► Audi's first MEB car tested on UK roads
► Q4 e-Tron is best EV on the platform yet
► Up to 316 miles of electric range
You know how they say never buy the first version of a new Apple product? Perhaps a similar golden rule should be applied to electric cars. Now that we've driven the new Audi Q4 e-Tron in the UK, it's clear how fast EVs are evolving, and for the better.
The first model based on the VW Group's entry-level MEB electric platform, the VW ID.3 released last summer, had a premature, unfinished edge to it. But every new MEB derivative launched since then has bettered the previous version. The ID.4 is quantifiably more appealing than the hatchback, the Skoda Enyaq is more convincing overall than both Volkswagens, and now the Audi Q4 e-Tron raises the bar for looks, perceived quality, driveability and performance.
Before we get into that...
Yes, some headline specs. Built in Zwickau on the same line as the ID twins, Audi's entry-level e-SUV is also offered in Sportback guise, with a slightly more coupe-like shape and a drag coefficient of 0.26. In the UK, prices for the Q4 e-Tron start at £40,750, and for the Quattro version begin at £51,370. Lower-slung (by just 18mm) Q4 Sportback pricing has yet to be confirmed. but expect to pay a couple of grand more.
We've driven the sportier one, too: Audi Q4 Sportback e-Tron review
The line-up available at launch time consists of two rear-wheel-drive versions, the Q4 35 and 40 e-Tron, rated at 168bhp/229lb ft and 201bhp/229lb ft as well as the 295bhp/339lb ft Quattro edition, badged 50, which sports a bigger 77kWh (net) battery, and a second motor ready to drive the front wheels should traction issues or performance itches arise.
What are the entry-level Q4 e-Trons like to drive?
We've now driven the Q4 e-Tron 40 on British roads and performance is sufficient, if hardly neck-jerkingly fast; we expect the 35 model will likely feel a little sluggish with less oomph still. Overall it feels well judged though and what it lacks in Tesla-style fireworks it makes up for with serene refinement. This is a very relaxed electric car with amazing hush.
There is no start-up rigmarole. Like in a Tesla, merely approach the car, unlock, slide in, foot on the brake, nudge the stubby gearlever to D and off you set. No need to prod the starter button, mess with parking brakes or anything. It's all very easy.
The ride, even on the huge 20-inch Bridgestones of our test Audi Q4 e-tron 40 (204 PS), is surprisingly well damped. The wheels don't crash over potholes and the pliancy of the suspension is deeply impressive.
Audi Q4 50 e-Tron Quattro
We've also driven the 50 Quattro range-topper. The 295bhp Q4 manages to win the 0-62mph acceleration derby in just 6.2sec, giving it urgent acceleration at all speeds. More important still, its maximum range of 305 miles compares favourably to the 213 miles recorded to WLTP rules for its e-Tron big brother.
While the smaller 55kWh (42kWh net) energy pack installed in the 35 e-Tron can be charged with up to 100kW, the 40 and 50 Q4 e-Trons accept a maximum dose of 125kW. A 10-minute plug-in stint typically extends the range by 80 miles. The official consumption spectrum ranges from 3.0 to 3.8 miles per kWh, which barely differs from the e-Tron GT.
These numbers show that yesterday's plug-in heroes are overtaken left, right and centre by newer models boasting more advanced batteries, motors and software. You have been warned...
The best electric SUVs: our guide
What else makes the new Q4 e-Tron stand out?
Surprisingly, Q4's interior design and the overall craftsmanship are superior to many larger Audis, not to mention the fact that the top-of-the-line Q4 50 e-Tron quattro costs £10k less than the base full-size e-Tron SUV, which is 300mm longer but not dramatically roomier inside.
The Q4 cockpit, then, is a class act, with some exceptions: the silly iPod volume control, the available quartic steering wheel (again, standard with the top two trims) and the unpadded armrest and centre console where long legs typically come to rest.
Up front, there is enough room to swing a tiger kitten, space in row two is also generous, visibility is panoramic (less so in the Sportback), and the top-notch surfaces which used to be typical of the brand until the arrival of the latest A1 and A3 are back in full force.
