What are you driving?
Before I come back to that, I'd like to point out that Audi was born in noise. When the four, then-financially struggling, brands came together to form the original Auto Union (Audi, Horch, DKW, and Wanderer) almost the first thing it did was start up a racing team that fielded the world's first rear-engined racing car. The Auto Union Type-C, with its staggering V16 engine, may not have been truly the first Audi, but it wore the same four rings on its nose.
Was its spiritual successor the original Audi Quattro rally car? Possibly so, and the sound of that car's epic five-cylinder turbo engine echoing off snowbanks and trees is hard-wired into the brains of enthusiasts of a certain age. Even then, though, Audi was heading inexorably towards silence. The original Audi 100 saloon, with its flush-glazed windows, was impeccably quiet inside, and that was born at around the same time as the noisy, boisterous, Quattro.
Fast forward a little and Audi introduced diesel power to racing cars, with its dominant R10, R15 and R18 TDI Le Mans winners. Compared to the traditional bellow and shriek of rival racers, these cars were more akin to stealth bombers, whistling by all-but silently, at impossible speeds and gobbling up slower GT-category cars with hardly a backward glance. Noisy they may not have been, but impressive they sure as hell were.
Now, Audi's descent into silence has reached its perigee. Following years of experimentation with electric power (including the, alas stillborn, R8 e-tron supercar), Audi has put a fully electric car on sale. It's this, the e-tron quattro and it's gunning for Tesla, not to mention rivals from Jaguar and Mercedes.
To do that it combines a 95kWh battery with two electric motors - one for the front axle and one for the rear, giving the e-tron, natch, four-wheel drive to qualify for membership of the quattro club - and some pretty massive power outputs. Maximum figures of 408hp and 664Nm of torque would once have been enough for supercar status, but now they're available in a mid-sized SUV, which rather demonstrates the delicious potential of electric power for we enthusiasts.
In terms of size, the e-tron sits roughly between the Audi Q5 and Q8, but thanks to the pancake-flat battery pack sitting under the floor, and the lack of intrusion into cabin space by anything so unnecessary as an engine, or driveshafts, the space inside is considerably better than in either of those cars.
In terms of style, the e-tron also sits roughly half-way between the two. It's not as aggressive-looking as the Audi Q8 (a car that ranks among our guiltiest pleasures), but nor is it as white-bread as the Q5. There are neat details too, from the complex (if entirely unnecessary) grille to the motorised flaps that cover the charging ports - one for each side, and which have a lovely, Homer Simpson-pleasing flap-goes-down, flap-goes-up movement.
Inside, the cabin is essentially generic Audi - lots of screens, near-perfect build quality - which demonstrates that, if you're going to be generic, then generic Audi is a good place to be.
Name its best bits
Refinement is pretty much total. Quite apart from the lack of noise and vibration from an engine, the Audi e-tron shows just how much work car makers have done (and how much work they clearly avoid when it comes to conventional combustion-engined cars) in terms of suppressing wind and tyre noise. It is a hugely relaxing car in which to travel.
Relaxing too because you don't need to worry about range overmuch, even if you're unlikely to see that magic official 400km figure ever appear on the dashboard. If you're covering any motorway miles, or using the air conditioning a lot, then you'll most likely see closer to 350km, but it's a reliable 350, so long-haul journeys are easily on the cards. For what it's worth, the e-tron effortlessly soaked up my regular 200-or-so-km motorway run from Dublin to Belfast.
Performance is deeply impressive, too. With all that torque on tap from step-off, the e-tron feels entertainingly brisk, if not quite as animalistic as the (more expensive) Tesla Model X. As with pretty much all EVs, that performance tails off as you reach higher cruising speeds, but the e-tron does a good job of keeping the propulsion going.
Good, too, are the brakes, which deftly judge the changeover from regenerative braking (where the electric motors slow you down, recovering otherwise lost energy for the batteries as they do so) to mechanical, friction brakes. That regenerative effort is helpful, especially around town, for keeping your battery from depleting too quickly.
To drive? Well, it's a typical Audi, actually. Solid on the road, well-balanced and secure, but perhaps lacking the driver-pleasing balance of, say, the Jaguar I-Pace.
Anything that bugs you?
Well, it's sure not cheap. Charging up the batteries at a public charger might still be free, but with a starting point of €91,000 (including grants) this is a very pricey car, if one that's priced in line with its major competition. Worth remembering, though, that both Kia and Hyundai can sell you an EV with more range for almost one third the price (even if they're rather less luxurious than this).
I also have a quibble with the cabin of the e-tron. All those screens look cool, but they're occasionally, irritatingly, fiddly to use. That's doubly so on the move, where finding the right menu and the right function is just two distracting. At least Audi has kept a physical volume knob for the (excellent) stereo, though. That's helpful.
And why have you given it this rating?
Expensive as all-get-out it might be, but the Audi e-tron quattro will go down as one of the first truly satisfying electric cars. There is little-to-no range anxiety (net of the usual problems with the public charging network), impressive refinement and quality, nice styling and long-legged performance. Tesla had better watch out - Audi's well and truly on the electric car case.
What do the rest of the team think?
The Audi e-tron does nothing in an outstanding, headline-grabbing way, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's not to be taken seriously. This is an extremely polished creation that exudes quality and breeding from the get-go. It is expensive, however, and not very interesting to drive, but even so, it's a desirable ownership proposition with decent space on board.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor
I love how the e-tron drives; it's exactly what you would expect from Audi: it's quiet, comfortable and very refined. While it doesn't deliver the same driving excitement as the Jaguar I-Pace, the solidity and quality throughout still make it a very desirable car. No doubt many will like just how normal it looks, though, tempting as they may be, it's a better car without the camera mirrors as an option.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor