The hi-tech interior of the Audi e-tron quattro prototype was finally unveiled in all its glory last night, following months of speculation and snatched glimpses of the German carmaker’s first-ever electric vehicle.
So what’s new about this state-of-the-art cabin? The Week Portfolio got a first-hand look during a drive around the sunny streets of Copenhagen.
Virtual side mirrors
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One of the biggest technological advances on the muscular electric SUV is the introduction of virtual side mirrors. Gone are the standard glass mirrors that have graced most car doors for decades, replaced here with slim cantilevered cameras that sweep out from the body and back, sending a live video feed to two high-contrast 7in Oled displays inside the cabin.
As well as looking futuristic, the display offers two distinct advantages: first, they cut drag by an estimated 2% to 7% - a big benefit with electric vehicles, helping to maximise their range.
The mirrors also automatically adjust to the driving conditions, opening out to a wide-angle view when you are driving on a motorway and contracting to a tighter shot when you are manoeuvring through a parking lot.
Screens, screens and more screens
Screens are everywhere in the e-tron. As well as the familiar “virtual cockpit” from previous Audi models, with its full-colour cluster of reconfigurable digital instruments, there is now also a dual-screen multi media interface (MMI) infotainment system in the centre column.
The upper display houses the main controls, including those for navigation, radio, telephone and apps. Below, the secondary screen is for adjusting the car’s temperature, including air con, seat heating, and ventilation, with the option to set different temperatures for different vents.
All the screens are touch-sensitive, of course, and offer a pleasing haptic response that gives the impression of pressing a physical button rather than swiping at a piece of glass. Cleverly, the system even gives out a sound when touched – the much celebrated “Audi click” – which has been tuned to the same note as all physical buttons across Audis everywhere.
The interior of the Audi e-tron prototype offers a mix of materials, colours and inlays. The seats are made from Valcona leather, while the dash features dark brushed aluminum, enhancing the car’s sporty look.
Interestingly, Audi’s sensory experience team works to refine not only the look and feel of the materials used in each car’s cabin, but also the scent of every element. So how does the e-tron smell? In a word: expensive.
During the presentation of the cabin, I asked Audi interior designer Thomas Pinel whether the blue lighting around the cabin was intended to be a nod to 1982 sci-fi film Tron. “Not exactly,” he told me with a smile. “But I do take inspiration from classic sci-fi.” It shows. Even the stitching on the seats brings to mind circuit boards and, according to Pinel, the orange piping takes its cue from the car’s high-voltage electrical system.
Space, the final frontier
The e-tron’s interior can comfortably seat five passengers. The car has a long wheelbase of 9.6ft, which means plenty of legroom for all and good headroom throughout the cabin (useful for anyone who, like me, is above 6ft).
An interesting feature is the “flat plateau” in the back of the car – the reclaimed floor space between passengers’ feet where the driveshaft would be found in conventional cars. It may not add a lot of extra cabin space but it makes a difference.
The sound of silence
One of the most noticeable things about driving in the e-tron is the quiet. The only sounds you hear most of the time are from the car’s tires and the hum of its electric motors.
There is the muted whoosh of cars around you, but the e-tron’s body has been soundproofed and sealed throughout to further isolate the cabin from external sound.
Audi says that wind noises tends to become noticeable in most cars above speeds of around 85km/h (52.8mph), but it barely gets into the e-tron, allowing passengers to talk to each other without needing to raise their voices.
Go out with a Bang (& Olufsen)
The calm of the cabin is only interrupted when you fire up the e-tron’s Bang & Olufsen sound system. The car is equipped with 16 speakers and is rated for 705 watts of power.
One of the most striking features of this sound system is its so-called 3D sound, which, when switched on, emulates the experience of being in the very space where the recording took place, be it a studio, concert hall or stadium.
Audi already offers the Bang & Olufsen 3D system as an option in most of its other models, but it feels new to hear it against the backdrop of the e-tron’s hushed electric engine.
Rather than crowing about it, the e-tron’s interior conceals most of its state-of-the-art technology. It still feels like an Audi, just one that does a host of things in an intuitive new way. The most obvious innovation is the virtual wing mirrors, but like any good piece of tech, even just a few minutes of use leaves you wondering how you ever did without them.
An official release date and pricing for the e-tron has yet to be announced, but What Car? expects the EV to cost in the region of £60,000. This would put it in direct competition with the upcoming Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla’s Model X SUV.
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