That flat floor is a real boon here: check out the photo above and notice the total absence of a transmission tunnel - and there's plenty of space for feet and heads in the second row. No wonder Audi claims a Q3 footprint but interior space of the Q5. It's a proper family wagon, this.
In contrast to the confusingly alternative ergonomics pioneered by the ID.3, the Audi brings back the classic direct-access temperature controls, puts the gear selector back where it belongs and reduces the number of vague touch sliders to a minimum. Depending on the depth of your pocket, there are up to three different (and largely redundant) displays to select from. On top of this all, voice control attempts to guide you through a vast variety of menus and sub-menus. Less might be more.
How does the Q4 drive?
It's all very normal to drive, and we say that in a positive fashion. You sit a little higher, in that lofted driving position beloved of crossover drivers. It's easy to see out and the car's extremities are easy to judge.
The Q4 e-Tron's more muscular stance supports a more eager turn-in action than other MEB-based cars, a more neutral cornering balance and a smoother driver-to-car interaction.
Our Q4 50 e-Tron 50 quattro refrained from picking a fight with every pothole in reach, wriggling its shoulders when straddling aquaplaning grooves and jarring the driver's palms in the wake of gaping expansion joints. Instead, it's all very quiet, hushed and smooth. It's one of the quietest cars at a motorway cruise we can remember (that sleek drag coefficient helps significantly here).
Although Skoda and VW have announced all-wheel-drive versions of their MEB cars, the Q4 Quattro is actually the first of its kind to come to market, launcehd in summer 2021. Along with more power, it introduces adaptive torque vectoring to the handling sweepstakes, and its variable dynamic weight distribution makes the car more chuckable through fast zig-zag corners.
The two propulsion units orchestrate the wheel-selective Quattro system, which minimises understeer and oversteer while cementing directional stability even on tricky surfaces.
Our test car was shod with optional 235/255 21 tyres, the ride was (with the adjustable dampers locked in Comfort) commendably supple even at low speed and over sudden transverse disturbances, while the steering is nicely progressive.
The Drive Select system invites you to set the helm, both motors and the torque distribution in your choice of Comfort, Auto, Efficiency, Individual or Dynamic modes, but is in effect more of a gimmick than a real bonus with the exception of the Range and Efficiency programmes, which seriously curb consumption by limiting maximum speed.
Any efficiency tech?
Well, there's Audi's Predictive Efficiency Assistant. It's been on Audi models from the moment the current A6 arrived, and naturally evolved for the electric age. It monitors the real-time traffic flow and road signs via its sat-nav connection.
Stick the gearlever (or is it more of a nodule?) in B and the Q4 will automatically recuperate with up to 145kW, which practically puts the brakes on the dole. In D for Drive, paddles (standard on Edition 1 and Vorsprung versions, optional on Sport and S-line) make it easy to select one of three regeneration stages, or to choose the overly cautious automatic programme.
We'd recommend picking the battery size that suits your driving needs. If you regularly drive around town and most of your trips are short hops, you'll be fine with the smaller 52kWh battery pack in the 35 models, bringing a range between 193-208 miles, depending on spec. However, our test drives have so far concentrated on the bigger 77kWh batteries, swelling the promised WLTP range to 279-316 miles.
The range meter proves remarkably accurate. It adjusts to your driving style and environment, and we typically found the larger batteried models would display 250-260 miles in our tenure - but then reliably delivered that, even during faster cross-country trips and motorway journeys.
Audi Q4 e-Tron: verdict
The Q4 e-Tron hits the trendy new targets of EV ownership (range over power, charging speed over top speed) with aplomb. Its footprint is small enough for it to pass as planet-friendly urbanite and to calm the social acceptance watchdogs. At the same time, it can be customised to the taste and budget of a rich person ready to jump from the combustible past to the electrified future.
Like it or not, but cars like this are the new normal.
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Specs for a Q4 e-Tron 50 quattro First Edition