Audi E-Tron Range Effectively Halved by 4,000-pound Trailer

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Audi engaged in a publicity stunt this week to prove electric vehicles can be legitimate workhorses, capable of towing sizable items long distances without issue. While most EVs aren’t actually rated to tow anything, Audi’s e-Tron is supposedly able to haul a few thousand pounds worth of whatever behind it.

Audi Tulsa and Audi ONE, Audi of America’s Herndon-based electrification strategy team, supported the all-volunteer Oklahoma Chapter of the Electric Auto Association in testing that theory by taking one from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the Fully Charged Live electric-car event at Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

Under idyllic circumstances, the 500-mile journey should have depleted the crossover’s 95-kWh battery pack twice. However, Audi’s press release seems to indicate using an EV to tow a trailer is anything but ideal, and the resulting figures prove it.

The e-Tron towed a trailer containing a surviving General Motors EV1, kissing the model’s maximum tow rating of 4,000 pounds as it made its way through inclement weather. That’s bound to do a number on a vehicle’s maximum range, which in the Audi’s case isn’t all that high to begin with (204 miles). The manufacturer stated that the e-Tron’s average efficiency came in at 1.3 mi/kWh with an average speed of 60 mph.

Using those metrics, the Audi would have been able to run for about 123 miles before someone had to leave it by the side of the road. However, InsideEVs and Green Car Reports remembered that the e-Tron only uses about 88 percent of its battery in an effort to mitigate battery degradation over time. Depleting a battery isn’t great for its longevity, though neither is having to frequently recharge it. But the point is that Audi’s functional battery capacity is actually closer to 84 kWh, making the more accurate range estimate for the e-Tron’s EV1 tow test 108.6 miles.

Anybody who has ever taken an EV cross country knows that you have to start thinking about finding a charging point long before you’re almost out of juice — as they often require a modest detour from your intended route. The e-Tron used CCS-compatible fast chargers from Electrify America and Francis Energy charging networks, allowing the car to replenish 80 percent of its battery in 30 minutes using 150-kW quick charging. So it at least proved that it was possible to use the vehicle to tow something on a 500-mile trip.

We bet it felt a lot longer than the odometer read, however.

Whoever was driving would have had to make frequent stops to top off the battery. Audi wouldn’t say how many, but five would have been the absolute minimum if the efficiency numbers are accurate. Let’s pretend those stops didn’t require the car to drive a single mile out of its way and never took more than thirty minutes. Do you still want to make that 500-mile trip?

If a $74,800 electric Audi saw its maximum range effectively halved by a 4,000-pound trailer, this raises questions as to the capabilities of the flood of electric pickups slated to arrive over the next handful of years. It’s neat that EVs can tow heavy things, but who’s going to buy Ford’s electric F-Series, Rivian’s R1T, or Tesla’s Cybertruck if adding weight means you’ve just doubled the duration of your trip. Yes, these are just baby steps taken in the infancy of automotive electrification, but we wouldn’t hire a toddler to haul around a bunch of gravel and expect everyone to be impressed.

EVs posses a number of unique qualities, but towing definitely isn’t among them. Not yet, anyway.

[Images: Audi]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • JMII JMII on Feb 17, 2020

    But how many people buy SUV in general (EV or not) actually tow? Very few. Serious tow rigs are diesel everyone knows this. Next in line are gas V8s (myself included). I need to tow about 2,000lbs about 200 miles round trip each weekend. And it not just the weight, the aero (drag) penalty is massive. A boat is an upside down wing, even a small boat like mine feels like a parachute on a windy day. I can watch the gas gauge on my V8 drop at highway speeds if I have a head wind!

  • Jagboi Jagboi on Feb 17, 2020

    Ah, Chryslers in the 70's. A common sound in parking lots was their distinctive starters as owners cranked and cranked because the cars never started once they warmed up. My Dad had a 77 and he was into the dealership once a week for the warranty period, as they never could get it running right. Started fine when cold, generally refused to start when hot. Drunk fuel like a sailor on shore leave, couldn't go over 150 miles on a tank. Pure garbage.

  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy