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Zoom in / After selling more than 160,000 e-tron SUVs, Audi has given the model a midlife refresh and a new name, the Q8 e-tron. (Seen here is the SQ8 e-tron Sportback version).

Jonathan Gitlin

LANZAROTE, SPAIN. The electric car market is still young enough that most models are in their early stages of youth. But the prevailing wisdom in the industry is that a model should live for about eight years, with a midlife sprucing up or refresh scheduled for about the fourth year. It’s no coincidence that Audi launched its first electric SUV, the e-tron, nearly four years ago and has sold more than 160,000 of it. Now the German automaker has a growing lineup of electric powertrains, and “e-tron” has gone from a proper noun to an adjective in its corporate vocabulary, like “quattro” did a few decades ago. So this mid-life update includes a name change; The e-tron becomes the Q8 e-tron, making clear the fairly obvious similarities between this EV SUV and the gas-burning Q8.

When I drove the original e-tron in 2018, I found it solid, if a little invisible. In terms of looks, it hits most of the right notes; Audi knows how to design a nice shape and its interior is at the top of the class, if a little drab at times. The fairly short-lived e-tron could only manage a relatively mediocre 2.2 mpg (28.2 kWh/100 km) at launch. That was enough for more than 200 miles (321 km) of range, but not much more, although a software update in 2021 increased the usable power of the 95 kWh battery pack from 83 kWh to 86 kWh.

Although Audi is still waiting to finalize its EPA numbers before the Q8 e-tron arrives next year, it says it expects the longest-wheelbase version to arrive with at least 300 miles (483 km) of range. This will presumably be the lower-drag Sportback that returns as a body option.

It took quite a few changes to get there. For starters, there’s a new battery between the axles. It has the same dimensions as the old battery, but Audi has changed both the cell type, which is now prismatic instead of a pouch, and the chemistry, which was nickel-manganese-cobalt but is now nickel-cobalt-aluminum.

The percentage of cobalt has been significantly reduced, and Audi says the changes, combined with new battery management software, mean a 20 percent increase in energy density. As a result, the US market Q8 e-trons now have a total of 114 kWh, of which 106 kWh is usable.

The new pack also charges faster than before. It can accept a maximum charge of 170kW, up from the old model’s 150kW, and the charge curve has been optimized to maintain high power rates for as long as possible. Audi told us that a quick charge from 10 to 80 percent should take 31 minutes, and the Q8 e-tron now has ISO 11518 or plug and charge capabilities.

There’s also a new rear electric motor for dual-motor, all-wheel drive. Audi continues to use asynchronous electric motors here, rather than permanent magnet motors, as the advantage of the former does not come into play in terms of traction. The Q8 e-tron has moved from 12 to 14 windings around the stator, which produces a stronger magnetic field for the same current input.


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