A brave new world but where’s the flavour?

WILLEM VAN DE PUTTE willem.vdputte@inl.co.za



African News Agency



GETTING to grips with electric vehicles isn’t easy if all you’ve done before is turn a key or push a button and watch a rev counter settle down at idle. It’s a whole new world and by the time our grandchildren become mobile that’s probably all they’ll know. The silence will be deafening. But I suppose like generations before that went from four-legged transport to four and two wheels, people will simply adapt and move on. It’s a discussion we had around a braai while I was testing the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 300kW quattro S. When I arrived, the host asked what I was driving and when I mentioned that it was an electric Audi, his response was that it looked just like a regular Audi. And that’s the point with the Audi EVs, there’s nothing outrageous in the design, it’s like your ordinary everyday garden Audi with a sealed front grille. The bonnet doesn’t cover an engine but instead a Volkswagen Beetle kind of “boot” where the two charging cables are housed. One to plug in at home and another for dedicated charging points. So we all know that electric cars are fast, and that they are the talk of the town right now, but what are they like to live with in South Africa? Our charging infrastructure is not as advanced as Europe’s. Smaller electric cars are easier to charge but what about a big SUV like the one on test? One thing that I did notice was that normal charging from the wall plug at my house took ages. It is worth mentioning that the e-tron comes with a three-phase wallbox charger fitted by an electrician providing you with a dedicated charging space at home. Audi SA offers R5 000 support to set this up and once that’s done it takes about 13 hours to charge from empty. A full charge will give you a range of about 380km depending on how you drive. Home charging was a bit time consuming so I decided to test the charging network. I headed to the dedicated DC 60kWh 900W charging point at Irene Mall. Here you will need the GridCars card or app to pay for the charging. The process is simple, just ensure that your account has funds, tap the card or your smartphone on the screen and charging starts. A WhatsApp notification tells you know when the charging starts and completes. The Audi e-tron Sportback 55 features a 95kWh battery. It is one of the largest on offer. The DC charger charges at 60kW per hour. This equates to around one-and-a-half hours to fully charge the e-tron. However, it is seldom that you will arrive at the charger with a completely empty battery. I used around 29.8kWh of electricity. When you consider the cost of R5.88 per kWh, my charge cost around R175.22. If you, however, had to fully charge the vehicle, you would take the battery capacity, in this case 95kWh and multiply it by the cost per unit of electricity, R5.88. That equates to around R558 for around 400km. Back to the braai … It was everyone’s first time in an EV and to say they were impressed is an understatement. Pulling out the driveway the soundless motion provided for much chatter but when I floored the accelerator in Dynamic mode, and heads recoiled, the comments were priceless, even from one of the guys whose passion is any engine that has a V in the prefix. One of the women said it was like being flung from a slingshot which is one of the best descriptions I’ve heard. It gets to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds and the single speed gearbox driving all four wheels tops it out at 200km/h. The electric motors collectively produce 265kW in regular driving that will jump to 300kW on overboost and there’s 664Nm of torque on tap. One of the disadvantages of current EVs is the battery weight that makes the Audi e-tron Sportback 55 settle the scale at 2 565kg. Like the exterior, the interior is, as with any top-end Audi, decked in quality leather and stitching throughout and a comfortable driving position. Interior space is ample and for two passengers there’s enough room and space to sit comfortably but I was told to say that the middle rear seat is uncomfortable and should be used for small people only. Because of its low centre of gravity, the e-tron Sportback 55 quattro S line handles exceedingly well, especially considering it’s a SUV. There’s very little body roll and it enjoys long bends. With torque available immediately as you exit a corner it takes a while to get used to it and not overextend yourself. It also takes a while to get used to driving quickly around the twisties without having to gear down or up without any engine or exhaust theatrics and to be honest I’m not really sure I want to. Yes I know acceleration is exceptional but after that it’s like a youngster seeing a washing machine for the first time. They’re fascinated by the clothes tumbling through the glass but after that they lose interest. I understand the drive towards EVs, but for me it takes a lot of the fun out of driving. It’s not limited to Audi, mind you, but there’s no soul, no individual character, no nuance to them. It’s as if cars have just become appliances, tools to get from point A to point B. While we could say this about a Toyota Corolla, one can’t say it about a classic Ferrari or even my old Land Rover. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it has a personality. There are things about my car that are different to yours. It’s a sad reality but electric cars don’t offer that. The e-tron Sportback is priced at R2 115 000.