Audi Electrifies Its Compact SUV Lineup With the Q4 E-Tron and Q4 E-Tron Sportback
They may look like the automaker’s gas-powered compact SUVs, but these EV versions feature new tech and different guts
We've seen Audi's flashy, expensive electric flagship—the E-Tron GT. But the luxury brand's electrified secret weapon is likely to be more mundane, like the pair of entry-level electric SUVs it plans to bring to market this year: the Q4 E-Tron and the Q4 E-Tron sportback.
The base Q4 E-Tron will start at $45,000, but the cutting edge gadgetry Audi offers as options will no doubt add to its overall price. Even so, the base price brings it close to the national average for new car prices, bringing it within striking distance of the Tesla Model Y, and well below luxury models like the Jaguar I-Pace and Polestar 2.
Volkswagen Group, which owns the Audi brand, has made no secret about its plans to electrify much of its lineup in the coming years. The Audi Q4 E-Tron and Q4 E-Tron sportback will be the latest models to join the automaker’s broadening electric lineup. Audi says it hopes the Q4’s $45,000 starting price will broaden its appeal, and help the automaker become a more significant player in the EV market, particularly among the luxury brands that currently dominate EV sales.
Size-wise, the Q4 E-Tron sits between Audi’s most popular gasoline-powered SUVs—the Q3 and the Q5. And it has exterior styling that corresponds to its more traditional cousins, both in SUV and sportback guise. Although the Q4 E-Tron will be built on the EV-specific MEB platform that underpins the recently introduced Volkswagen ID.4, Audi says the Q4 E-Tron will be uniquely Audi, both in terms of the driving experience and in the use of more luxurious touches.
Along with the larger, more expensive E-Tron SUV and E-Tron sportback models, and the new E-Tron GT, Audi is fleshing out its EV presence with a model at the entry-level end of its lineup. The automaker is undoubtedly betting that the lower-priced Q4 E-Tron will help it gain the most traction in the EV market. It can’t be an accident that it looks like an EV version of the automaker’s two bestselling models—the Q3 and the Q5.
The Q4’s conservative styling and familiar appearance don’t seem aimed at wowing the car-buying public with something new. That job falls to the electric powertrains and cutting-edge technology living beneath its skin.
Only time will tell whether the Q4 E-Tron popular-SUV-guise will appeal to consumers. According to TrueCar, average market prices for the Q3 and Q5 are around $35,000 and $42,000, respectively. Federal, state, and local EV tax incentives may bring the Q4 E-Tron's starting price into that range, but many of the features that car buyers will most likely want—all-wheel drive, a full suite of active safety features, augmented reality head-up display, virtual cockpit—will be available only with the addition of optional equipment packages that add to the vehicle’s overall cost. Audi has not yet released pricing on those.
There are no surprises with the Q4 E-Tron's exterior styling. Size-wise, the Q4 E-Tron fits roughly between the Q3 and Q5 gasoline-powered SUVs and mimics their clean lines, stubby front and rear sections, and prominent grille. On the electric version, though, the maw is largely vestigial. Cooling air for the battery system comes in through a large vent in the front bumper just below the faux grille, improving aerodynamics and deflecting air toward the cooling intake. The vehicle’s wheels will be large, between 19 and 21 inches in diameter.
Audi says the short front on the two Q4 models improves visibility, but it also means there will be no “frunk,” the extra small storage cubby found under the hoods of a number of EVs. In the Q4, that space will be occupied by the electrical cooling, braking, and air conditioning systems. The more aerodynamic sportback version features a large rear window bisected by a spoiler.
The Q4 E-Tron’s interior looks very much like those in other popular Audi models. A large center touch screen and digital instrument cluster—both oriented toward the driver—dominate the dash. Audi’s virtual cockpit—a customizable instrument cluster display that centers on the car’s energy usage but includes a variety of different information displays that can be chosen by the driver—is optional. The standard instrument cluster display is digital, too, but the gauges are fixed and cannot be moved into custom configurations.
Climate controls are contained in a separate cluster below the main touch screen. A touch rotary control for the audio system—which Audi says functions similarly to a classic iPod—sits on a panel below the climate controls, near the shifter and start button, within easy reach of the driver’s right hand.
A rakish steering wheel with squared-off top and bottom edges is optional. Either the squared off or standard round version will feature touch-and-swipe controls with haptic feedback to help the driver navigate various menus without removing hands from the steering wheel.
The wheel will also include a sensor in the rim to make sure the driver has hands on the steering wheel when the adaptive cruise control system is in use. Higher trims get steering wheel heat and paddles for selecting different modes in the car’s regenerative braking system.
Seats will be available in a variety of colors, and in materials ranging from leather to a polyester material made with recycled plastic bottles, which will likely appeal to many environmentally conscious buyers. The carpet and floor mats will also be made from old plastic bottles. Seat heat, power adjustment, and power lumbar support are all optional. The driver’s seat will include an extra airbag in the right-hand bolster to help prevent impact between the driver and front-seat passenger in the event of a collision.
Audi says an optional heat pump that uses heat generated by the electrical system can help heat the car more consistently on long drives in cold weather.
What Drives It
The Q4 E-Tron will be available in two different trims: 40 E-Tron and 50 E-Tron quattro. The 40 uses a one-motor rear-wheel-drive powertrain combined with an 82-kWh battery pack to produce 201 hp. The top-of-the-line 50 has the same battery pack and a 295-hp, two-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain.
Audi says driving ranges based on European testing standards are 323 miles for the 40 trim and 303 miles for the 50 quattro trim. The sportback model, which Audi says will be available only with all-wheel drive, will have a 309-mile range—slightly higher than the equivalent SUV model.
In all-wheel-drive models, the permanently activated rear motor does the lion’s share of the propulsion work. The front motor kicks in when more power or traction is required—such as under heavy acceleration or when the rear wheels lose traction.
Safety and Driver Assistance Systems
Audi says that, like the Q3 and Q5 SUVs, the Q4 E-Tron will be available with a suite of active safety features, but the automaker couldn’t confirm yet which ones will be standard and which will cost extra. On the menu are systems like forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning, and parking assist. Upgrades to the FCW and AEB systems detect collision hazards in all directions around the vehicle, and can close windows and sunroofs and pretension seat belts if the electronic stability control system detects skidding or hard braking. Left turn and collision avoidance assist systems will be available, as will parking sensors and parking-assistance systems.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC), which regulates speed and maintains a set following distance behind the car ahead, will be optional and can be upgraded to adaptive cruise assist, which adds light steering assistance to the adaptive cruise feature. Audi will offer a feature called predictive efficiency assist, which will analyze navigation information, road signs, and other data to prompt the driver to take their foot off the accelerator pedal when the car approaches traffic, sharp curves in the road, or other slowdowns.
Audi says its augmented reality head-up display projects navigation directions onto the windshield so that they appear, from the driver’s point of view, to be about 30 feet away. Let’s say your nav program says you need to make a left turn. The system will project the turn arrow in a way that places it where you need to make the turn—a little like the turn arrows printed on turn lanes, but electronic. The system allows the driver to keep eyes on the road, rather than looking down or to the side for directions.