Q4 S line 50 e-tron quattro - Audi’s plug-in champion
Claims that posing in an electric car boosts your chances of landing a date by 144 per cent are debatable - but Audi’s Q4 e-tron S Line is as good a point to start as any.
Tipped to become one of the firm’s biggest sellers (supply constraints across the brand have limited production volumes), the 50 quattro 220 kW version we drove was dressed in fetching pebble grey, a striking but muted shade belying the cost of this state-of-the-art electric car, weighing in at £62,755.
It’s a beautifully-presented EV that exudes kerb appeal with stylish - typically Audi, typically German - lines, an immaculate paint and trim finish and a ‘fake’ grille that takes some getting used to (EVs don’t have the same cooling demands as internal combustion engines). The S Line looks very similar to the Sport model, pictured.
It boasts dimensions that fall right into that sweet spot - it’s compact enough in town to hustle quietly through traffic but big enough for family holiday duties, with a spacious cabin and (for an electric car that has to make compromises to fit the batteries in) a reasonable boot of 520 litres.
This is - of course - an all-electric car and it does feel different. Audi has consciously modified the driver’s environment, moving it on from what you’d expect in a typical ICE (internal combustion engine) model.
There’s no big, conventional gearshift but a neat little slider to select Drive, Reverse or Park. It works efficiently, much as on any electrical appliance. The dash has been pepped up with different ‘layers’ of panel and trim, giving a futuristic look. One passenger said it reminded them of Kryten’s head in Red Dwarf.
Audi’s long been famed for its classy interior but some surfaces looked a little plasticky, even if the overall impression is impressive; one of harmonic - slightly clinical - efficiency.
Space in the rear seats is good - likewise up front - although the car’s ‘waistline’, where the lower edge of the glass meets the doors and top of the dashboard - feels high, the seat rather low, thanks in part to the high profile of the bonnet. To avoid the feeling of enclosure I elevated the driver’s seat as far as I could without making getting in and out tricky. It improved vision out too.
EVs have been around a while (the first rolled out of the factory in the 1890s but if you’ve not driven one before, they’re disconcertingly, eerily silent when you pull away. In the Q4 you can add eerily smooth to that description; it glides away almost serenely, but accompanied by a mournful muted moan. Speed and performance is never a problem; there are several driving modes; Efficiency, Comfort, Sport and Individual. ‘Brake’ gives more ‘engine’ braking, which I liked in town.
Press Sport and the performance is, well, electric; enough to snap you back into the headrest, backed by the reassurance of that quattro four-wheel drive. The 0-62 mph time is a claimed 6.2 seconds, the top speed 111 mph. Power is instantaneously available especially at lower speeds. And of course, there are no gears to bother with. You just let the electric motor - fed by the batteries - do its stuff.
The batteries make themselves known by ‘stealing’ a little of the boot space (not least as you have to carry a fairly heavy, bulky coil of cables around in the supplied bag, or underneath the load bay floor) and by making the car heavier than it would otherwise have been. So while nimble, the Q5 doesn’t feel quite as fleet of foot as some of the firm’s more conventionally powered offerings.
The ride is firm; watch out if you live in London and need to negotiate endless speed ramps, each one necessitating a significant loss of speed to avoid a nasty jolt. That’s the whole idea of ramps but they exert more of an effect on heavy battery vehicles than on petrol equivalents. Non S Line models have a more pliant ride.
One strange omission inside was the absence of a storage pouch on the back of the front seats - turns out they’re a rather pricey £325 optional extra. There were, however, two power outlets for rear passengers and reasonably sized door pockets. There’s also plenty of legroom.
Standard equipment includes charging cables, auto-dimming rear and exterior mirrors, a power operated tailgate (that could be opened but not closed with the key fob), an impressive Sonos sound system, a big, sharp 11.6-inch screen, camera-based traffic sign recognition and much more.
Other pluses? A nice tight turning circle and lots of - sometimes mildly irritating - safety kit. In adaptive cruise control mode the head up display flashes a floating green line under the ‘target’ vehicle ahead, which can be distracting. As part of the lane assist function - that nudges the steering wheel if you cross a white line without indicating, possibly suggesting that you’re dozing off - floating orange lines highlight lane markings. This, too, can be distracting, as were the ‘foot off’ (accelerator) and ‘foot on’ (brakes) symbols. These can be de-selected.
The Q5 is a breeze to drive though never truly engaging. It felt highly efficient, practical, good looking - but soulless. The withdrawal pangs resulting from habituation to the internal combustion engine, or has some of the fun been engineered out? Maybe it’s a bit of both.
The good news is that by driving electric you’re improving your company car tax and diminishing local emissions although, of course, they’re still created somewhere, upstream. And there’s the issue of the environmental damage caused by mining the raw materials for the battery. And will there be enough electricity to go around as demand spirals?
The only hurdle over a week-long test drive was our inability to access charging. Lambeth converted local lamp posts for charging but they can be accessed only by resident parking permit holders or those paying around £5 for a visitor’s permit, on top of charging fees. This sensibly prevents them being oversubscribed but ruled it out for me.
I downloaded Pod Point’s app, opened an account with them, paid in £20 - and failed to obtain a single volt. The first charger, at Lidl, Newbury, insisted we ‘use our phone to authenticate at this charger’ but there was no means of doing so. We wasted an afternoon driving to a second Pod Point and had the same problem. To make matters worse this was a Sunday and Pod Point’s helpline was offline, operating from Monday to Friday. We visited a third charger and it cut out after a few seconds before refusing - for 20 minutes - to release the cable, stranding us in the cold car park.
We never did get to find out if Audi’s charging time figures (0 – 100% at maximum charging capacity 450 min, or minimum charging time for 10 –80% of just 36 minutes) were accurate. Instead we resorted to one of the cables in the boot, linked to a three-pin socket at a nearby relative’s house and - after six hours - had just enough ‘juice’ to get back to London. How we longed for a simple petrol pump. The claimed range – which we were unable to verify - is 298 miles, but is likely to be less than that in practice.
So what about landing that date? This was an experiment by car dealer Big Motoring World. They created two near-identical Tinder profiles for employee Jay, one including a picture of him behind the wheel of Tesla. The findings were that the electric car profile ‘matched’ with 61 women who were interested in a date – compared to just 25 matches on the other account. It’s hardly scientific but the news item popped up on my phone and gave me something to read while I waited for the car not to charge. Not Audi’s fault, of course; the Q4 is a very well-designed car that should fit into family life well – especially if the family has its own charging point, often a very real challenge in London where few of us have drives or garages.
To find out more about the Evening Standard’s campaign for better charging facilities, go to https://bit.ly/3XW20KH
Audi Q4 e-tron S line 50 quattro
Top speed: 111 mph
0 - 62 mph: 6.2 seconds
Max power: 295 HP
Consumption (combined) 3.4 miles/kWh WLTP
CO2 Emissions (combined) 0 g/km
Electrical range (combined) 298 miles