Ingolstadt enters volume-selling family EV market with an unconventional crossover

Watching as the cars we all know, and the companies behind them, switch from reciprocating pistons to electric motors over the coming years will probably feel strange and unsettling at times.

As the market’s landscape is made anew, very few of those familiar, bankable automotive-market truths that we’ve always taken for granted are likely to remain fixed. This week, another one bites the dust as Audi branches out into the business end of the market for electric cars for the very first time.

Unconventional premium-car proportions include a short bonnet, which is another way in which this EV is made to look quite puny in profile. A long cabin is practical, of course, but does it make the car look more desirable?

The Q4 E-tron – Ingolstadt’s third all-electric model following the larger Audi E-tron SUV of 2018 and the E-tron GT four-door sports car that was introduced in the UK earlier this year – becomes Audi’s first-ever volume-selling, rear-wheel-drive car. The firm, whose association with front-wheel drive extends back to the 1930s and which famously branched out to develop quattro four-wheel drive in the 1980s, has only ever made rear-driven derivatives of the R8 supercar before.

Its refusal to follow the classic mechanical type of its luxury-level rivals with its regular passenger cars has, at times over the decades, bordered on pig-headedness. Now, with so much that’s new and unfamiliar about its first affordable EV, perhaps Audi is hoping that we won’t notice as one of the technical principals that it has always clung to falls by the wayside – or perhaps that we won’t care.

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This is, after all, Ingolstadt’s new electric era. The firm will launch its last combustion-engined car within four years, and by 2032 will have built its very last. From here on out, we should expect most of its model introductions to be EVs – and this week’s road test subject provides our first taste of what they might be like.

The Q4 line-up at a glance

Unlike Audi’s petrol and diesel models, the Q4 E-tron’s range is relatively simple, with just three powertrain options. Using the MEB platform means that, uncharacteristically for Audis, all cars are essentially rear-wheel drive.

Only the most powerful version adds a smaller front motor for quattro all-wheel drive under peak throttle. Both the 40 and 50 models have a 77kWh battery, while the base 35 gets a smaller, 52kWh version.


2 Audi Q4 E tron 2021 RT hero hero rear

The Q4 E-tron is an all-electric mid- sized crossover SUV that majors on interior space, on-board technology and, of course, typically refined, responsive zero-emissions running. Dynamic performance and handling and design appeal are important strengths for the car too, says Audi – although, as we’ll see, those claims are a little more open to question.

The car has sprung from the Volkswagen’s Group’s strategically vital MEB electric car platform, and will be built not in an Audi factory but instead alongside the closely related VW ID 4 in Zwickau, Germany. It splits the difference between Audi’s Audi Q3 and Audi Q5 SUVs almost perfectly on height and length. Being an EV with a heavy under-floor drive battery stretching almost the full width and length available within the wheelbase, the Q4 weighs more than either a conventionally powered Q3 or Q5, though: 2050kg in running order in the case of our test car, and up to 2135kg for a range-topping version.

Brands like Audi have spent decades developing cars with a ‘premium gap’ – a space between the front axle and windscreen base in which a powerful engine might notionally reside. The Q4 E-tron doesn’t even have a little one.

The car comes in three mechanical derivatives, two of which have a single permanently excited synchronous motor cradled above their rear wheels that drives those rear wheels exclusively. In the entry- level Q4 E-tron 35, that motor makes 168bhp and draws power from a drive battery with usable capacity of 52kWh. In the mid-range 40 (as tested), it makes 201bhp (but the same 229lb ft) and has 77kWh of usable electricity storage to draw on.

The range-topping 50 quattro, meanwhile, adopts the bigger battery but has a second, front-mounted electric motor mounted within its chassis (an asynchronous one this time), giving it 295bhp and 339lb ft in all – as well as dual-motor four-wheel drive. In the range-topping trim, then, the Q4 E-tron has a 112mph top speed and can knock off 0-62mph in a little over six seconds. In as-tested mid-range form, though, those claims are a less Tesla-rivalling 99mph and 8.5sec respectively.

