Automakers don’t like building plug-in hybrids, especially the German automakers which have preferred to go all-out with diesel. Ask yourself if you’d like to pay an extra 10 grand on a car that already costs $60k, only to plug it in religiously every night so that you can drive 20 miles a day without the engine? With a Tesla, you plug in each night and can travel 250 miles. That’s why Tesla has the sales and expensive half-bloods like the new Audi e-tron models are not going to match it.
But emission laws are laws, and Audi has to abide them and appear to be doing so in an innovative way. Debuting in Shanghai, the new A6 L e-tron and Q7 2.0 e-tron don’t do anything a Ford Fusion Energi can’t for half the price. Both vehicles use the company’s 2.0-liter turbo four and an electric motor integrated into an 8-speed automatic, which admittedly, is a sportier experience than the continuously variable transmission used by Ford.
On the Q7 e-tron, that engine develops 252 hp and the motor does 94 kW for a combined rating of 367 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Those are big numbers, and with quattro all-wheel drive, it’ll move this seven-passenger SUV afoot very swiftly. But do so and you won’t see the full 33-mile electric range Audi promises according to Chinese specifications. Very likely, on U.S. EPA tests, the Q7 will hit 20 or so miles.
On the A6 L e-tron, the power figures are more tame — 211 hp for the engine and 91 kW for the motor for a combined 245 hp and 369 lb-ft. It’s only front-wheel drive, too. The L is an extended wheelbase model built by and specifically sold to the Chinese, because larger long-wheelbase models like the A8 are taxed out the wazoo. Likely, since Mercedes is bringing out an entire family of plug-in hybrids for the C-, E-, GLE-, and S-class models, we’ll see a regular A6 e-tron to join the A3 e-tron hatch that’s already here in extremely limited numbers.
No doubt these German cars will be fun to drive, but really, why spend so much money on a car like this? If efficiency is your thing, the diesel engines on these models are killer, with electric-like torque and 40-plus mpg on the highway. If plugging in is important, the Chevy Volt and the Ford C-max Energi are the better choices. They’re plenty zippy and have a lot of technology. Audi knows this. They’d rather just make the gas and diesel engines they’ve been perfecting for decades. Not enough people want a cord on their luxury car, unless that luxury car is a pure EV that starts with a “T.”