Audi Q6 e-tron prototype review: an electric SUV that'll go sideways Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Audi Q6 e-tron prototype review: an electric SUV that'll go sideways

Published: 27 Jul 2023

Nice camouflage…

Isn’t it? Apparently there’s a guy in Audi’s design team specifically tasked with devising a camo wrap/paint job that disguises a still-secret car without making it look lumpen. We like the white wheels, white grille and the lines that accentuate the ‘quattro’ blistered wheel arches.

Insofar as we can tell, this is another well-proportioned, slickly executed Audi. Though not as stimulating as the 90 Quattro IMSA GTO. But then, few cars are.

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So where does the Q6 e-tron fit in the grand scheme of things?

Between the Q4 and Q8 e-tron, logically enough. But hasn’t come all the way to the magnificent Faroe Islands – floating midway between Scotland and Iceland and a topographic mix of the two – for a design critique or to count the abundant sheep, we’re on prototype drives in the 55 and SQ6. This matters because they’re underpinned by the group’s all-new PPE architecture, co-developed with Porsche.

Tell us more.

Well, P stands for ‘premium’, so it’ll be reserved for the VW Group’s bigger, faster and more dynamic cars. As well as the Audi Q6 e-tron, it’ll sit under the next-gen Porsche Macan EV, as well as a panoply of future Audis. It’s been a long time coming, and the path to its arrival hasn’t always been smooth.

VW’s MEB platform has suffered well-publicised software travails, and CEO Thomas Schäfer has made a few punchy statements of late about the state of play. In other words, PPE is a high stakes development in the grand scheme of things, especially given that the Q5 is Audi’s current best-seller.

How much do we know?

Across two days, we got to co-drive with various big-brained experts in thermal efficiency, power electronics, software management, and even an old-fashioned chassis engineer who has a Caterham Superlight tucked away in his garage. Audis haven’t always been fleet-footed or especially interactive, but there was much talk of how the new platform emphasises the company’s ‘dynamic DNA’. This is an intriguing transition.

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Fair enough, but we’ve heard that before. Is there any truth in it?

There’s no doubting the effort that’s been expended here. The Q6 e-tron 55 that we spent the most time with has a dual motor configuration good for 396bhp, with an asynchronous induction one on the front axle and a permanent-magnet synchronous motor on the rear axle. The motors, power electronics and software are all developed in-house. Technical highlights include the use of silicon-carbide semi-conductors which have greater thermal efficiency, while the motors use hairpin windings rather than round ones – another efficiency gain.

There’s direct oil cooling for the rotor and stator which improves power density and reduces the requirement for rare-earth elements. Audi’s engineers remain coy on the exact details because the car is still undergoing homologation, but the battery pack is approximately 100kWh and sits beneath the floor between the axles. Significantly, the new Q6 e-tron uses 800-volt hardware and assuming you can find a 270kW charger it’ll happily hook up to it.

Audi is targetting a 373-mile overall range, with a recharge from 10 to 80 per cent taking less than 30 minutes and a 155-mile replenish achievable in 10…

We’ll need some infrastructural improvements to do that. Come on then, what’s it like to drive?

Honestly, objectively difficult to fault in most of the key respects. Yes, it’s another 2.5-tonne SUV, a concept that continues to pose basic philosophical questions. Suffice to say, it’s what the market wants and that’s what BEVs currently weigh. Also, the roads up here are fantastic, including some that run through spectacular underwater tunnels (including one that even features a roundabout).

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With a new multi-link front and rear suspension set-up and air springs, the Q6 rides with impressive compliance. We did find some patches closer in texture to the UK’s most egregious surfaces, but they were smoothly dispatched, too. There’s a palpable integrity here, although there were few opportunities for any of the slidey interactivity it can apparently deliver.

An electric Audi that can go sideways? Are you sure about that?

What can we say? It definitely has that spirit, although the steering could be more informative. Depending on which mode you’ve selected, the Q6 is predominantly rear-drive, and it’s obvious that much effort has gone into finessing the throttle response. There’s no trace of the trigger-happy, on/offiness that assails some EVs, and torque vectoring sharpens things appreciably. We kept it mostly in ‘balanced’ mode, trading the available handling smarts and extra grunt served up by ‘Dynamic’ in favour of more mindful – and range extending – progress. The upshot is a remarkably easy car in which to make smooth, rapid and engaging progress, if the mood takes you.

In ‘Dynamic’ mode there’s a deeper, darker soundtrack, nothing like as interesting or intrusive as the sci-fi whoosh you can conjure up in a BMW iX. In ‘Comfort’ mode, there’s little motor whine, and even less vibration. Refinement is arguably the Q6 e-tron’s defining attribute. The 55 will hit 62mph in less than six seconds and is fast enough everywhere to make the 510bhp SQ6 moot, especially with its reduced range.

A 600bhp RS Q6 e-tron will arrive a year or so after the others, with a 45 model filling in at the other end of the range, with prices starting at £55k. A note on its braking system and brake feel, too, which manages to be equal parts effective and natural. That’s if you need to lean on the friction brakes. Most of the time you can stop the car sensibly using the steering column-mounted regen paddles.

Any news on the interior and what used to be called the dashboard?

Ah. Most of it remained hidden under black cloth covers. Audi wants to keep its powder dry on that. But the word is that the Q6 e-tron will debut a whole new MMI and infotainment system, one that will likely challenge BMW’s class-leading ‘curved glass’ configuration. What we could see and feel was good, although the haptics on the door mirror switches and electric windows were questionable. It’s roomy inside, though.

There’s also some impressive new tech. The Q6 e-tron uses customisable daytime running lights with 61 individual segments. Third generation OLED tail-lights are capable of displaying animations – including a little warning triangle – to drivers behind, as part of the Q6’s ‘Car-to-X’ functionality and Audi’s cloud-based road monitoring system. The rear lights use 360 individual elements in six OLED tiles. The tech is currently running ahead of what most major markets’ regulatory bodies will allow. Including the sort of sweary message you’d probably like to send to an M25 tail-gater.

You sound impressed.

We are. Perhaps more than we expected, based on this admittedly limited exposure. There’s terrific refinement here and even some character, backed up by the promise of an advanced and imaginatively conceived new user interface. The Q e-tron will arrive in the UK early next year, but Audi is clearly on a positive trajectory.


Audi Q6 e-tron 55 quattro
Price: £65,000 est
Powertrain: 100kWh battery (gross), dual motor, 396bhp
Transmission: single speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Top speed: tbc
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Range: 370 miles 
Charging: 270 kW

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