309Write - Audi e-Tron S first drive: 2.6 tonnes of electric luxury grunt fit for country roads

For that, you get a dazzling array of goodies including 21″ sport alloys, a panoramic sunroof, an electronic tailgate with gesture control, electric fold mirrors with heating and memory function, adaptive air suspension and the aforementioned motor and torque combination.

You can also get some pretty snazzy extras in a “Sensory Package” including digital matrix headlights that embellish the car with a stunning array of lighting tricks, entrance lights, soft close doors, nappa leather dashboard, air quality package and a sunshade for the rear windows for an additional $9,600.

Its design stands out from the standard e-Tron range thanks to a number of subtle tweaks, including wider wheel arches, and signature S styling on the interior including a carbon inlay on the dash, diamond stitching on the seats and the S logo in strategic places.

While the daytime drive didn’t give us a chance to check out certain additions like lane-guidance lights, thanks to the high-tech pixel LEDs and ambient interior lighting, the drive was definitely a great opportunity to try out the car’s performance, handling, and comfort.

The e-Tron S derives its high-powered characteristics – which includes 320kW power and 808Nm torque – from its tri-motor configuration, which sits on the same MLB EVO platform as the priginal e-Tron (the e-Tron GT gets the same drivetrain as the Porsche Taycan).

This is a first for the brand and it would appear the first tri-motor EV that will make it to Australia, not that this means the car doesn’t have plenty of Audi DNA. It’s all about power and thrust, a feeling that is distinct beneath your feet from the moment you sit in the driver’s seat.

The Audi e-Tron S is basically 2.6 tonnes of luxury grunt

You can feel all 2.6 tonnes of the e-Tron S as you put your foot on the pedal and move off into traffic. The pedal transfers this grunty feel – you have to put a bit of force down on it to get the car to accelerate.

And with nearly 1,000 Nm of torque in boost mode, quite frankly, you need to put your foot right down to get the full feel of the power out of this car.

 

But once you’re coasting, this is a car in which you feel you are floating through the landscape.

The controls for the car are pretty easy. There are two touchscreens on the centre console, and in the top homescreen you can access to radio media, telephone navigation, phone apps, car favourites and settings.

Down on the bottom left of the steering wheel – similar to the Porsche Taycan – you’ve got cruise control settings, with a little button on the end of the cruise control that switches between adaptive cruise control and a speed limiter.

You can also use this to turn lane-keeping on and off. I tested the lane keeping and found it comfortably steered the car back into the centre of the lane when I drove it over the double centre lines.

The absence of a jarring alert sound or a vibration that made you think you might have run something over meant the feeling of cruising through the country was not lost for a moment.

Behind the steering wheel, you have two paddles to change the amount of regenerative braking. I couldn’t feeling a great deal of difference between regen modes before I realised I needed to switch manual regen on in the settings.

Nevertheless, the e-Tron S definitely doesn’t offer a one-pedal drive experience. Like the Porsche, these cars are about driving, and being in full control of both stopping and going.

I could go on about the controls but frankly, they are visible enough for you to not have to go searching too far to find what you need. Except for off-road mode, which I didn’t see at first because you have to scroll the drive mode interface to find it.

In the centre console, there is a flat sliding lid on which you can place your phone or you can slide back the cover and put your drinks in there.

The front row storage is a bit disappointing: there’s a small storage area between the seats and no space underneath the centre console, which is because this is built on an adapted MLB platform. Pure electric drive trains by comparison don’t have the cardan tunnel allowing more design options for storage.

My only other criticism is that the drive mode switch, which is on the bottom left of the bottom touchscreen, would appear is in the original left-hand drive position. It requires a bit of a stretch to reach and is poorly lit, taking your eyes off the wheel.

No heat pump, but plenty of high country drive modes

Although we’ve been taken into the Snowy high country, it’s important to note there is no heat pump in this car. Audi’s Shaun Cleary tells me this is because Europe considers Australia a hot country, which it is for the most part, and increasingly so. Just be wary of a range drop if you’re driving in the colder parts.

Getting into the e-Tron S on a mild Canberra day the car says it has 320km range on the battery. With a 280km drive ahead of us as we head towards Wagga Wagga, it’s just as well there are fast-chargers at the Snowy Hydro Centre in Tumut.

Once we’re out on the straight, I have to try out boost mode, which you can enable by hitting the side of the gear selector on the centre console so that you see the “S” mode appear.

Putting the foot on the accelerator doesn’t result in the heart-stopping “wow” factor of the Taycan Turbo Cross Turismo, but it certainly gives you a better chance of taking off into the sunset, if you feel so inclined.

After that it’s time to try out the other driving modes, which also automatically change the adaptive air suspension height. In order of vehicle height it goes from off-road (highest) to comfort, dynamic and then efficiency (I’m going on the theory that the lower suspension improves aerodynamics).

If you press the Drive Select button I get a new display on the top centre touchscreen and that shows me that I can move it between efficiency, comfort, auto and dynamic.

Dynamic gives you a more responsive feel to the accelerator pedal and makes handling a lot more responsive but not necessarily that tight to feel, while efficiency limits your speed to extend the range and lowers the vehicle.

Off-road mode raises the car (for obvious reasons) but also appears to turn off electronic stability control. Audi’s website states that, “In offroad mode the Electronic Stabilization Control, the drive control unit and the all-wheel drive are adjusted for optimum offroad capability.”

Comfort mode lowers the car to a mid-range height, and the handling becomes responsive but soft. I’m happy to let the car do what it thinks according to speed and driving conditions so I leave it in auto.

After stopping in Tumut, we drive over the mountains past Sawyer’s Hut (which sadly fell victim to the 2021 fires) and down the other side of the mountain giving plenty of opportunities for testing out the handling and vectoring offered by the tri-motor format.

Most of the work is done by the two motors on the back axle, which are integrated into a single unit, but operate separately and have their own power electronics units.

The front motor engages automatically when the extra power is needed. This means the car can send more power to one side than the other on turns to vector the torque, something that certainly gives you a lot of confidence on the tight hairpins above Blowering Dam.

Final thoughts

Given the budget the e-Tron S is certainly a magnificent offering from Audi, and while it’s not exactly a head-turner it has enough visual distinctions to impress that this is not just an Audi, this is an S.

And while this jury is out on the digital virtual mirrors, at least the displays in the top of the front row doors is closer to where it should be compared to the blind spot camera display of recent Tesla updates.

The question is, will it impress enough to lift Audi’s electric sales or will it just lure e-Tron SUV buyers over the line?

I think the opportunity to own a tri-motor EV – and the fact that there is still no timeline for the arrival of the Tesla Plaid in Australia – could be enough for the well-heeled to choose the Audi over a wait for the Model S or a more expensive but less well-specced Taycan.

 

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