Audi heats up the luxury electric vehicle market
Audi heats up the luxury electric vehicle market
Is Audi reshaping the long-held view of what a luxury car should be?
The big cars of the future need to be electrified. Well over a year ago, in the dark days of the first lockdown, Audi had to ditch an A8 outside my house. No one was really going anywhere, and the big, shiny black limousine got unusually dusty and quickly started looking rather sad. Every few days, I dutifully sat inside the impressive interior and cranked the ignition, triggering a glittering Aladdin cave of digital dials and readings as the car reassured me that it was still alive. .
Since its inception in 1994, the flagship Audi A8 has been the big car of choice for discreet businessmen. It’s not as flashy as the Mercedes S-Class, less aggressive than BMW’s 7 Series, and a more tech-driven machine than, say, a Jaguar XJ. Over the decades, large sedans have plunged into sales and status, overtaken by luxury SUVs. Yet for automakers and their design teams, they always carry kudos; the large dimensions allow for elegant proportions and the high prices allow the new technology to make its debut. Like its peers, the A8 model has always been a technological showcase – it was the first Audi to make heavy use of lightweight aluminum, while subsequent models cram into the high level of new technology before filtering through the range, from interface screens to navigation. systems.
Although Audi’s latest version of the A8 arrived at Wallpaper * to find itself almost instantly unemployed, it was already adjusting to a rapidly changing world. Most notably, it eventually came with a plug-in hybrid system, using the smoothness of electric power to deliver the most efficient driving possible. These days, virtually every Audi model is pumped to the next level, filled with digital instrument panels and connectivity options, leaving scale and power as the only things that make a car stand out at the top. of the market. The A8, or the A8 L 60 TFSIe to give it its full title, is certainly large – this “L” denotes a slight stretch of the wheelbase to give rear passengers the full reclining seat experience, complete with screens and footrest. It’s also fast, pairing a relatively modest 335 hp turbocharged V6 gasoline engine with an additional 126 hp electric motor. Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive system is standard, and all the benefits of hybrid power – quick, quiet acceleration and vastly improved fuel efficiency – are easily seen. But it is far from being performance oriented; the experience is all about the ride.
A large, comfortable car that can glide silently in and out of city centers without leaving an unnecessary trail of pollution in its wake doesn’t just benefit those in the spacious rear seats. On the one hand, it feels like Audi has built the perfect car for a very particular and declining demographic: those who employ a driver. But this new variant of the A8 also helps to reshape the long-held view of what a luxury car should be, avoiding the ostentatious gaze on me in favor of a discreet, understated and efficient design, with technology. doing all the hard work to hide the perceived excesses.
There is a caveat. Twelve months is a long time in the modern automotive industry and Audi now has a small fleet of purely electric vehicles, the e-tron, e-tron Sportback, Q4 e-tron and e-tron GT. Their rather confusing and unremarkable naming convention aside, it’s worth comparing the A8 Hybrid with its new EV parents. The closest comparison is the e-tron GT, a svelte four-door fastback that shares a substantial amount of DNA with the Porsche Taycan. It’s fast, sleek, and has a decent enough range (303 miles) to be an effective substitute for a conventional car.
As we’ve already noted, the Achilles heel of all big, fast electric cars is that you can enjoy performance or use range, but rarely both together. Easy access to fast charging takes the sting out of quickly depleted batteries, but for now EV GT performance remains a bit of an oxymoron. This is especially relevant if you go for the more capable “RS” specification, the first Audi EV to get the badge usually reserved for its more extreme conventional models.
The e-tron GT remains an impressive car at more modest speeds. It’s comfortable, spacious and has all the features you expect: superior mapping, great infotainment system, sophisticated driver assistance. Perversely, the e-tron GT feels a little less sophisticated than its electric SUV siblings, with more buttons and fewer touchscreens. It’s also not as driver-focused as the Taycan, which remains the gold standard for the segment, with a brighter, more contemporary interior.
So where next? It can be assumed that at a minimum, large sedans and limousines will now be stock hybrids. Whether the A8 will ever create its own EV variant is up to Audi, although the recent Audi A6 e-tron concept vehicle indicates exactly that sort of strategy.
However, there is also a slew of top secret Audi concepts on the horizon, starting with next month’s “Sky Sphere”. These promise a new approach to interior and exterior design in order to reaffirm the leading position in the competitive luxury electric vehicle market, where the bar is rising and technology is the main driver. Despite the undeniable sophistication of the RS e-tron GT, it must for now give way to Mercedes, which has confidently usurped the long-standing dominance of its S-Class limousine with its new EQS EV. Audi needs an equally bold production model – not just a concept – to keep its understated charm intact. §