Ingolstadt’s design efforts to make the Q4 fit in as a modern Audi and stand out as a premium offering include an octagonal grille (which many testers felt looks a little strange, featuring as it does on a largely sealed front end) as well as the firm’s habitually busy, edgy body surfacing.

A long-wheelbase and cabin-forward, short-bonnet proportions all work to undermine Audi’s plan to slot this car smoothly into its familiar showroom range, however. This is not a typical-looking Audi SUV by any stretch; nor might it seem a natural choice among its competitors for fans of bold, appealing exterior design of the kind that the firm has built its brand on for so long. There is a sleeker Sportback bodystyle on offer for Q4 buyers primarily concerned with how their cars look, but that shouldn’t be expected to address many of the EV’s aforementioned design idiosyncrasies.

11 Audi Q4 E tron 2021 RT hero cabin

Like one or two of the other mid-market, clean-sheet EVs with which it competes, the Q4 E-tron reveals itself to be a really roomy car when you start opening its doors and boot. For cabin space, it could even rival the most practical mid-sized, five-seat SUVs in the class such as the Honda CR-V. Its hip point is convenient and its roofline high, making for abundant head room and leg room in the front row, and there is plenty of space in row two for adults to be comfortable in.

The boot is more shallow than some SUV regulars might be used to as a result of what is packaged below. It still offers a generous 520 litres of carrying capacity below the load cover, though, as well as a folding, removable boot board that delivers a flat loading area when the seats are folded, and further storage space underneath.

We’d prefer a bigger gear selector that’s easy to grab without looking. Remote audio controls are useful here, but there’s no substitute for a big, clear ‘off’ button.

When seated at the wheel, you will find yourself in a very comfortable, adjustable and well-supported driving position, but the dimensions of the car around you do feel a little curious. The dashboard is bulky and imposing, stretching towards you from the distant base of a steeply raked windscreen, and seeming so large and flat that it could almost double as a passenger-side dining table. Being equally steeply raked and bordered by large door mirrors, the A-pillars create large three-quarter blindspots on either side of the screen itself, and can be hard to see around at roundabouts and junctions. The bonnet, meanwhile, is short and concave, dropping away to make it quite hard to judge the length of the car’s nose when parking and manoeuvring.

In its habitual style, Audi has packed plenty of technology into the Q4’s cabin and has been fairly bold with the geometric, tiered appearance of the asymmetrical dashboard. This is a smart-looking, pleasant interior in broad terms, but its material quality levels and fit and finish might not quite meet your expectations of a £45,000 premium family car. 

Both hard and soft-touch materials feature, but the former look and feel surprisingly rough and plain. One or two sharply edged pieces of trim, and fitting gaps between mouldings, of the sort that we’re not used to finding in an Audi, also appear in the car.

Audi Q4 infotainment and sat-nav

The Q4 E-tron’s provision of in-car technology is good, even if much of it comes at extra cost. You get fully digital instruments, which work well and are very clear and crisp, and a 10.1in MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system as standard. Apple and Android smartphone mirroring is also standard, but wireless smartphone charging only comes as an option.

The central touchscreen is mounted quite high and is smoothly integrated, but it doesn’t offer an obvious place to anchor an outstretched hand, making it less comfortable to use than it should be. Some functions also require a precise input to switch on and off; and it can be hard to hit the right square centimetre of the screen with your left hand when the car’s moving at speed. A few more physical controls would aid usability. 

Only by having a Vorsprung-spec car or by paying £1200 for Audi’s Technology Pack do you get the Q4’s augmented reality head-up display, which projects navigation arrows onto the car’s windscreen. They’re not as distracting in practice as they sound, and often help to highlight a side street or island exit.

22 Audi Q4 E tron 2021 RT hero motor

In mid-range form, the Q4 E-tron presents quite an ordinary driving experience. Riding on the coat-tails of other electric cars that had to risk more to break through, it feels like a second-era EV with a bit less to prove.

Audi’s claim for 0-62mph acceleration of 8.5sec is slightly conservative. We timed it to 60mph at a two-way-average 8.1sec, with 30-70mph taking 7.8sec. The identically powerful Kia e-Niro that we tested in 2019 was almost a second quicker to 60mph, and more so from 30-70mph, while the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus that we timed in the same year was a good deal quicker again.

