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Audi has taken the covers off its first ever electric car, the e-tron quattro SUV, at a major event in San Francisco. The German brand says that it decided on the capital of Silicon Valley as the launch location for its battery-powered SUV because of the importance of the American car market to the vehicle's potential success, but it surely can't be a coincidence that the sky was lit up with a gigantic Audi four-rings symbol, formed by a squadron of expertly-flown drones, right in Tesla's back yard.
The e-tron sits between the Q5 and Q8 in Audi's range, in terms of size, and has similar interior space to the Q5. It uses the same 'MLB Evo' platform as the Q5, not the forthcoming MEB all-electric platform (shared with Volkswagen) nor the new premium car electric platform, which Audi is developing with Porsche.
Power comes from a 95kWh battery, weighing a hefty 700kg, which makes up most of the floor of the car. At least that keeps the centre of gravity relatively low, and the battery powers two electric motors - one for each axle. The e-tron was originally designed around a three-motor setup; one for the front axle and two for the rear, but that was changed during the design process, most likely for cost reasons. Audi says that it may introduce a three-motor setup at some point during the car's life, possibly as an S or RS model.
Range is currently quoted as 400km on the WLTP cycle, potentially putting the e-tron ahead, slightly, of the likes of the Jaguar I-Pace and the Mercedes EQC. Audi says that as much as 30 per cent of the range figure is down to a very clever new brake-by-wire system, which decides whether the car needs to coast, to regenerate, or to physically brake, when you lift off the throttle or apply the brake pedal.
"When you apply the brake, the system decides whether it's advantageous to regenerate, or to brake more heavily with the mechanical brakes. We have an intelligent regeneration system, which takes data from the satnav and the front-facing camera. So, if you lift off and there is no car in front of you, nor a corner or a roundabout coming up, the car will just coast. But if it knows that you must slow, then it will use the regeneration system. It's fully automatic," Siegfried Pint, one of Audi's senior powertrain engineers, told CompleteCar.ie in San Francisco.
The e-tron is also the debut car for Audi's new rear-facing camera setup. Designed to trim the car's aerodynamic profile, these slim camera units replace traditional door mirrors, and will be available as an option right from the get-go. They transmit their images to small OLED screens, supplied by Samsung, mounted in the door panels. Those screens can be zoomed in, and there's built-in blind-spot detection. They contribute to an overall coefficient of drag figure of 0.27 - exceptional for a tall SUV.
The rest of the e-tron's interior is basically lifted from the A7 and A8, with the same twin-touchscreen setup and the same Virtual Cockpit instruments. Unlike BMW's dramatic iNext concept, Audi is deliberately and vocally swerving any design controversy with this car, and head of design Mark Lichte kept returning to the theme of 'familiarity' when talking about the e-tron. It's designed to be an Audi first, and an electric car second, and clearly the intention is to not scare off any potential customers through avant garde styling.
Audi Ireland says that it has deposits for the car numbering in the "multiples of dozens" and that expressions of interest run into the thousands. The e-tron will be priced between €85,000 and €90,000 when it goes on sale here in the spring of 2019, and there will be the usual SE and S line trim levels.