Audi e-tron S review: what’s the point of a 500bhp electric SUV? Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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First Drive

Audi e-tron S review: what’s the point of a 500bhp electric SUV?

£87,620 when new
Published: 29 Jan 2021


  • Range

    222 miles

  • Battery


  • BHP


  • 0-62


  • Max Speed


It’s about time we had an electric super-SUV from Audi.

I suppose you’re right. Audi’s made a mint building high-rise S cars and RS models powered by petrol (and diesel, until recently), but now it’s given the electric e-tron a kick up the, er, S.

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That means a bodykit, of course. The air intakes are wider, while 50mm wider wheelarch extensions struggle to contain 21-inch rims – 22s are optional – and with the retuned air suspension dropped into its slipperiest lo-drag setting, the slammed e-tron S takes on the brooding presence of a giant hot hatchback. Nice.

For £87,000 I’ll be wanting more… stuff than that.

Underneath, you get it. In a weird way, this thing’s almost a standard e-tron running in reverse. See, the beefier motor that’s normally carried on the rear axle has upped sticks and been relocated to the front.

Meanwhile, instead of a single rear motor Audi’s dropped two smaller motors in. This pair combine for yet more power and offer excitingly nerdy ways to shuffle the torque between the rear wheels. This should promote agile cornering. Heck, when Audi let us hoon a prototype around a test circuit, the e-tron S held powerslides.

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This thing will pull shapes an RS5 couldn’t dream of… given enough space. Nevada would be ideal.

Total output is 500bhp, but that’s dwarfed by a titanic 717lb ft of torque. Audi ought to offer flanged wheels as an option and sell these things to freight train companies. It’s a ruddy locomotive.

But you’re not on a test track (or a railway track) today, are you?

Nope, we’re in The Real World. Which, this week, is bitingly cold. The weather lurches from another layer of rain on the rotting leaf mulch to a dollop of sleet or a picture-postcard blanket of snow. Jack Frost, as we know by now, is about as friendly to electric car battery performance as high altitude is to combustion engines.

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But we’ll come back to range, because we need to talk speed.

Fast, is it?

It’s all at once as stupidly fast as you’d ever need a 2.6-tonne (!) family crossover to ever be, and somehow underwhelming. Audi claims 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds – a full second quicker than the standard e-tron – and what with the ghostly absence of noise and the instant BOOM of the hit, it’s swear-out-loud fast.

And yet… four point five is also nowhere these days. I’ve done the same sprint quicker in a Tesla Model X. It’s not big or clever. In fact it’s a pointless how-big’s-yours-mate measuring contest. But when so much of a fast EV’s reputation hinges on its drag race factor, one of these things either has to blow your mind into the middle of next week, or it’s failed.

I reckon it’s fast enough for most folks…

You’d hope so. Besides, you don’t have to drive the Audi like it’s a recently unpinned grenade. Notch it back from Sport mode to Drive mode and the powertrain relaxes. It’s still an effortless teleportation pod, and if you need a family car that explodes away from the lights more impatiently, you’re mad.

Right, so it’s easy to drive quickly. Time for a game of Fast Audi Bingo, is it?

Scorecards at the ready! As usual, there’s much speed. There’s also huge composure, a sense of density and planet-sized mass, and a suspicion you’re not quite sure how much slack there is in the laws of physics. Bingo.

This is a disgracefully heavy machine, weighing 2,620kg without a driver or his flask of winter-warming coffee on board. You’re talking a 2.7-tonne device as it leaves your driveway. It took me a while to pin down what it reminded me of, and eventually I worked out it’s a curling stone.

As the driver, you’re one of the players with a brush, suggesting with frantic fervour where the e-tron S might end up next, but not daring to get in the way of its mighty momentum. On a dry road however, the traction, grip and speed it’ll sustain through flowing corners beggars belief.

Really? I thought it would be a pudding.

Nope, the engineers have turned out another quintessential fast Audi here. Body roll is contained astoundingly well thanks to the clever air suspension, but the brakes feel synthetic underfoot and not once was I tempted to loosen off the ESC and see if those rear motors really do kick the tail into a graceful slide on the B4033 just outside Milton Keynes. How many fast Audi SUV drivers – whatever’s powering their thrusting badge chariot – actually do?

And this brings me to the niggling question at the heart of the ultimate e-tron: I can’t work out who this car is actually for.

Rich folk who want effortless speed, some luxury and no local carbon footprint, I suppose?

Sure, but something about the rise of the SUV taps into our innate human desire to be ready for anything. Come at me nature, Mother Earth, bad luck and Sod’s Law. It’s made carmakers cumulative billions, especially when Porsche (or was it BMW? Argue amongst yourselves) happened on the idea of splicing all that indispensable ‘just in case’ versatility with sportiness.

And I’m sorry, but the ‘electric performance SUV’ might well be a step too far. Jumped the shark, it has. Audi claims a 221-mile range for this 95kWh-equipped machine, so let’s immediately knock that down to 200 in The Pesky Real World.

Want the heater on? 180 miles. Fancy actually using some of the performance you’ve shelled out £90,000 for? A bolt away from a junction perhaps, or a surge down the motorway sliproad? Indulge that and you’re staring down the barrel of a sub-150-mile range.

Driven… ahem, how people drive their big expensive Audis, this e-tron S was returning 1.8 miles per kWh, despite being pre-conditioned to limit strain when the cabin was warmed up. I know, it’s cold outside and the car’s porky. But ran a hardly featherweight Porsche Taycan over Christmas, when it was equally chilly, and we averaged 2.3 miles per kWh.

With a useable battery capacity of 85kWh consumed at 1.8 miles per kWh, you’ve got a best-case scenario of 153 miles between e-tron recharges. For me, that detonates the warm fuzzy feeling of superiority that SUVs are supposed to cradle our fragile egos in. 150-odd miles is fine for urban city runabouts, but this deluxe bahnstormer deserves more.

What if you drive it like Greta intended?

In the interests of martyrdom – sorry, journalism – I did so, friends. Donned extra socks, left my coat on, switched into lethargic Efficiency mode – ignoring the temptations of the heated seat – and stuck rigidly to 65mph on the motorway. Only when the windows fogged was the heater deployed . The e-tron S was coaxed to a mighty 2.4 miles per kWh.

Great! Except, if you’re going to self-flagellate like that, you won’t want the ‘S’. You’ll get the lighter, rangier, regular e-tron. And save yourself £25,000. We like the standard e-tron – it took on the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes EQC and came out on top.

Come on, the old guard has to do something. It’s not going to be V8s forever.

Quite right. Don’t get me wrong, there’s stuff Audi’s really nailed here. The plushness of its ride even on giant rims is freakish – no mean feat in the UK. It’s outstandingly quiet, the e-tron cabin’s peerless build quality will have Tesla Model X drivers rage-quitting web chatrooms in droves, and the sheer ease of use is to be applauded.

It’s a very easy thing to settle into, this. Quickly, it becomes second nature to adjust your re-gen braking on the fly using the crisp steering wheel paddles. There’s nothing deliberately gimmicky or intimidating, especially if you avoid the optional door mirror cameras.

Treat this as a short-haul family speedpod and it’s a richly desirable object.

But for the money being asked here, a car of this size and weight that doesn’t offer true usability all year seems criminally wasteful. And that’s exactly the opposite of how an electric car should make you feel.

Audi E-Tron S

£86,285 (£95,470 as tested)
3 e-motors, 496bhp, 596lb ft, 717lb ft on overboost
0-62mph in 4.5sec, 130mph
95kWh battery, 221-mile claimed range

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