It’s a shame that Audi didn’t develop the under-bonnet charging cable storage solution of the bigger E-tron. Under the Q4’s bonnet there’s no useful space at all. I hope the idea can be resurrected.

This Audi would seem to be the kind of EV whose driving experience is intended not to stand out but blend in, then; not to surprise but to oblige and reassure. Mostly, it succeeds at that. And even if it isn’t quite as quick as rivals, it still performs and responds well compared with conventionally powered SUVs, and is as easy and undemanding to operate in most respects as you could really want a family car to be.

The Q4 E-tron has Audi’s usual selection of driving modes, ranging from Comfort to Dynamic but including an additional Range setting that limits motor output and top speed, and reduces power consumption from the car’s peripheral systems, to maximise battery range. Whichever mode you use, it has a more gentle initial throttle response than some EVs, but balances drivability with urgency cleverly as you move off up to urban speeds and beyond. The Audi always feels measured and mature to drive but can pick up strongly up to the national speed limit when required.

Energy regeneration can either be managed automatically by the Efficiency Assist regeneration setting using information from the forward sensors and navigation system, or be manually controlled using the car’s shift paddles. In the automatic setting, deceleration is blended in quite gradually as you approach a junction. It can surprise at first, but is handled slightly better overall than by certain other EVs. Even so, most testers preferred driving with the added confidence of manual control over regen, and also enjoyed allowing the Q4 to coast when possible and to conserve its momentum naturally, boosting its operating efficiency.

The car’s brake pedal progression is one notable disappointment. It blends friction and regenerative braking a little clumsily, and can feel soft and spongy at one moment and grabby the next. When the roads are quiet, you can learn to make little use of the car’s brakes, of course; but in heavy traffic, the pedal’s paucity of definition and inconsistency of feel can be frustrating.

24 Audi Q4 E tron 2021 RT hero on road front

Audi offers three mechanical specifications for the Q4 E-tron’s suspension, which is always made up primarily of fixed-height steel coil springs. Entry-level Sport cars get a full passive Comfort set-up, with a lower, stiffer configuration featuring on mid-trim examples, while top-rung Vorsprung versions gain an adaptively damped arrangement. Our test car had the aforementioned adaptively damped configuration fitted as an option, however.

It also had the broadly capable, ever-secure, ever-controlled, slightly aloof, medium-firm-riding and Teutonically flavoured handling character we’ve come to expect of a modern Audi. The application of a rear-drive chassis evidently hasn’t changed Ingolstadt’s approach to the dynamic tuning of a mid-market family car, nor its expectations of the tastes of its customers – and so those who don’t know, or care, which axle does the driving in this car may very well never find out.

Q4 E-tron is pitched firmly at families who will appreciate its measurables (range, charging capability, cabin space) and driving style (refined, easy to operate, predictable).

Of more importance to Audi, clearly, was that the Q4 be easy to drive; stable, moderate and measured in its responses; and always eminently, intuitively controllable – which, by and large, it is. It is guided through medium-paced steering with quite gentle initial response but gathering pace off-centre. The weight can be adjusted with the car’s drive modes – but there is never that much of it, nor much perceptible feedback. Body control is quite good for a mid-sized SUV, and grip levels are moderately high and tolerant of faster driving. Although the ride is firmer than some might expect, it’s not at all aggressively damped, while the Q4 can also become fairly compliant at low speeds and on uneven roads when you select Comfort mode.

In a two-tonne, high-riding car, some lateral body movement comes with the territory, of course. Since you’re sitting that little bit higher than most in this one, and thanks to that battery positioning also further away from the car’s roll axis than you might be, you do feel every gentle bit of pitch and head toss in the Q4, and you’re aware of every little move it makes. It’s to Audi’s credit that the car controls and conducts itself so competently and consistently, though – albeit without much to get enthusiastic about.

Audi Q4 E-tron comfort and isolation

The Q4’s maturity of dynamic character should make it a good fit for families that want calming refinement and isolation from an electric car. Our noise meter confirmed that the test car’s cabin was fully two decibels quieter than that of a Tesla Model 3 at both 30mph and 50mph, and three decibels quieter at 70mph. A Jaguar I-Pace is no more hushed, and the £88,000 E-tron S we tested only a few weeks ago is noisier at certain speeds.

