LOS ANGELES, CALIF.—When Dieselgate made headlines in 2014, it fundamentally changed how Volkswagen Group and its associated sub-brands, from Volkswagen to Lamborghini, had to think about cars. Diesel got a big black mark, and electric vehicles got a much-needed bump in the race for a more sustainable way to meet the ever-growing demand for personal transportation.
The scandal accelerated Volkswagen’s push to go completely electric by 2033 and encouraged investment in a US network of EV chargers (which still leave a lot to be desired), but the rollout of the EVs themselves has been slow, to say the least.
Audi, one of the VW Group’s luxury automakers, has been slowly rolling out a suite of new EVs that began with the e-tron SUV, the e-tron Sportback, and the e-tron GT sport tourer and most recently includes the Q4 e-tron in both typical crossover and Sportback form. The Q4 e-tron was announced in February of 2021 and was originally slated to make its stateside debut in mid- to late-2021.
Fast-forward through the current state of world affairs, and the entry-level crossover from Audi is only just beginning to arrive in the States. The delays were a direct result of everything from the ongoing war in Ukraine to pandemic-induced chip shortages. While it’s strange to get a first drive of a 2022 model in July of 2022, the short time we spent with the compact crossover on the roads around Malibu, California, and again with a Sportback version around the sprawl of Los Angeles, proves that it has been worth the wait.
A platform shared with the Volkswagen ID.4
We spent three short hours tooling around the hills of Malibu and Topanga Canyon on a sunny afternoon in July with some of the very early builds of the 2022 Audi Q4 50 e-tron in the mid-level Premium Plus trim. All of the Q4 e-trons in the US will be called “Q4 50 e-trons,” but there are three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. The 2022 Audi Q4 50 e-tron gets an 82 kWh capacity battery pack (77 kWh usable—the same as the Volkswagen ID.4) and an EPA estimated battery range of up to 241 miles (388 km). Audi says that both the crossover and the Sportback version will do 0–60 mph in 5.8 seconds. An asynchronous motor at the front and a permanent synchronous motor at the rear offer standard all-wheel drive for the full lineup, with 295 hp (220 kW) and 339 lb-ft (460 Nm).
At the base Premium trim, you get a bunch of luxury amenities, including three-zone automatic climate control, leather seating surfaces, uniquely shaped interior armrests that conveniently hold a water bottle, Audi’s 10.1-inch MMI infotainment touchscreen, and a stellar digital instrument cluster. You also get Audi’s suite of safety tech, including Audi pre-sense basic and front collision system and Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic assist, lane departure warning, and a rearview camera with a washer system. You also get standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as uniquely configurable LED headlights. When the car is outfitted with the Matrix headlights of the Prestige Plus trim, you can customize the daytime running light pattern through the MMI system with just a few taps through the menu.
A pair of paddles is nestled subtly behind the steering wheel, and they control the regenerative braking system. The left paddle lowers the regenerative braking while the right paddle raises it, up to two levels higher than just coasting, with each pull. Once you pull the paddle, the brake regen is set until you turn the Q4 e-tron off, when it goes back to the lowest level again. You can also use the rocker switch on the floating center console to put the Q4 e-tron into B-mode, which is the most aggressive regen setting that yields one-pedal driving and proves to be perfect for the horrific LA traffic along the Pacific Coast Highway. B-mode will bring you to a complete stop when you lift off the accelerator.
Regardless of trim, all Q4 e-trons sit on steel springs with adaptive dampers and don’t get the option of Audi’s air suspension; this would raise the cost of the entry-level crossover significantly, and truthfully, it doesn’t need it. The more than 4,800-lb (2,180-kg) vehicle doesn’t need any additional softening, whether you’re on a curving canyon road or a flat stretch of highway with the adaptive cruise control engaged. As expected, it corners relatively flat, and the customizable one-pedal braking system is easy to use. The paddles seem a bit pointless, though, because the different regen levels are almost barely noticeable in D-mode and don’t add any more regen if you’re already in B-mode.