Audi’s attractively priced new electric vehicles poised to take on Tesla

April 14, 2021, 7:32 PM UTC

Volkswagen Group’s Audi looks poised to take on Tesla’s Model Y starting in June, when the battery-powered Q4 e-tron marks the German premium brand’s debut in the booming electric compact crossover segment.

Together with its Sportback twin that features a sleeker, more coupe-like look, the SUV is Audi’s third zero-emission model line. As the automaker’s entry level offering, it bookends a product range that is led at the very top by the RS e-tron GT luxury sports car.

“We have a clear focus on battery electric vehicles that we will now bring to the road year after year,” Audi CEO Markus Duesmann told reporters.

The Q4 e-tron and Q4 Sportback e-tron represent the fifth and sixth fully electric models out of a portfolio of more than 20 that will be eventually offered by 2025.

German buyers will have to pay about 47,500 euros ($57,000) for the long-range Q4 e-tron, and 49,500 euros ($59,400) for its Sportback version, including tax—a bargain compared to the 58,620 euros ($70,344) charged by Tesla for the equivalent Model Y.

U.S. customers will have to wait for details on pricing, however, as the model, which will ship from Germany, won’t arrive in dealerships until November.

Unlike Audi’s previous two zero-emission model lines that were to a degree derived from conventional combustion engine cars, the Q4 e-tron SUV is its first conceived from the ground up to run on batteries, just like a Tesla.

Built from scratch

Eliminating the conventional powertrain—including an engine, transmission, and driveshaft—freed engineers up, allowing them to redesign the vehicle from scratch. They stretched the dimensions of the passenger cabin, giving occupants the spaciousness found in a typical midsize car in the footprint of a compact.

By pushing the wheels to the outermost extremities, the Q4 e-tron is also more maneuverable than even smaller cars. Its 10.2-meter (33.5-foot) turning circle gives it an advantage on narrow European roads, where a less agile Tesla would struggle.

It will also come with an optional augmented-reality head-up display that superimposes information such as navigational directions virtually onto the road.

The long-range version of the Q4 e-tron should manage a European certified distance of 520 kilometers (323 miles) on one charge, while the company hopes to surpass 250 miles under the EPA test cycle administered for U.S. models.

Audi’s model line will center on the long-range Q4 40 e-tron that features a battery with a usable, or net, capacity of 77 kilowatt hours and an electric motor with 150 kW output (201 hp) that drives the rear wheels. Together they can accelerate the vehicle to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) from standstill in 8.5 seconds with speed topping out at 160 km/h. The vehicle can recharge to 80% in 38 minutes using fast charging stations equipped with a minimum 125 kW power.

An all-wheel-drive version dubbed the Q4 50 e-tron as well as a shorter range 35 model will flank it, although the latter won’t be offered in the U.S. market.

Production could be constrained initially as the Q4 e-tron will be supplied by only one plant outside China. The Audi runs off the same line in Germany as the ID.4 and three other group models, where a maximum of 330,000 units can be built annually.

Duesmann told reporters sustainability wasn’t just an issue of engine emissions, but would extend to the production process as well: “That’s why we want to deliver all Q4 e-tron vehicles to our customers with a neutral carbon balance.”

Together with its sibling Volkswagen ID.4, the vehicle serves as a one-two punch from the VW Group, which intends to eventually eclipse Tesla as the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles.

By utilizing VW’s dedicated BEV architecture expected to underpin 19 million vehicles, Audi is able to improve the economics of the model by spreading out the development costs over a higher volume and extracting lower prices from suppliers.

This is important as no carmaker currently can generate a profit on the sale of a BEV. Even Tesla makes its money selling regulatory credits. Last year it collected nearly $1.6 billion from incumbent carmakers, which pay the company for the right to count Tesla cars in their CO2 fleet emissions, thereby offsetting the gas-guzzlers they sell.