The driver’s seat had fairly firm foam padding but offered lots of potential for extension and adjustment of the cushion, and kept most testers comfy. The optional 20in alloy wheels and 45/50-profile tyres were quiet over most surfaces, if a little given to roar over rougher ones.

Besides those surfaces, the only thing likely to disturb the calm of the Q4’s cabin are the movements of its own front axle, which can suddenly seem close to your feet when it occasionally clunks over bigger, sharper intrusions taken with a little load in the suspension. These incidences are rare, granted, but they’re one more way in which the Q4 can feel slightly un-Audi-like at times.

Assisted driving notes

The Q4 E-tron has a lane departure warning system that defaults to on with every restart but it can be deactivated via a five-second push of a conveniently placed button on the end of the indicator stalk. As it is, the system remains inactive until the car accelerates beyond 38mph; and when it is active, it isn’t one of the more bothersome set-ups.

Audi’s Pre Sense Front autonomous emergency braking system comes as standard, while blindspot monitoring and rearward-facing crash avoidance systems are available as part of the £650 Safety Package Plus.

Optional adaptive cruise assistance turns the car’s lane departure warning system into a more dedicated lane- keeping system when you’re running on dual carriageways. It works quite unobtrusively when the other cruise control systems are running, although at times it did seem to slow the car unnecessarily when traffic in neighbouring lanes was detected.

1 Audi Q4 E tron 2021 RT hero front

The mid-range Q4 E-tron’s 77kWh battery capacity compares favourably with what’s on offer in the longest-range versions of the Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2 and Mercedes-Benz EQA. That fact, combined with creditable on-test running efficiency and good rapid-charging provision, should put the Audi in a strong position for those primarily concerned with the practical limitations of EV ownership.

Our test car returned 3.0mpkWh at a steady 70mph motorway cruise, suggesting owners will be able to routinely put at least 220 miles between charges over longer distances. Its efficiency increased to 3.9mpkWh at 50mph, at which speed it would become nearly a 300-mile proposition. Among its nearest rivals, only the longest-range Tesla Model 3 and Ford Mustang Mach-E do better for operating range, although even the latter can’t match the Q4’s peak rapid charging capacity of 125kW.

EVs tend to hold their value fairly well. The Q4 is on a par with the smaller Mercedes EQA - and better than the VW ID 4

The Q4 E-tron’s starting price just above £40,000 is for a car with only just over 50kWh of battery capacity, of course, and that will only charge at a peak 100kW. A mid-range Q4 E-tron with a decent optional equipment level is likely to run very close to £50,000. Objectively, that does seem a lot for a car that, in some areas, struggles to distinguish itself as a premium product, and it won’t make comparisons with like-for-like versions of the VW ID 4 and Skoda Enyaq iV any more comfortable for Audi.


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The Audi Q4 E-tron isn’t likely to be the most talked-about electric car of 2021. It doesn’t have remarkable performance, or the cartoon-strip design appeal of a Hyundai Ioniq 5, Honda E or Renault 5. Instead, it has an Audi-typical maturity and refinement in the way it operates; impressive practicality and on-board technology; and competitive energy efficiency and battery range to complete the picture.

Not much, you might think, when the premium that Audi buyers pay usually gets them more: a cabin of really distinguishing quality as well as bold sculptural style, say, or an exterior of just-so luxury car proportions. If those buyers are a bit unconvinced by the Q4 E-tron, we suspect they will also be little encouraged to find out how closely related the car is to its sibling models from Volkswagen and Skoda. Should they test drive either, they might then discover just how much harder it is going to be for brands like Audi to develop premium-worthy cars on shared platforms in the electric era.

A job for the facelift? Simplify the surfacing language. Some cars aren’t given to the muscular look.

For Audi, the Q4 is a foothold and starting point in a strategically important part of the car market. It is somewhere to build and grow from, but not a car to lead the agenda with.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi Q4 E-tron First drives