e-tron 55: Driving one of Audi's first EV models in the Philippines

Let me start this off by saying that I'm a petrolhead. Yes that kind of goes along with the job, but I've always been that way since I was a kid.

The time is fast approaching that the 'petrol' in petrolhead may have to be dropped. Carmakers all over the world -regardless if they specialize in mass-market vehicles, luxury automobiles, or even big lumbering trucks- are making the switch to electromobility. So I guess we all have to become e-heads?

Though after spending some time getting to know all of the (few) EVs in the market, I have to say that I'm starting to come around. That's certainly the case for the e-tron 55 from Audi Philippines.

To be honest with you, the first time I saw an e-tron was during the launch earlier in the year. The pandemic really precluded us from going to check out cars abroad. But credit to Audi Philippines because they really worked to bring e-tron here knowing full well that widespread charging infrastructure is virtually nonexistent. It's a risk, and one that I think is paying off.

They launched two models of e-tron: the GT is the really sleek, uh, grand tourer. It looks like an Audi on steroids. Then there's the other one: the 55.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

There's a certain cool factor about the car, and it starts with the name. If you walk into a bar and someone asks you what car you're driving, you can proudly and coolly say e-tron 55. As far as EV names go, very few are better than e-tron. I mean, the name sounds as awesome as saying R8; very sci-fi, very mind-blowing levels of cool.

Of course, when they look outside the window and see an SUV that's good for the family, they may look at you in a rather befuddled way. The e-tron name itself is really more of a sub-brand of Audi, and it will encompass a range of models that will rely only on electric power. Think of it like RS, but with zero emissions.First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

Unlike the GT which looks straight out of a movie, the 55 is far more sedate, far more gentrified, and far more... normal. The front just oozes Audi with that grille that they call “singleframe”. The headlights and the lower bumper aren't exaggerated as you would find in a concept car. The silhouette is a very conventional Audi SUV; the same goes for the tailgate.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

Heck, even grab handles for the doors are very normal. Just about the only details that really say it's different are the wheels, the e-tron badge, and the absence of a fuel tank door. Instead, you have flaps on the fenders for the charging ports.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

The interior has the same sense of familiarity. If you step out of an A4 or a Q5 and into an e-tron 55, then everything just looks familiar. The buttons, the control layout, the seating, and the features; all are very Audi. Yes, you've got more crystal clear screens but Audi is already known for screens. The only thing that really stands out is the way you use the drive selector; that leather pad is more like a wrist rest. You then use your thumb or index finger to pivot what seems like a solid metal piece forward or backward to go through the drive modes.

I think that's what the guys at Ingolstadt were really going for with the vehicle: normalcy. Their approach is actually an interesting contrast to what BMW did with the iX; a crossover EV that I found to be very Star Trek TNG inside. They could have gone the way that BMW did with the iX, but they held back and went conventional. I think it's a good move, especially as familiarity plays into the favor of existing Audi owners. The key here is to give customers the experience and convenience of electric, minus the extra learning curve of getting to know the controls.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

What's under the hood is what matters more. Actually, it's not under the hood; there's no engine there. Instead, most of the electrical and mechanical bits for propulsion are really under the car. Below the floor, you have the battery pack consisting of 432 lithium-ion cells that combine for 396 volts. On the front axle is one electric motor while there is another in the back for the rear axle. Yes, this is a quattro all-wheel drive vehicle.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

If you're the kind that likes performance, then this will be for you. Audi says the e-tron 55 has 408 PS on tap. And they're quoting torque at 664-newton meters; that's almost Audi RS6 territory with the twin-turbo V8. It just so happens that we brought the e-tron 55 up to Tagaytay for our video shoot, and boy on the way up the overtaking was easy. Touch the throttle like you would on a regular ICE vehicle and you'll end up jumping forward at what seems like warp speed. It pulls you into the seat as it does so, and that's because the torque delivery is instant. There's no delay, no build-up; the punch is just there.

My time with the e-tron was only a few days; not really enough for a full review, but already I'm liking how it behaves. In any premium automobile, the expectation is always refinement. You expect it to be impeccably built, to be smoother, quieter, and more comfortable. Those are the things that you pay for in this class of car, and those are exactly what you get in the e-tron.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

The Audi build quality is there; everything just feels solidly made. There is no vibration to speak of because there are no reciprocating pistons to cause vibration. There is no mechanical noise from an electric drive system either; actually, they have to give it a note so pedestrians can hear you pass by. And the ride comfort is just what you would expect. You can even adjust it depending on what you desire because the e-tron 55 comes with an air suspension.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

The range is good. The total capacity being 95 kWh means that the range can go up to 484 kilometers based on Audi's numbers. Even if we subtract the inefficiencies of traffic, a full charge is a plenty if you're just commuting around the city. I do remember being a bit apprehensive about going to Tagaytay and what the energy consumption would be, but the morning did start with about 92% on the battery from my home in Antipolo, then went up to Tagaytay, Cavite, then returned to Audi in Greenhills with 62% remaining. The total mileage for a day's worth of filming and driving was about 120 kilometers.

First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

I don't see a daily commute to and from the office as a problem, especially if you live in a place where you can have a faster wall charger installed (Audi Philippines will help you get started on that). The only real matter that needs sorting with EVs is the charging when you're not going to be in the vicinity or range of a charging station. With the new law, that will soon start to change. Malls are getting in on the EV wave too; many are setting up charging stations with parking, as per the new law. Actually, on the way back down from Tagaytay, one service station on SLEX already has a charging station operational. Soon, others will follow.

I'm of the opinion that the premium automobile sector will be the critical segment for EV adoption. I say the premium sector because prices for comparable ICE and EV models in this class of vehicle aren't too far off from one another. In the volume sector, the price differential between ICE and EV is huge, but this e-tron 55 is actually priced reasonably versus its similarly-sized counterparts with gasoline or turbodiesel engines.First Drive: Audi e-tron 55 quattro is the future made familiar image

For now -and maybe for the next few years- the premium sector will be the test for the viability of EVs over ICE models. Audi actually says that the e-tron models are proving to be very popular; they were already sold out the last time we checked. But given the potential with EVs, hopefully, the prices of such models from volume manufacturers will start to come down. Given how things are right now with parts shortages and forex trends, that may not be the case.