There’s an end date for the internal combustion engine in the UK and it’s 2030. After that date, all new cars will have to be electric. That’s just eight years away, which in automotive terms is next week, given the long lead times and lifecycles with which the car industry operates. With the deadline fast approaching, you would expect the UK to have a pretty good charging network by now in preparedness for the run-up to the total shift to electric cars. But no, the charging network isn’t up to speed and, as I discovered, finding a free and working plug when you most want one, can be quite an adventure.
That adventure was four days with the Q4 e-tron, Audi’s smallest EV which, you guessed it, slots between the Q3 and Q5. Except that, it’s only available in electric form. The Q4 e-tron comes in three variants, badged 35, 40, and 50. The car I’m driving is the range-topping 50 that gets four-wheel drive (the 35 and 40 are rear-wheel drive) powered by two electric motors producing a combined output of 299hp and 460Nm of torque. The official range is 511km, which, in an EV, is the most important figure, especially if you plan to do some long-distance driving, which I did.
2022 Audi Q4 e-tron: Exterior, Interior Design
The Q4 is quite a looker, with its heavily sculpted bumpers, creased flanks, and large wheel arches. Based on the same MEB platform as the Volkswagen ID.4 and Skoda Enyaq, the Q4 is similar in size and uses lots of common components. And sharing parts makes it easier for Audi to bring the Q4 e-tron to India. The plan is to launch the Q4 e-tron sometime in 2024, in sync with the India launch of the VW ID.4 and Enyaq in the same year.
Q4 is likely to come to India in 2024 and could be locally assembled.
The first test is of the boot, which is quite generous, given the size of the car. For reference, the Q4 has a good deal more space than the Volvo XC40 Recharge, its immediate rival. The Q4 swallowed the two big bags I was carrying quite comfortably, but the high boot floor, which conceals a spacious compartment underneath for the charging cable and other bits, calls for a bit of weight lifting.
If you’ve driven a modern Audi before, it’s easy to get familiarised with the Q4 e-tron’s cabin, which expectedly is built to a high quality. The all-black interior with lots of piano black finishes and angular design looks modern and rich, but the two screens – the central 10.1-inch and the 10.25-inch virtual digital instrument panel – aren’t as up-to-date as what you get in rival German brands. Audi’s signature ‘virtual cockpit’ behind the steering was quite the thing when we first experienced it in the Q7 in 2015, but today it’s limited in functions and doesn’t have the sharpness or rich colors of Merc’s MBUX system.
Space is tight at the back and best for two average-sized adults.
It is the same for the central screen, which, though it offers a nice haptic touch, is not as responsive as we would have liked. The steering wheel buttons are touch-sensitive as well, but work far better than the touch slider controls you have to keep swiping in the latest Mercs. Unlike the flagship e-tron SUV, there’s no third screen dedicated to the air-con controls and that’s not a bad thing because what you get are physical buttons instead, which have a pleasing tactile feel and you don’t have to dive into menus to operate them.
There’s no big gear lever but just a tiny selector button that sits on a floating panel, freeing up space underneath for a big cubby hole. To keep your loose bits, there’s good space around the cabin like the generous door pockets, a deep central storage box, and a large glove box. Car loaded up, Apple CarPlay activated, Google Maps pulled up on the main screen, and navigation set to my destination, I’m all set to go and ease the Q4 e-tron out of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 car park.
2022 Q4 e-tron: Range, Technical Details
Like most EVs, the Q4 is very easy to drive, but like with the full-size e-tron, what Audi has managed to achieve is a very normal driving experience that filters out the artificiality of an EV. This is immediately evident in the way the accelerator pedal has been calibrated, the instant torque from the pair of electric motors is served up in a finely measured manner. The accelerator pedal is no hair trigger and a light prod corresponds to a gentle build-up of speed yes, a claimed 0-100kph time of 6.2sec isn’t fast by EV standards.
So whilst the Q4 won’t flatten your cheeks every time you stomp the right pedal, it makes up with its utter ease of driving and exceptionally linear power delivery, which is exactly what you want for everyday driving. That’s not to say that Q4 is slow. On the busy M4 into London, it has enough oomph to effortlessly surge past slow-moving traffic and you have to be mindful of the speed limit, which is taken very seriously (by the police!)
The good thing about EVs is that you don’t have to pay the hefty £15 (Rs 1,500) congestion charge when driving in central London, which was incentive enough for me to ditch the Tube and take the Q4 instead. What you can’t avoid is the traffic and the never-ending roadwork that slows you to a crawl. But, this was a good test to see where the Q4 would fit on the scale between painful and painless in a city that’s doing its best to discourage you from driving.
