The air slips quietly over the aero-tweaked body as the corners arrive with a furious but soundless rush
IT’S A PRETTY abstract concept, this whole ‘future’ thing. But here’s one indicator you may have noticed: it doesn’t actually feel like the future. Instead of being startlingly unfamiliar and difficult to navigate, it actually feels the way things should have always been.
Perhaps you remember Apple founder Steve Jobs on stage unveiling the then-new iPhone back in 2007. If you were like me, your first thought was: “This guy sure doesn’t spend his billions in clothing stores.” But then, watching as the iPhone’s multifunction smarts and user-optimised interface were explained, you may have sat there going: “Of course. Makes complete sense. Why did anyone bother trying to do it differently?”
I’m experiencing that overarching sentiment from behind the wheel of Audi’s first mainstream EV as I thread it down a jinking, winding backroad in the lush, green Southern Highlands of NSW. Ahead of me, former Wheels Road Test Editor Nathan Ponchard is not sparing the watts to our 2020 Car of the Year, the Mercedes-Benz EQC. The pace is on, but the in-cabin tranquillity of the e-tron is that of a Bentley being used to chauffeur royalty. The tyres generate only a distant hiss on the bitumen, the air slips quietly over the aero-tweaked body, yet the corners arrive with a furious but soundless rush.
Later Ponch and I will dig a bit deeper into the downsides of trading combustion for electric motors, but right now there are a couple of irrefutable facts. One, this pair mirror the broader direction of the global automotive industry, and that course is unequivocally set. And secondly, if you ignore for a moment the questions of green credentials and cradleto-grave impacts, instead just focusing on the fundamental user experience, well, it’s quite brilliant.
As will become clear, both cars achieve such high levels of refinement, driveability and polished ease of daily operation that to separate them will require a greater drilling into other elements of the ownership experience. So let’s start with choice, prices, equipment and charging.
Straight away, the four-strong e-tron line-up gets a leg up over its one-model-fits-all Merc rival. The Audi may be late to the Aussie market – Wheels first drove the car in Abu Dhabi in 2018 – but it arrives here offering two battery/ output options, each available in either conventional SUV or sloping-roof Sportback body styles. Cheapest way in to e-tron ownership is with the 50 quattro SUV, with its 71kWh battery feeding two motors (front and rear, permanently excited synchronous) combining to provide 230kW/540Nm, and priced at $137,700. The regular range tops out with the 55 quattro Sportback at $157,700, the ‘55’ designation indicating a larger battery (95kWh) and higher output motors (for a short-burst maximum of 300kW/664Nm). For anyone undeterred by those sort of numbers, some 70 units of a higher-spec ‘First Edition’ model are offered for both ‘55’ body styles, adding around $13K for their rich equipment lists. Our test car is a 55 quattro SUV First Edition, priced at $159,000 and bumped up as-tested only by $2300 for metallic paint.
A better match, at least on price, would have been the e-tron 50 SUV, because in terms of battery capacity Merc’s EQC 400 packs an 80kWh unit that wedges itself, energywise, between the two Audi options. The Merc’s dual (asynchronous) motors, though, boast sizeable numbers, with combined power (300kW) bang on par with the