The all-electric Audi e-tron is the perfect car if you like shopping. That’s because you invariably end up spending more time than expected in the car park of your local superstore, while you wait for the bulky SUV to replenish its batteries.
That’s not to talk down the Audi e-tron however. The car itself is great. It’s roomy, comfortable and the one we had on loan, a Galaxy Blue metallic e-tron 55 quattro 265kW
featured the top specification. That meant it was fully loaded, with a feast of options that took the test model price up to £79,270.00.
The main issue we had though was with the charging infrastructure, which the UK is still struggling to make cohesive and user-friendly. It is actually possible to get an 80 per cent charge in about half an hour with the e-tron. Sadly though you’ll need to use a beefy 150kW recharging facility in order to do it. And with those as rare as hen’s teeth in the UK, you’ll be stuck with charging points that offer about a third of that potential at best.
While we were thankful for the Pod Point charging points at the local-ish Tesco Extra, which were free to use, they weren’t all that fast. In fact, in just under an hour all we’d added to our range on the e-tron was a paltry 10 miles. That was enough to, well, get us back home again and still have enough charge to find another point later on.
And while the Pod Point itself was free, there were added extras that factored in a cost of sorts. First off, we meandered around Tesco’s to kill some time, which is a store that we’d never normally go anywhere near, picking through a random shopping list that ended up being more expensive than the usual Asda. Plus, after going out to the car, putting everything in the boot and taking the trolley back to get our quid returned, we decided to head back inside the store for a look in the upstairs part of said Tesco. That resulted in an unexpected underwear purchase, while Super Mario Maker for the Switch was a nearly-but-not-quite £40 spend too.
So, overpriced groceries and a multipack of underwear meant that we were actually down on the deal. Nevertheless, the charging point did work and it was wonderfully easy to use. Granted, the Pod Point app started off showing our charging status, but a nervous glance at the screen in the meat section and it appeared to have lost the car and there was no sign of charging going on.
Outside in the darkness though, after a hurried exit to double-check, the e-tron was still pulsating green, next to the plug socket, indicating that all was good. That meant one more foray into the superstore for a bottle of Pellegrino, although we actually managed to find a deal on a four pack of the posh sparkling water, so we reduced our additional outlay, albeit just a tad.
The next morning, a Sunday, we decided to try another tack and headed for a Charge Your Car outlet in the town. We’d downloaded the app the night before and had put a credit card on the account, which meant that we could go along, plug in and get charged. But, arriving at the first charging point we’d researched revealed a snag – the charging cable on the outlet wasn’t long enough to reach the socket on the e-tron.
This is a bit of an issue generally as it turned out. While the e-tron conveniently has one socket on the back of each front wing, hidden behind a cover, it can be hard to reach. Even with the cables that are longer you have to park as close as you can to the outlet and even then the cable often has to trail over the front wing.
Over time that’s not going to be good for your paintwork. However, it also meant that the first point we went to was useless. So it was on to another one at the local council offices, where we were promised high speed charging. On arriving there it was not only better positioned, but had nobody using it. Result.
This Charge Your Car outlet was much better too. We got plugged in and, despite the sign asking us to phone a number to get charging – which was engaged and/or out of order, we did manage to get a charge underway using the app alone. The cost was £4 up to an hour, and £12 thereafter, so we headed off down the road for a game of crazy golf to kill some more time. That was another tenner incidentally.
Luckily, the app allows you to end the charge when you want, so while we were heading back to pick up the car we managed to stop the charge at 58 minutes. Sadly, the range had only gone up from 65 to 95 miles. The reason for this, as we realised afterwards, was that we'd plugged in the slow charger rather than the fast option, which has a different connector. Rookie mistake.
Things improved on Monday though. We looked up another option in the shape of InstaVolt, which had a pair of brand new charging points next to a Starbucks off the A31. This was by far the best experience of the three, with the simplest instructions and a user-friendly fast connection. The cable was a bit on the tight side again mind, but aside from that charging was a doddle.
With InstaVolt there’s no need for an app, registration or any other malarkey. Simply tap a debit card against the machine, plug in and press start. You get a readout on the charger that tells you progress and, once you’ve pressed stop, it also gives you a final total of how much you spend. And you only pay for the electric that you’ve used.
We added another 150 miles to the range in just over an hour, but while it gave us time to eat a packed lunch, we still ended up buying an overpriced latte in the Starbucks. Another £3.25, plus £17 for the charge. But in terms of efficiency and convenience then InstaVolt seems to have got things just about right. It’s just a shame they don't have a bigger network currently.
As for the Audi e-tron then we got to like it a lot. This is an expensive car, but armed with all those extras it offers a sublime ride. You’re high up, cushioned in comfort and the array of controls are, by and large, very easy to use. And, with a big car to move around, and park, an option like the 360-degree camera is a welcome addition to the specification if you’re prepared to pay for it.
Performance-wise the e-tron 55 quattro 265kW is also hugely impressive. It can be frugal on battery usage if you’re careful, but at the same time the beefy torque from the battery power and all-wheel-drive system makes it very able to get you out of roundabouts, junctions and suchlike with no issues at all.
On a longer run meanwhile you can get on down the road very nicely indeed. However, if you’ve got a leadfoot then expect to see your battery level depleting alarmingly fast. And, at the back of your mind you’ll be wondering where the next ‘usable’ charging point is going to be. Zap Map, the dynamic app that tells you where charging points are in the UK has never been more useful…