a 95 kWh battery and two electric motors, one on each axle. Combined, the two motors produce 265 kW of power and 561 Nm of torque, while in “boost mode”, the totals go up to 300 kW and 664 Nm.
The power is sent to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro system via what is officially called a two-stage ratio planetary gearbox with a single gear.
The e-tron 55 is claimed to reach 100 km/h from a standstill in 6.6 seconds, with this figure dropping to an even better 5.7 seconds with boost enabled. Top speed is limited to 200 km/h.
As with all the electric cars we have tested, the thrill of the instant torque and silent power is just as addictive in the e-tron 55.
As the sprint numbers suggest, it is stupidly fast off the mark despite its weight of two and a half tons. And there is no dramatic sound to give the unsuspecting guy in the hot hatch next to you at the red light any indication of what is coming his way.
Power consumption for both the e-tron 55s is claimed to be around or just under 24 kWh per 100 km on a combined cycle with a range of over 400 km achievable on a single charge.
Some spirited driving and acceleration saw us miss the mark by quite a bit, achieving 30.2 kWh /100 km in the 55 and 32.8 kWh/100 km in the 55 Sportback. This will mean that the real-world range would drop to around 300km.
Charging an electric Audi
From completely flat, it will take around 13 hours for the e-tron 55 to be charged at home through a 7.2 kW household e-tron charger.
Faster 22 kW public chargers are available in the 280-strong GridCars network, with a selected few offering even faster charging outputs.
Audi e-tron 55 models include as standard a five-year/100 000 km Audi Freeway Maintenance Plan and eight-year/160 000 km battery warranty.
For more information on the e-tron 55, click here.
Next up we’ll review the e-tron S Sportback which offers more power and a claimed 0 to 100 km/h sprint time of 4.5 seconds..