Electric cars are getting cleverer

Doctor on the Road: Audi Q4 e-tron

Smart and sophisticated, this Audi package is hard to beat, says our motoring correspondent Dr Tony Rimmer.

Early adopters of new technologies will always pay more, so it is no surprise that those of us who have already joined the pure electric car club will have paid about 50% more for their car than an equivalent petrol or diesel model.

But things are starting to change. The steady flow of new electric cars coming to market shows no sign of slowing and many of them are getting relatively cheaper. 

The huge Volkswagen Group’s first release, based on its new dedicated all-electric MEB platform, was the iD3. An impressive all-rounder, it was soon joined by the larger iD4 and the Skoda Enyaq, which share the same underpinnings.

The iD3, like its sibling the Golf, is great for most people most of the time, but the quality of the trim and the general refinement is a level below premium brands like BMW and Mercedes. 

Enter the new Audi Q4 e-tron that uses the same MEB platform and has similar dimensions to the petrol Q3. The original e-tron is a bigger vehicle – Q5 sized – and is not based on a dedicated platform and is a lot more expensive.

The Q4 range starts at £40,470 for the 35 model with 170bhp and a battery size of 52kWh, but the sweet spot of the range is the £44,275 40 model with 204bhp and a 77kWh battery. 

This is enough to give it a real-world range of around 240 miles, so long journeys are a possibility without too much inconvenience. This is the model that I tested.

Sporting a textured but solid front grille, the styling is unmistakably that of an Audi SUV. That means it is a smart and modern design with some real road presence. The interior is pure Audi too.

Premium feel 

The high-quality trim and controls are immediately obvious and exude a premium feel as soon as you step inside, either as driver or a passenger. 

Its Virtual Cockpit digital dashboard works well and the heater controls are far more user-friendly than those found in the Q4’s electric VW cousins. As is the drive selector which, on the central console, has a solid and classy feel.

Because the Audi’s electric-drive chassis is an all-new design, rear passengers benefit from a flat floor and plenty of legroom. The Q4 is roomier than the similarly sized Q3 and close to that offered by the bigger Q5. 

Open the powered hatch and you will notice that the boot space is pretty good too. An inexpensive optional height-adjustable boot floor can store the charging cables out of sight.

Out on the road, the Q4 impressed me. Like its bigger E-Tron sibling, progress is silent and swift. 

Although not Tesla fast, the acceleration is seamless and instantly accessible and the regenerative braking is progressive and adjustable; something that VW Group electric vehicles seem to have got just right. 

My test car had the £950 optional adaptive suspension and provided ride comfort to challenge any limousine. 

Handling is pretty good for a heavy electric SUV (2,125kg), but you won’t deliberately go searching for winding roads to enjoy the drive. That attribute is the preserve of BMW’s new i4 and Porsche’s Taycan. 

Smart headlights

No problem, though, because the Q4 is great in its natural urban environment with light and precise steering. Its physical size is perfect too; easy to thread through traffic and not too large to park easily. 

I must mention the optional Matrix LED headlights which are an Audi feature that light up the road on full-beam all the time while blanking out passing traffic as it moves by so as not to dazzle other drivers. Clever stuff and surprisingly effective. If you do a lot of night driving, you might find it worth the £1,075 extra cost.  

I have now driven lots of different electric cars and it is interesting to see what niche each manufacturer is trying to carve to attract customers. Audi has created a car that is true to its brand. 

The Q4 is basically a smart and sophisticated iD3, much in the same way that the A3 is a posh Golf. 

If you value a quieter more sophisticated ride surrounded by higher-quality materials from a premium brand, the extra £10k will be money well spent. I really liked the Q4 and I think that many medics will feel the same. The overall package is hard to beat.