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Audi’s first electric car is more than just an E-SUV – it’s the future of driving

The new Audi e-tron might sound like a spaceship from a sci-fi blockbuster, but on the sand dunes of Abu Dhabi we found this futuristic EV to be a surprisingly engaging drive 

I remember when the first iPhone was launched featuring fingerprint technology. Our CEO, a Cornishman, was baffled by the technology. “Wow! We are living in the future!” he enthused, only half joking. There are few technological advancements that offer that feeling. Telling Alexa to turn on your TV; using your phone to pay for the Tube; using your phone to pay for anything, really.

The designers behind the Audi e-tron understand this: the theatre of new technology. Just take the name, for starters: the e-tron. It sounds like a spaceship from a sci-fi blockbuster. Then you unlock the car and the lights perform an epic display somewhere between the Bellagio fountains and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Next, check your wing mirrors before you set off. Apart from there are no wing mirrors; in their place are video cameras, which transmit images to seven-inch OLED displays on the inside door panels. This world first isn’t (just) for show; they reduce the width of the car by 15cm and improve aerodynamics making the car that little bit faster and more efficient.

And then there’s the drive. Nothing feels quite like living in the future as the serenity of driving an electric vehicle (EV). In the e-ron, you’re only vaguely aware of the slightest whine from the motors – and only when you accelerate – and tyre noise is reduced to a distant hum. The quiet is also aided by the impressive drag coefficient (a mere 0.27).

If you want to go fast, you don’t engage ‘Sport’ mode but rather ‘Boost’. This lets you tap into all 402bhp and 487lb ft of torque of the e-tron’s two motors. The result is a linear and unceasing zero-to-60mph time of 5.7 seconds. It’s not as mind blowing as a Tesla, but it’s still an impressive feat – especially for a car this heavy (it weighs in at 2,490kg, thanks in no small part to the 700kg of lithium ion batteries).

There are no wing mirrors; in their place are video cameras, which transmit images to seven-inch OLED displays on the inside door panels

One of the biggest issues with EVs to date has been weight. Sure, they’re fast in a straight line but somewhat ironically similar to an old American V8, they struggle with anything where you might need to turn the steering wheel. To prove this notion wrong, Audi invited us to test out the e-tron out on some corners – a lot of them.

We’re on the Jebel Hafeet mountain road about two hours east of Abu Dhabi. The epic pass is the party piece of the region’s largest mountain range. Google it, and the first hit is from ‘dangerousroads.org’. Indeed, on the trip we were on, a colleague from another magazine that shall remain nameless managed to write off one of the cars. Nothing to do with the Audi: he just ran out of tarmac – and talent.

The 7.3mile road winds up 4,000ft of mountainous terrain. The red rock that surrounds it is as vivid as an Englishman’s sunburn. It was certainly enough to put the Audi’s speed-dependent air suspension to the test.

As well as the centre of gravity being reassuringly grounded, the car itself is lower than a traditional SUV – it’s 43mm shorter than the Q5, for example. Plus, the all-wheel drive delivers lots of juicy grip. Unless, of course, you actually want to lose grip. Take the ESP off, then you’ll even get some (whisper it quietly) oversteer. This is unheard of in an EV, and makes it a surprisingly engaging car to drive.

Electric Dreams

Abu Dhabi might seem like an odd place to launch an EV given the Emirate is fuelled – both literally and figuratively – by the oil business. But it’s also one of the only places in the world with an exclusively solar-powered city. Masdar City is powered by a 10Mw Solar Photovoltaic plant, the largest solar farm in Middle East and North Africa. Although it’s a relatively nascent development, it’s aiming to have 11,000 residents and a further 11,000 workers within the next five years. Siemens has already set up its Middle East HQ here.

The other interesting thing about this place is its unique taxi service. Driverless EVs called Navya take you around and under the city. You can control where they go via an iPad; it’s eerily cool.

The e-tron has equally impressive eco-creds having been built at Audi’s CO2-neutral plant in Brussels. Charging the e-tron is as efficient as the car itself: 80% battery capacity can be hit in just half an hour from a fast charger. You’ll get a 249-mile range if you treat the accelerator with respect. And thanks to its innovative coasting and braking recuperation system, you’ll be able to top the batteries up as you go. Just find a hill to go down and let the car do the rest. Hey presto, you’re making your own fuel.

Audi will offer an e-tron charging service card that will allow access to the majority of charging points through one card. For home charging, your e-tron will be fully juiced in 8.5 hours. Upgrade to the 22kW charger, and it will do it in just over four.

To prove the e-tron’s SUV ability, we took it to the desert. Admittedly, your average school run will not comprise 300m-high sand dunes. But it’s nice to know that should the apocalypse finally come or we get attacked by aliens, your e-tron can handle the rough stuff.

From the exterior, the only extras that point to the e-tron’s EV status are the name badge and optional orange brake calipers. The bright orange is a nod to high-voltage cables; it’s the same colour as the wires linking up the 36 battery modules beneath the car.

Inside, it’s much like any other Audi. It has the same excellent dual-screen layout as the A6, A7 and A8, complete with haptic feedback. There’s also the option of ioniser and a fragrancing system, offering scents for both summer and winter.

Through Alexa, you can instruct your e-tron to preheat on a cold morning – or ask how much charge is left in the car. And from inside the e-tron, you can also use smart home functions, for example, selecting specific music to be playing before you arrive home. (We suggest ‘Eye of the Tiger’ if you really want to make an entrance.)

It’s all pretty amazing; it’s all pretty e-tron. Welcome to the future.

From £71,490. For more information, see audi.co.uk