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Audi

We now have a couple of additional crucial puzzle pieces for the 2019 Audi E-Tron electric SUV: When, and How Far. 

The When is simple: Audi's hotly anticipated midsize battery-electric crossover will start deliveries to reservation holders beginning in May, with dealer demonstrations commencing simultaneously. 

The second question, How Far, is more complicated. According to EPA estimates, the 2019 Audi E-Tron's range figure is 204 miles, for a Miles Per Gallon equivalent (MPGe) estimate of 74. 

At this point you're probably hurriedly Googling the range of other electric luxury SUVs to compare. Allow me to save you the trouble: 2019 Tesla Model X 75D, 237 miles; 2019 Jaguar I-Pace, 234 miles. 

What gives?

There's no doubt about it, the 2019 E-Tron's range figure is at the very least head scratching, and more than likely, disappointing. The truth is, like many things in life, Your Mileage May Vary, and this is a complicated issue.

For one thing, Elon Musk recently revealed that Tesla's base $82,000 Model X 75D -- the closest foil for Audi's new E-Tron, has been discontinued (it's still possible to find them new for the moment). The enigmatic CEO's January Twitter announcement effectively means that the $89,500 (plus $1,200 for delivery) Tesla Model X Long Range, with its 289 miles of range, is the electric SUV's new base price. By comparison, Audi's E-Tron will start at a more affordable $74,800 (plus $975 for delivery). In addition, E-Tron buyers are eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit that's being phased out for Tesla models now that the California automaker has sold 200,000 qualifying EVs. 

Audi is taking pains to emphasize that it's been conservative with its range calculations, focusing on performance attributes such as charge rate, repeatability and battery durability instead of a bigger range number. My personal drive experiences with competitors such as the Tesla Model X and the Jaguar I-Pace suggests that's a valid -- if complicated -- strategy. Audi's own research suggests that real-world range and charge rates will be competitive to the Jag (if not the departing 75D), but the proof will be in the real-world driving. (For context, I've never come close to realizing the Jaguar I-Pace's official EPA range estimate, a black mark on an otherwise very enjoyable electric automobile.)

Audi's midsize E-Tron SUV will carry five people and their gear in comfort.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Even so, the E-Tron's range number is catching people by surprise: The model received a range rating of 259 miles on Europe's more lenient WLPT test cycle, and some were expecting a higher EPA estimate. "That is a particularly disappointing number," said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst at Navigant Research, an organization that tracks and advises the auto industry. "It certainly points to some issues with power conversion efficiency in their propulsion system. Probably in their power electronics, which seems to be the one area where Tesla has a significant advantage now over the rest of the industry." 

"The i-Pace and E-Tron's EPA-estimated ranges are both near 80% of the WLTP-estimated ranges ... we do not have an unusually wide gulf compared to Jaguar," an Audi spokesperson told Roadshow. "The (vehicle) weights in Europe and US are different and have a diff(erent) spec basis that make a comparison almost impossible."

Abuelsamid tells Roadshow, "there's certainly nothing to stop a manufacturer from sandbagging … to work out a weighted average." Such a strategy might be employed to ensure that all customers can reach a stated maximum range figure regardless of specification or driving conditions. He also noted that such a tactic would be highly unlikely, however, as automakers generally try to trumpet the highest range figure possible. (Challenging weather or topography conditions, or options such as sticky high-performance tires can all negatively impact a vehicle's range.)

The E-Tron will do battle in the rapidly developing electric luxury EV segment against Tesla, Jaguar and Mercedes.

Audi

At least for the moment, Audi's key advantage is that the E-Tron can accept a higher rate of charge than any of its rivals. The E-tron's 95-kWh battery is capable of charging at 150 kilowatts, a rate sufficient to add 54 miles of range in just 10 minutes, or 163 miles in 30 minutes. That class-leading charge rate advantage might be fleeting, however. In March, Tesla announced new Supercharger network hardware capable of 250 kWh -- previous units were capped at 120 kWh, so the new units are about 50 percent quicker. For the moment, however, these fast-charging stations have not yet been deployed in meaningful numbers, and since Tesla's Model X SUV doesn't support charging at these higher rates, its hardware will need to be updated to take advantage of the new Superchargers.

In any case, along with its Volkswagen Group compatriots, Audi is rolling out its own high-power national charging network subsidiary, Electrify America, to help assuage any range-anxiety concerns. In a new press release, Audi says nearly 2,000 chargers will be located at 500 different locations in 42 states, including 17 metro areas, by the end of this year. E-Tron buyers will receive 1,000 kWh of free charging at said Electrify America outposts -- that's around 2,000 miles of range. Electrify America's DC fast chargers range in output anywhere between 50 kWh (CHAdeMO connection) and 350 kWh (CCS connection).

Audi partner Electrify America promises to have 500 charging locations online by the end of 2019.

Electrify America

On the domestic front, Audi has teamed up with Amazon Home Services to offer Level 2 charge points, as the company expects most E-Tron customers to juice up in their own garages and carports a vast majority of the time.

Audi says the E-Tron's 95-kWh battery has been electronically limited to utilize 88 percent of its pack capacity (83.5 kWh) to ensure "better longevity, repeatable performance and pack charging power for longer amounts of time during the charge cycle." It's common practice for EV manufacturers to reserve portions of battery capacity to mete out additional capacity to counter pack degradation over time. But Audi appears to be being more conservative than some other automakers, in order to assure long pack life and ensure the ability for multiple hard acceleration runs.

At least for the moment, Audi has not detailed plans for future E-Tron SUV models with larger battery packs to deliver more range or power. 

Video: The Audi E-Tron shows us the future, underwhelms on the road

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