Audi Q4 e-tron sets new standards for premium EVs
Audi Q4 e-tron hits a sweet spot for an all-purpose electric car, and is the brand’s best EV to date
With the Audi Q4 e-tron, the brand’s electrification programme has come of age. While this mid-size SUV is by no means the most powerful, prestigious, or sizeable EV that Audi offers, it is definitely the best to date, mostly by virtue of its mix of the familiar and the practical. It’s also a testament to the complexity and importance of modern brand management, and how the advent of the electric age will accelerate the need for distinct, different brand identities.
The Volkswagen Group has to be more mindful than most about such things, given its portfolio of increasingly competitive brands in the premium sector. The Q4 e-tron uses the Volkswagen Group’s Modular Electrification Toolkit (MEB) system, a flexible kit of parts that forms the building blocks of its latest generation of EVs. The Q4’s MEB configuration is closely related to the Skoda Enyaq iV and the Volkswagen ID 4. The ‘4’ designation is an unusually explicit acknowledgement of the connection between the three.
To distinguish the Audi from the VW and Skoda, there’s a more premium touchscreen interface (acknowledging Audi’s decades-long lead in this department), as well as a partnership with Sonos for the (optional) high-end audio system. Audi’s ‘digital cockpit’ allows most essential info to be directed into the main instrument binnacle behind the wheel, or projected onto the head-up display. Other quirks include the protruding ledge that houses the drive selector and an ‘off’ button that doesn’t give quite enough feedback to indicate the car is actually now powered down (most screens remain on and do so until you open the door and get out of your seat). The gulf between the language of car design and electronic device design is slowly closing, but there’s still a way to go.
Slightly less substantial than the first wave of electrified SUVs (like the Mercedes EQC or Audi’s own e-tron S, the Q4 e-tron hits something of a sweet spot for an all-purpose electric car. It has five seats, plenty of luggage space, the raised driving position beloved of families and city drivers, and a sensible range of 300 miles or more. There’s no equivalent Q4 ICE model; this is an electric-only car from the outset.
Visually, it shares a lot of well-established Audi styling elements, from the dynamic LED lighting front and rear, to the deep, prominent grille. Audi has spent the best part of 20 years incrementally enlarging this signature identifier, a frame for the four ring logo. On tall, bulky SUVs with large combustion engines, this made a certain amount of sense, but EVs don’t need quite so much cooling. Audi’s current collection of EV concepts suggest the grille will evolve once again into a smooth area of carefully shaped bodywork, but for now it remains the most anachronistic element of the Q4’s otherwise coherent design.
Credit must also be given to the Q4’s lack of emphasis on performance. Going fast has always been a key spoke in Audi’s brand identity and the fastest EVs are slowly starting to wean ‘enthusiasts’ off the internal combustion engine. Audi has this covered with its Audi RS e-tron GT, which in turn is closely related to Porsche’s Taycan, probably the most complete electric sports car you can buy. However, as we’ve noted before, speed is increasingly becoming a secondary consideration for electric vehicles. Until batteries are capacious enough to dispel the last dregs of range anxiety, most EV buyers find themselves becoming compulsive ‘hypermilers,’ carefully conserving every last watt. The Q4 starts up in ‘efficiency’ mode, which is a small but significant concession to this mindset.
Nevertheless, it is a smooth and pleasurable car to drive, refined and quiet. The electric surge of acceleration is there if you want it, as are wheel-mounted paddles to ramp up the regeneration system, kinetically converting braking power into battery charge. There’s also a Sportback variant of the Q4, offering slightly better aerodynamics for slightly less luggage space.
One day, cars will be small(ish) again, as battery density improves and tastes change. For now, the Q4 e-tron represents the solid, stylish status quo of premium EV design. §