I have to say, the Q4 performed brilliantly and took the sting out of the bumper-to-bumper driving. Firstly, it’s nice and compact and that makes it easy to dart into a hard-to-find parking spot. It’s quiet, has great all-around visibility and if you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can hit the B button on the console to activate one-pedal driving. But, this highest form of regen feels a bit artificial, and quite frankly, if you aren’t too worried about range, the Q4 feels the most natural with the regen set to zero.
Charging from a home plug point was the most reliable.
And now it was time to address the vexed issue of charging. I still had a good 70 percent of battery left since I picked up the car, so I wasn’t desperate to find a plug, but I needed a full charge for my drive into the country the next day. However, in Clapham, where I was staying, the closest public fast charger was about 2 miles away. That’s not too far away, but the thought of downloading an app and figuring out how to use the charger was a bit daunting. There was another option.
A fully charged battery gives 350km of range.
Living on the ground floor with the Q4 parked in an enclosed area just outside the window, it was easy to run an extension cable and trickle charge the Q4 with a household plug overnight, which is exactly what I did. To top up the balance 30 percent of the 77kWh battery took a little over 8 hours, so by the time I was ready to leave the following morning, I had a 100 percent charge and an indicated 218 miles or 350km of range.
The drive to Fawsley Hall, a fabulous country house hotel in Northamptonshire, was a mix of motorway and country roads. The Q4 got into its stride on the M40 and at motorway speeds, wind, and road noise are impressively subdued to make this possibly the quietest and most refined car in its class. You, of course, drive with one eye always on the range meter, which didn’t drop alarmingly despite holding a steady cruise right at the 70mph speed limit and the brake regen set to zero.
Peeling off onto the single-lane country road to Fawsley Hall, the undulating and sporadically bumpy surface revealed the impressive dynamic character of the Q4. The ride is brilliant, with well-judged damping that doesn’t make you miss the option of air suspension available only on bigger Audis. The Q4’s steel springs and adaptive dampers do the job perfectly and the overall body control is brilliant, no doubt aided by the low center of gravity of the battery pack on the floor.
A pair of paddles behind the steering wheel control the different levels of regenerative braking and a tug of the left paddle (which increases the regen) nicely mimics engine braking in a normal car, which again is part of the natural character of the Q4. What’s also not EV-like and very nature are the brakes, which transition the retardation from regen to the brake pads absolutely seamlessly.
2022 Audi Q4 e-tron: Charging Details
A spacious under-floor compartment is useful for storing charging cables.
The calm and relaxed manners of the Q4 e-tron won’t appeal to driving enthusiasts and this EV feels most at home when driven in Comfort mode and a notch or two down. I arrive at Fawsley Hall completely fresh and at peace with the knowledge that there’s a fast charger at the hotel grounds waiting for me. That peace is systematically shattered when first, a Tesla Model 3 has taken the sole charging spot and doesn’t budge for a couple of hours, and then, when I finally plug the CCS2 socket into the Q4, I keep getting an error message!
Public DC chargers in the UK tend to be unreliable.
It’s not the end of the world because the trip from London to Fawsley Hall consumed a little over 50 percent of the charge, so there would be enough to get me to come charging point that worked, but it’s just so annoying when there’s a 150kW charger at your doorstep and it doesn’t work. The insurance in my back pocket or in the boot of the Q4 e-tron was a 30-foot-long extension cable I bought from Sainsbury’s.
Home socket charging is painfully slow.
Yes, the readout said it would take an agonizingly long 15 hours for a full charge but again, this wasn’t a problem. I was locked up at Fawsley at our leadership summit for the better two days and was happy to leave the Q4 during that time, tethered to a cable.
The next day I had a date with the brand-new Porsche 911 GT3 RS at Silverstone and whilst I was enjoying what the finest internal combustion had to offer, the Q4 was happily sipping volts at the rate of 11kW an hour. The Porsche Centre adjacent to the track had a row of AC chargers for guests to use. Perfect!
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AC fast chargers at Porsche center proved very convenient.
After my final drive back to Heathrow to take the flight to Mumbai that evening, I said goodbye to the Q4 in which I had clocked 250 miles (400km) in three days. The only stress I had was in figuring out my charging stops, and as it turned out, I never ended up using a public fast charger and wherever I charged was free! Total running costs were zero, which makes this without a doubt my cheapest road trip ever!