- I compared an $89,000 Audi e-tron SUV and a Tesla Model X, now selling for about $100,000.
- The Model X has been the premier electric SUV in the market since 2015. The e-tron was touted as a challenger.
- But the e-tron has far less range than the Model X, and depending on trim levels, the e-tron can end up costing more than the Tesla.
- It's tough to argue against the Model X, even though the exotic SUV is getting on in years, and has some flaws.
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When it comes to electric vehicles, everybody is chasing Tesla.
But what does that really mean? Well, Tesla has, in about five years, become the dominant luxury EV company, outselling competitors by a healthy margin.
That doesn't mean the competition is giving up. One of the more exciting recent contestants was the Audi e-tron, which combined German luxury engineering with a familiar design and an EV powertrain when it went on sale last year.
I've driven the Model X several times, and recently got behind the wheel of the e-tron. Naturally, I had to compare the two.
Here's how it went:
A distinguishing feature for the e-tron — one of its few electric tells — are the 21-inch, five-spoke wheels, with orange brake calipers.passengers. The wheels part of a $4,900 "Edition One" package, meaning my tester was one of just 999 vehicles built for the series. I didn't particularly care for them.The Audi design template is the most obvious right upfront. Of course, the all-electric e-tron doesn't technically require a grille, but it has one. Almost-invisible badging appears beneath the famous four rings, a reminder that this vehicle has Audi's legendary quattro all-wheel-drive system. The back of an SUV is rarely an attractive thing, but Audi's rear ends are better than most, including VW Group stablemate Porsche's. Cargo capacity is excellent: 27 cubic feet with the second row up, 57 cubic feet with the second row dropped. That's better than the Q5. The interior was a stock Audi black. It supports Audi's minimalist approach to luxury. The front seats were Valcona leather, heated and cooled, part of a $7,000 "Prestige" package.
The rear seats are a roomy bench design. The legroom is adequate, and a $900 "Cold Weather" package added heaters, plus a preconditioning protocol to warm up the entire cabin.The multifunction, leather-wrapped steering wheel is a standard on luxury vehicles these days, but Audi adds its "Virtual Cockpit" technology, which can transform the large digital instrument cluster, offering customized information views. The 95-kWh battery sends power to a pair of electric motors, yielding a total power output of 402 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque, with a 0-60 mph time of just over five seconds. The transmission is a simple single-speed automatic. In practice, the e-tron is smooth and quick, genuinely a fun machine to drive. The range is a comparatively disappointing 204 miles, but the e-tron does have the capacity to handle 150-kW fast charging. The e-tron uses 88% of its full 95-kWh battery to preserve its life, and the vehicle can regain 80% of a full charge in 30 minutes. I liked the Audi e-tron. But I'm not convinced that it's a great all-electric SUV, and it is rather expensive.
Audi's bread-and-butter SUVs — the Q5 and Q7 — are supposed to be versatile, luxurious, suburban chariots, but they're also supposed to be capable of longer voyages. And while 200 miles is decent range for an EVs, it's not really competitive in this segment, vaguely delineated as it is.
The e-tron is a rolling compromise, essentially a transition of the Audi of today, selling two variants of this vehicle, as the Audi of tomorrow, with more than a dozen EVs prospectively in the portfolio.On to the Model X, Tesla's flamboyant SUV, launched in 2015. I tested the vehicle a few years back — the comparable current trim level, the Model X Performance, now costs about $100,000. The Model X's distinguishing feature is the pair of upswinging, "falcon wing" rear doors. They made quite a statement when the Model X first hit the streets, but they're a manufacturing challenge, and Tesla hasn't used the configuration on any newer cars or SUVs. The Model X's cargo capacity is extreme. I tested a three-row version of the vehicle, and when I dropped one of the rearmost seats, I had enough space for my family of five's gear for a long weekend. Throw in a front trunk and you have a whopping 88 cubic feet of cargo space. My Model X sported the highly desired white interior. Tesla makes its own seats, and while they aren't fancy, they are comfy. I liken them to a memory-foam mattress. The Model X's cabin isn't as minimalist as the newer Model 3's, but it definitely lacks the many buttons, knobs, and switches that adorn the interiors of most luxury SUVs. The large, portrait-oriented central touchscreen dominates the dashboard and handles numerous vehicle functions, from audio to phone pairing to climate control to navigation. The latest iteration of the Model X Performance serves up 305 miles of range and a 0-60 mph time of 2.5 seconds. It can access Tesla's widespread network of Superchagers, or be recharged with a 240-volt home charger. Supercharging is much faster, but it's still a commitment. When I road-tripped the Model X, my Supercharger hops averaged 30-45 minutes. A full recharge takes about an hour. A Long Ranger trim level delivers 351 miles of range, but a slower 0-60 mph time of merely 4.4 seconds. The price tag? Around $80,000. The Model X also has Tesla's Autopilot semi-self-driving system. A smartphone app allows owners to monitor their Model X, track charging, and turn the vehicle on remotely. The Model X wins this comparison, but neither it nor the e-tron is without flaws.
Both of the currently available Model X trim levels have significantly better range than the e-tron, and the Long Range Model X is about $10,000 cheaper than the well-optioned Audi I tested this year. So for two pretty basic reasons — range and cost — the Model X makes more sense.
But the Model X is an idiosyncratic all-electric SUV, and it always has been. It's arguably the most high-tech, futuristic vehicle on the road that isn't an exotic supercar. You have to be comfortable with this approach to become an owner.
The e-tron offers a more familiar luxury experience. Even though its range is a lot less than then Model X's, its interior appointments and styling are more high-end. So if you seek the luxury you already know, but with an electric powertrain, the e-tron is worth your attention.
I wouldn't have a hard time making my decision: The Audi is fun to drive and checks a bunch of premium boxes, but the Model X is the all-electric SUV that would convince me to borrow a bunch of money and make the payments. It simply has too much going for it, and you don't even need to get hung up on the acceleration or how sophisticated Autopilot is relative to Audi's own driver-assist and advanced cruise-control systems.
When Tesla launched the Model X, it was meant to be the most exciting SUV on the market, and it succeeded in being just that. Since 2015, nothing has managed to take away the crown.