Every new journey is a learning experience. You learn things about yourself, your environment and your travel companions. Some trips might appear dull and boring, and others extremely great fun. Then there was this trip, where Sajid and I learnt a lot about how it is to live with a modern, state-of-the-art electric vehicle, in this case the Audi e-tron 55 Quattro.
Living in Delhi-NCR in the winter, you can see the haze, feel it on your skin and breathe that air. Numbers on the Air Quality Index (AQI) displays of the air purifiers in your house do not make sense anymore. And yes, even as an automotive writer, I cannot but admit that vehicular pollution has had a large role to play in the overall deterioration of air quality.
The automotive industry has worked overtime to address the problem, which is why we have seen a proliferation of electric vehicles. But few automotive brands have done as much as Audi has, with its one of the largest and most comprehensive offerings of electric vehicles in the market. And one of the first was the Audi e-tron 55 Quattro. This vehicle is a blend of Audi’s electric future as the ‘e-tron’ brand, which every electric vehicle from Audi will wear as well as their storied past, thanks to the Quattro brand. It might be a supercomputer on wheels, but few supercomputers can move, let alone move as fast as this. The 300 horsepower output from the 95 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery that sits under the floor makes the e-tron go fast, very fast and it can keep up with its powerful petrol engined siblings from the German manufacturer, something I have experienced first-hand at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC). However, this journey was going to be different, but more on that later.
Now, a bit about Quattro. Audi was the first carmaker in the world to have a permanent all-wheel drive system and this was developed by legendary automotive engineer Ferdinand Piech, the grandson of equally legendary Ferdinand Porsche after whom he was named. While purists might still prefer a four-wheel drive system to have a separate gearbox and control levers, Piech realised that rally drivers in the 1980s needed grip at all times and couldn’t just stop and change to four-wheel drive while driving at insane speeds. The system gives all Audi cars with the Quattro badge immense grip in all conditions, with tractions going to all four wheels.
This journey, however, was not about how fast the e-tron 55 Quattro could go or how much grip it had but much more about how far it could go. Electric vehicles have, for a long time, made their owners and potential owners worry about something called ‘range anxiety’. This has made buyers steer clear of electric vehicles because nobody wants to be stranded in the middle of nowhere without any juice. But in the past few years, a multitude of charging stations have been established across Indian highways and with multiple models of electric vehicles available, we believed that taking the Audi e-tron 55 Quattro from Delhi to Kasauli, in the lower reaches of the Himalayas, would be a good bet. We could use charging stations on the way and also experience the power drop-off when one goes uphill. And, while we knew of some charging facilities, I had deliberately not done too much research. After all, the best trips are those done last-minute.
Luckily, I have an Audi e-tron charger in my garage in South Delhi. This 11kWh charger that runs on alternating current can charge the car fully overnight, and that left me with around 350 kilometres of range. This being the media car, it had seen a few hard days, having recently been on the racetrack. So the computer assumed that I’d be giving the car the ‘full beans’ as well. However, with a multitude of speed cameras, I stayed judiciously under the speed limit the entire way.
We set off from Delhi, a little after 10am and made our way down the brilliant Delhi-Meerut Expressway after which we caught the equally excellent Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE), which brought us down to the Delhi-Ambala road on the alignment of the classic Grand Trunk Road. We had a good time driving the car using cruise control, but due to relatively empty roads, the car had not regenerated much energy.
This brings me to the other aspect about electric vehicles. Many electric vehicles, particularly in a more premium price band, have what is known as energy recuperation or ‘regeneration’. Brakes dissipate kinetic energy, that is your forward motion, into heat energy. Most electric vehicles, such as all Audi e-tron cars, manage to recuperate some if not most of the braking energy converting it back into electricity. Braking smartly and controlling the regenerative power, a good driver can eke out much more additional range from an EV.
The Audi e-tron 55 Quattro also had ‘flappy paddles’ on the steering wheel, which in regular geared petrol or diesel internal combustion engine cars is used to control the gears. Here, these paddles control the amount of braking regeneration through automatic braking. That is, I had three levels of braking when I lifted off the accelerator using the paddles. In fact, judicious use of the paddles could have actually allowed me what is described as ‘single pedal’ driving. Of course, sadly, given the state of traffic on most Indian roads and highways, my foot was always primed for braking. But, on some of the new access controlled Expressways, you can do it.
After some time, we approached Karnal lake, where the fast ‘Combined Charging System’ Direct Current charger established by a public-sector company was broken and the other set of chargers established by a private charging operator was not functional. We went to the usual highway pitstop next door and the chargers there were non functional as yet as the electricity was offline.
Would this mean that our electric adventure would end before it started?
