What is it?
The creators of the Volkswagen Iltis unexpectedly set a ball rolling that Audi caught when it launched the original Quattro in 1980.
Fast forward to 2018 and the boxy, rally-wise coupé has become the peg on which the rest of the firm’s line-up hangs. Its influence is visible in the styling of Audi’s recent models, from the A1 to the Q8, and engineers stress the electric E-tron ushers in the next evolution of the now-famous quattro system.
It takes a substantial stretch of the imagination to mistake the E-tron for anything other than an Audi, even when looking at a multi-coloured pre-production prototype like the one I drove in Namibia. It’s not a Xerox copy of another SUV in the company’s portfolio – styling cues such as a lighter-coloured grille help it forge its own identity – but it falls perfectly in line with Audi’s current design language. Sharp headlights? Check. An octagonal grille with a chromed frame? Check. Elongated rear lights connected by a light bar? Check and check.
The E-tron landed at the opposite end of the design spectrum to its Jaguar I-Pace rival, which intentionally looks like nothing else on the company’s résumé. The interior sings a familiar tune, too, because it shares its digital instrument cluster (Virtual Cockpit in marketing speak) and its twin-screen infotainment system with other Audi models such as the Q8. The result is an uncluttered, high-tech-looking cockpit almost devoid of physical buttons.
Several factors convinced Audi to launch its ferocious electric car offensive with an SUV instead of a saloon. It’s easily the most marketable bodystyle in key regions like the US and China. The larger dimensions of the body and the additional ground clearance also allowed designers to stuff the bulky battery under the passenger compartment while maintaining a generous amount of interior space.
As a result, four adults can travel comfortably in the E-tron without pining for additional head or leg room and the 660-litre boot is big enough for a serious trip to the local Ikea. But, since there’s no V6 under the bonnet, it stands to reason that there’s a second boot in front of the passengers, right? Not quite. Audi simply carved out a small space to store items like the charging cable. It’s big enough to take a laptop or a small bag but don’t expect to drive around with a fully loaded Christmas hamper stuffed between the wings.