Has Audi painted itself into a corner with its crossovers? Adopting a design template across your model range makes sense, but it can be a something of a styling straitjacket.
There is no question that Audi knows how to design jaw-dropping cars. Just look at the R8, the gorgeous e-Tron GT or the sleek Avant variants of its family car range.
And it’s certainly not short of designers. One rival car executive bemoaned the fact that his design team for an all-important new model was smaller than the team at Audi responsible for styling light clusters.
But for all its talent pool, Audi has never quite mastered the crossover. And as with many rivals, the advent of all-electric models has left it in a quandary over what to do with the front grille.
It’s not that this all-electric Audi is ugly, far from it. But lined up against the latest array of all-electric models to hum onto the market, it looks a little bland.
Park your brand prejudices for a moment and consider the likes of the Kia EV6, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Ford Mach-E or even the VW ID.4, with which this car shares so much. All are styled to represent the exciting new era of motoring. The Q4's exterior represents the here and now.
Of course, Audi’s loyal following wouldn’t countenance changing to a Korean brand and having to pitch their case in the golf club car park. It’s nonsensical social snobbery, but when the car in your driveway changes from Audi to Kia, the neighbours invariably comment on your state of affairs.
When viewed from the lofty heights of Audi buyers, the Q4 proves an eminently tempting offer. Its exterior may be conservative but the format is anything but: here you have a relatively affordable, spacious family car that offers an all-electric official range of up to 510 km.
Audi is not new to electric: this is its third model on the market, but it’s by far the best priced. Starting at an eye-catching €40,788 after grants and including delivery charges, you get a 52kWh (usable) battery powering a 170hp motor, claiming a range of 335km. Step up to the €50,000 price point and you get the larger 77kWh (usable) battery version in the Q4 40 e-Tron – our test car – boasting better equipment and trim inside plus an official range of up to 510km.
Of course, when you start adding extras the price starts climbing and our test car in Sport level trim featured options such as 20-inch alloys, LED headlamps and an infotainment pack that included impressive augmented reality heads up display and the brand’s futuristic virtual cockpit. The end result was a price tag of €66,787.
The reason to fixate on styling and price so soon in this review is that in terms of driving dynamics, there’s not a lot to separate this Audi from its stablemates in the VW Group. The Q4, VW ID.4 and Skoda Enyaq all sit on the same MEB electric platform, feature the same range of battery packs powering the same electric motor powering the rear wheels. It’s even built alongside the ID.4 at VW’s plant in Zwickau, near the Czech border.
That means a proper family-sized cabin with ample legroom front and rear and a big boot of 520 litres, comparable to an A6 saloon, for example. It also means its ride is among the most comfortable and cosseted of all the electric crossovers coming our way.
VW engineers did a really impressive job of washing out the impact of the extra weight of the battery packs on the ride quality – marginally better than the Koreans or even Tesla – and the Audi team has tweaked it to be that bit better than its siblings.
The end result is a car that's incredibly smooth over the worst ramps and potholes Irish county councils can throw at it. Some have suggested it's a little too soft, but family motoring shouldn't be about rattling your dentures every time you hit a speed bump. The trade-off for comfort is be that the handling isn't quite on a par with the Tesla Model Y.
The Q4 doesn’t offer the sporty, dynamic handling of the Tesla and a 0-100km/h time of 8.5 seconds for our Q4 40 e-Tron test car can’t match the pace of the Model Y’s five- seconds take off for the long range version, or stellar 3.7 seconds for the Performance version. Nor does it have the Tesla’s all-wheel drive performance. Yet for EVs, the real pace is delivered in 0-50km/h – or 60-80km/h – and here the Q4 is no slouch. Overtaking pace and off the line acceleration is still impressive. But, overall it’s a relaxing drive and on stretches of winding rural roads it weaved its way with ease.
In terms of range, a long-term average on our test car recorded a power consumption figure of 19.3kWh per 100km, which suggests a range of 400km – less than the promised WLTP but still enough to keep range anxiety at bay.
Being an Audi, the interior trim is exceptional, something that really leaves a Tesla buyer wondering where their money went. New features such as the augmented reality heads-up display pack more gimmick factor than practical appeal, but the Germans continue to show that you don’t need a massive TV screen fitted to the dash. From the graphic displays to the switchgear, it’s in here that you really appreciate why this is the premium brand.
Audi has delivered an all-electric crossover that may not look as modern as its rivals, but delivers the latest tech on the road. It’s comfortable premium family motoring in a practical crossover with real-life usable electric range. Its pricing strategy means there are offerings to bridge several budget points.
At the entry level the badge and its attractive pricing should be more than enough to fend off challenges from stablemates such as the Skoda Enyaq. When it starts to exceed €50,000, however, it’s facing its stiffest challenges. Kia’s EV.6 may not have the brand kudos, but it has the looks, the practicality and a remarkably similar finish while offering a battery that seems one of the best to deliver on its range promise.
Once you head towards the €60,000 price point you start to enter Tesla territory. Here even Audi’s badge struggles to match the hype and excitement surrounding Elon Musk’s motoring brand.
At the top end the Q4 e-Tron can’t match the Model Y, but at more realistic price points close to €50,000 it certainly delivers enough to please Audi loyalists transitioning to electric. Conquests will also be easier to lure with a tempting entry price. Its biggest threat arguably doesn’t come from within the VW ranks or from traditional premium rivals: the car it most needs to worry about is Korean – the Kia EV.6.