Electric Q5 equivalent promises a similarly balanced spread of competencies and hugely competitive EV credentials

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Good things happen when Porsche and Audi collaborate - Ingolstadt ergonomics and Stuttgart firepower generally making for an intoxicating blend of charisma, subtlety, panache and practicality. 

Indeed, the Stuttgart-fettled Audi RS2 Avant of 1995 remains relevant to this day as a go-to answer for the ever-difficult question: can a family car ever truly be a driver’s car? So too does today’s Audi E-tron GT stand proudly above rivals as one of the most engaging, captivating and aspirational electric saloons on the market - second only perhaps to the Porsche Taycan, with which it shares a platform. 

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All of which is to say that expectations are high for the new PPE electric vehicle architecture the two firms have been developing for the past four years. 

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PPE has been conceived specifically for EVs of the ‘premium’ variety, and so – at least initially – will not be used by cars from the more volume-oriented VW Group brands - Volkswagen, Skoda, Cupra and Seat. The structure takes learnings from the VW Group’s ubiquitous MEB platform, but has been engineered to better accommodate longer, more capacious, faster and more dynamically oriented EVs, to better differentiate Audi and Porsche products from their mass-market cousins. 

The PPE’s long-awaited debut in a production car comes early next year with the launch of the Audi Q6 E-tron, a sibling car for the keenly anticipated electric Porsche Macan and the final piece of Audi’s electric SUV puzzle, slotting logically in between Qs 4 and 8. After that, the platform will be deployed for “dynamic, elegant” electric successors to the Audi A4, A6 and A8, as well as an electric Porsche Cayenne.

The gestation of the PPE has been a protracted one. It was first announced in 2019, with the Q6 E-tron and E-Macan due in dealerships in 2023, but various delays – including well-publicised setbacks at Cariad, the VW Group’s in-house software division – have pushed back the roll-out to 2024. Despite that, though, the lightly camouflaged prototype we’ve driven here is described as being around 90% ready for showrooms and gives decent, informative exposure to the capabilities of the important bits: chassis, drivetrain and cabin. 

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The Q6 E-tron is an electric entrant into what Audi calls “the most important segment” on the market, and has an especially significant role to play in serving as an electric alternative to the hugely popular Audi Q5.

The Q6 E-tron 55 tested here is equipped with an asynchronous motor at the front and a permanent-magnet synchronous unit at the rear (both developed in-house) for "optimum efficiency" and a combined output of 396bhp. Between the axles is a circa-100kWh battery pack, equipped with 800V hardware (touted as among the PPE’s most revolutionary features) for charging at speeds of up to 270kW, where infrastructure permits.

Efficiency is the name of the game: in pursuit of a lofty 373-mile-plus range figure, engineers have rethought the drivetrain and power electronics system in excruciatingly granular detail. Silicon-carbide semiconductors are used throughout, for example, for their reduced heat emissions and thus minimal energy wastage. The stator wiring in the motors has a square cross-section – more efficient than using conventional round wire, which leaves microscopic wasted spaces between each winding. And the battery itself comprises 15 individual prismatic cells, filled with suitably energy-dense nickel-manganese-cobalt and arranged so as not to leave any useful space unfilled – unlike a ‘pouch’ or cylindrical arrangement, which inevitably creates useless voids throughout the battery structure. 

When asked against which cars they have benchmarked the new Q6, Audi engineers explain that it’s actually not as easy to identify a direct rival as you might expect. The BMW iX3? Based on adapted ICE architecture and developed with the Chinese market in mind. The BMW iX? Too large and luxurious. Kia EV6? Hyundai Ioniq 5? Slightly too small and rarely cross-shopped.

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Instead, the brief was to ensure that – rather than seeking to one-up its competitors – the Q6 should emulate as best as possible the attributes that have made the similarly sized Q5 Audi’s best-selling car for the past decade. And so while it is new in almost every conceivable way, the Q6 feels familiar by virtue of its commendable fusion of premium and practical appeal.

The boot is amply sized, the leg room in each row comparable with any rival, the slimline battery pack means the floor feels no higher than in a combustion-powered crossover and the general ambience is one of airiness and reassuringly solid quality. The atmosphere in our prototype car was dulled slightly by the oppressive black blanket used to shield a dramatically overhauled MMI infotainment screen from prying eyes (expect a full cabin reveal in the coming months), but every visible touchpoint was immaculately trimmed with suitably upmarket materials, and the switchgear we were allowed to use was sensibly positioned and satisfyingly responsive. 

And so too does the air-suspended Q6 iron out undulating, battered Tarmac with the sort of nonchalance you’d expect of a car so positioned - perhaps more competently, even. The Faroese roads we tried were far superior to the UK's, but a few cattle grids, potholes and speed humps – not to mention several brief, two-wheeled forays onto unfinished verges – revealed a seemingly unflappable chassis set-up that succeeds in rounding out the imperfections that so often catch out other firmly sprung EVs. It’s quiet, too. Audi says acoustic refinement has been a big part of the testing programme, to which the subtle motor whine, minimal road road and tyre rumbling are testament.

Power is meted out predictably and sensibly in all driving modes – albeit with more of a shove in Dynamic – which boosts confidence and makes for a smoothing driving experience, and extensive re-engineering of the motor units themselves seems to have resulted in much more finely controlled throttle inputs. Long gone are the days of the off-and-on accelerator pedal that defined early electric cars. I found my sweet spot in power-sapping Dynamic mode with the brake regen turned all the way up to compensate for the accelerated loss of battery power, but even with the settings configured for full-on hypermiling, the Q6’s straight-line performance stops some way short of dull or languid. 

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Drive an E-tron GT and a Q6 E-tron back to back, and you might struggle to identify exactly where these transformative advances have been made, but I sense that in the long run it will be clearly advantage to the newer, taller car, given the efficiency-boosting potential of its heavily re-engineered underpinnings. How it compares with competitors existing and forthcoming will rest largely on its new-look user interface, top-line dimensions and statistics, performance on UK roads and – most importantly – pricing, and for all of these vital metrics (and much more besides), we must wait until early next year. 

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Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years.