Thankfully, Karnal had more chargers including a Tata Power fast charging station at the Audi Karnal dealership, which was on the highway, albeit on the other side of town. Audi e-tron owners can also charge their cars for free (right now) at dealerships with their own charger.
To be honest, I made a mistake here. Using the free charger instead of the Tata Power fast charger next to it meant that I could only charge the car at 10-11kWh. Despite the relatively efficient five kilometres per kWh we were averaging, the one-hour halt meant that we only got 50 kilometres of additional range, and that too on the plains. Much like petrol and diesel cars, electric vehicles also consume more power while going uphill. I should have used the Direct Current fast charger, but one lives and learns and anyway this was my first time charging a car on a long-distance journey. Thankfully, we were headed via Chandigarh where there were several more charging stations available, including a fast charger at the Audi Chandigarh dealership.
That is where we headed, and despite needing to download and install the Tata Power EZ Charge app to use the 60kW Direct Current charger outside the dealership, after a delay of 45 minutes, we were on our way again. I had at that time switched from my Apple CarPlay navigation to using the car’s inbuilt navigation system. This had one advantage as it correctly predicted the extra energy I’d need going uphill, so the range of the car dropped from 200 kilometres to just above 125 kilometres. But despite the uphill journey, we made good time in order to get to Kasauli, although the sun had set by the time Sajid and I reached, even though the range was now under 75 kilometres.
In the morning, while Sajid shot the picturesque surroundings of Kasauli and Sanawar, I searched for chargers close by. And what do you know, there were quite a few chargers in and around Kasauli. I even found a fast charger at a resort nearby, run by Tata Power, which saved me the headache of downloading and installing another app. We went to that resort and while the charger ran at a speed of just 30kW, after a hour-long coffee break, followed by some shooting, we were on our way again.
We started our downhill journey with around 98 kilometres of range and even though the Audi Chandigarh dealership was just 40-odd clicks away, it was amazing to see the speed with which the car regained charge. Yes, petrol and diesel cars also gain efficiency while going downhill, but they don’t refill their tanks. I actually saw the e-tron 55 Quattro’s battery charge indicator climb, slowly but surely. Once we hit the Himalayan Expressway, the road that bypasses Parwanoo and Kalka, I noticed the car had over 140 kilometres of range. Sure, not enough to make it to Delhi, but more than enough to save us some time at Audi Chandigarh.
The impressive showroom at Audi Chandigarh had a dual-gun (as the charging leads are called) 60kW Tata Power EZ Charge point. One complaint I have though is that buying power from commercial charging points is not cheap; after GST, I paid approximately Rs 25 a unit for the power. That said, getting the car to almost full charge in an hour was impressive. The Audi e-tron 55 Quattro can sustain fast charging at 150kWh and the next generation of e-trons can support 22kWh Alternating Current chargers as well as 150kWh Direct Current fast chargers. This will mean that if you buy an e-tron, you will be able to charge it fully in just over half an hour at public charging points and in just four-five hours at home.
After lunch, we set off for Delhi with close to 400 kilometres of range, however the longer route of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and the Meerut Expressway, which while much faster was a lot longer, meant that I reached home with just above 50 kilometres of range. Nothing that an overnight charging session couldn’t solve. And here is the funny thing: while I’m sure there are some individuals who have their own private petrol pumps at home, I’m assuming most of them are rulers of oil-rich countries in the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere. But anybody who has a charger at home can charge an electric vehicle. Your own private petrol, well not petrol, pump.
Of course, there are problems here, and let us not shy away from them. High-speed fast chargers are very rare, but the likes of Audi India (and some other manufacturers), have promised that a few will be coming in major cities. One 180kWh charger is already operational in India near the city of Kochi. The second bugbear I had is the fact that I needed multiple applications on my device to use different charging providers. While I fortunately only used Tata Power EZ Charge this time, this could be a problem in other parts of India. But Audi India is developing an application that will allow e-tron users to use multiple service providers much more easily. Just like you use different petrol pumps.
That said, for regular daily use inside the city, a range of 400-450 kilometres that a vehicle like the Audi e-tron 55 Quattro delivers is more than enough for a week of commuting and since customers get a home charging point when they purchase an e-tron, they can take full advantage of the lower residential power rates. Living in Delhi, I pay Rs 8 a unit of power and at an efficiency of between 4.5-5 kilometres per unit (kWh) of power, my running costs are under Rs 2 per kilometre. A similar-sized petrol or diesel vehicle costs over Rs 10 a unit to run.
This was a learning experience. Next time maybe I will plan slightly better and hopefully aggregator applications will be available on my smartphone that will allow me to do that. But, it is very feasible to take an electric luxury vehicle on a medium, or even a long-distance holiday right now. Thank you, Audi, the e-tron was a fun vehicle to drive to Kasauli and back.
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(Edited by Prashant)