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A journey around the island with the electric Audi e-tron SportBack 50

How far can you go in one charge? Pretty far. Kevin Chin traipses around Singapore with the Audi e-tron SportBack 50.

“Is that Tony Stark’s car?” asks the wide-eyed lady at the next table while pointing to the car parked beside me. “Not quite,” I tell her before initiating an unnecessarily long lecture on the differences between Iron Man’s car – the Audi e-tron GT as seen in Avengers: Endgame – and my ride for the day, the Audi e-tron Sportback 50. While the billionaire, philanthropic playboy Stark and I have little in common, our cars share a burning dislike for fossil fuel.

Make a list of buzzwords from the past year, and you’ll probably find EVs (electric vehicles) up there alongside Covid vaccines, umbrage and TikTok. With the government’s push to narrow the “cost differential” between electric and petrol cars by way of tax rebates and an expansion of the charging infrastructure in the coming years, it’s only a matter of time before EVs are commonplace here.

Until that time comes, the question must be asked: what’s it like to spend a day with one?

The brief was simple. Take Audi’s newest eco-warrior for a drive around Singapore, exploring and doing things I normally wouldn’t do. A day in the life of, if you will. And timely, too, considering recent initiatives to encourage locals to rediscover our island with catchy slogans such as “Singapore isn’t boring. You are.” I was determined to prove that somewhat demeaning tagline wrong and to find out if electric cars are worth their weight in batteries. The catch? I had to do it on a single charge.

EAST

The day starts with a charge of the caffeine-related kind. I fuel up at The Stamping Ground (87 Upper East Coast Road S455223), a quaint, pet-friendly cafe in a quiet corner in the east that serves a plethora of coffee roasts, all-day brunch and everything in between to kick-start your day.

The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 enjoying its time in the sun.

The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 enjoying its time in the sun.

As good as the coffee is, the striking orangey-red Audi is the one attracting all the attention. Despite being smaller than the flagship e-tron 55 with a regular SUV roof instead of a sloping one, the Sportback 50 is no less imposing, especially with its Audi S line exterior trim and 21-inch wheels with yellow calliper brakes. No wonder the lady mistook it for Iron Man’s car earlier.

Coffee and apple cinnamon brownie downed, it is time for a short drive to a charging station in Dunman Road. If you own an electric car in Singapore and live in a landed property, you may not need to utilise public charging. But if you need a quick pick-me-up, there are currently around 200 charging stations in the city-state with more to come soon.

The entire charging process is fuss-free. I download the Greenlots app for this particular station, link it to a credit card, select the type of charge required – direct current (DC) fast charge with a 50kW output or alternate current (AC) charge with a 43kW charge rate – plug in the charge socket and voila! The car goes from a 60 per cent charge (160km range) to 90 per cent (270km range) in the 25 minutes that it takes me to finish a bag of chips, a chocolate bar and a soft drink.

The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 being charged.

The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 being charged.

(Related: The new Audi A4 focuses on refinement, not evolution)

SOUTH

It’s 8:15am, time to expunge calories from the apple cinnamon brownie I had earlier. Heading south via the ECP for my morning workout, the e-tron comes into its own. The sublime, eerily silent cabin with top-notch materials, a classy, well thought out dash interface with Audi’s excellent MMI system, cushy seats, enough tech to shame the Starship Enterprise and the refinement of Audi’s own A8 limo make me reluctant to leave my comfy, serene cocoon. But I do and enter a stuffy room full of sweaty people in tights no less.

I’ll be honest. I’m not a yoga person. But I figure that’s what an owner of an e-tron would do, given the whole spirituality, consciousness and in touch with nature connection. Yoga Movement (11 Yong Siak Street S168646) provides newbies like me with an opportunity to practise my downward dog pose. Nestled in the hipster enclave of Tiong Bahru, I sign up for an hour of the Basics class. When done right, it guarantees to be “challenging and extremely satisfying”. Forty minutes in, I’m wondering when the second part of that guarantee is going to happen. It doesn’t.

A quick shower and a tinge of regret later, I’m back in the e-tron’s cabin. As I catch my breath in air-conditioning comfort, it dawns on me that I wouldn’t be allowed to do this normally. Drivers can be fined between $2,000 and $5,000 if they leave the engine of a vehicle idling while stationary. With this car, the only emission is coming from my post-workout body heat.

  • The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 at the Seletar Aerospace Park with hikers.
    The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 at the Seletar Aerospace Park with hikers.

NORTH

The sight of concrete and civilisation gradually gives way to lush greenery and the lingering smell of animal farms the further north-west I go until I arrive at Neo Tiew Road – a snaking, single carriageway sandwiched between hectares of animal and vegetable farms in the Kranji suburb. Like a shark drawn to blood, the e-tron tempts me to open its tabs at the sight of empty-ish roads and winding corners and I eagerly oblige. It’d be rude not to, I tell myself.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve driven an electric car. The acceleration when you put your foot down in one never fails to elicit girly giggles. It takes just 6.8 seconds to hit 100kph, thanks to its twin electric motors that produce 308bhp and a meaty 580 Nm of torque collectively. And because the torque delivery is almost instantaneous in an electric car, it feels quicker than those figures suggest.

The e-tron is by no means a light car. It’s 2,375kg – nearly 200kg more than Audi’s massive Q7 – but it hides its battery belly fairly well. That is, until you hit a corner. Despite trying its best to demonstrate its athleticism with tremendous grip from its massive tyres and quattro system, the extra heft means you’re far better off going at half speed than light speed on the bends.

11:45am. Time for an early lunch. Bollywood Veggies (100 Neo Tiew Road S719026) is the self-proclaimed “Paradise on Earth” of a couple’s vision of a back-to-basics retirement home, restaurant and farm with self-sustainable fruit and vegetable produce spread out over 4ha of verdant, fertile land. Since self-sustaining cars are still some years away, electric cars will have to do for now. And the e-tron tries its best to be a poster boy for the farm as it sits virtuously in front of its gates.

The Audi e-Tron SportBack 50 in front of Paradise on Earth, or Bollywood Veggies.

The Audi e-Tron SportBack 50 in front of Paradise on Earth, or Bollywood Veggies.

Stomach and spirit rejuvenated, I check in on the car’s range. The dash shows a range of 185km left from the 270km it had after I charged it. Given that I’ve travelled 60km so far – with much of it spirited driving – it shows just how much range is affected by, among other things, how heavy-footed a person is. Even so, with a claimed range of 341km, you’re unlikely to go into the red in the e-tron even if you have a brick for a foot – and especially since the average distance a Singapore driver makes daily is roughly 50km.

My photographer insists we head to Seletar Aerospace Park (15 The Oval S797874) 20km away in the north-east area, next to take some photos. With private jets and a runway as a backdrop, this spot is popular with car enthusiasts looking to garner a few extra likes of their pride and joy on social media. Hikers approach and we wonder if the earth-friendly luxury German SUV can draw their attention away from the multi-million-dollar private jets parked behind us. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

WEST

2:15pm. After covering the north, south and east, we’re off to the Former Ford Factory (351 Upper Bukit Timah S588192) for some sightseeing. It was here that the British forces surrendered to the Japanese during World War II, signalling the start of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Journalistic duties take a backseat as I walk through the exhibition gallery depicting life amidst war, soaking in the surreality and memory of the place and the people who suffered before. If you’re looking for a place to put some perspective into life, look no further.

Life priorities sorted, I sneak in a second workout before my time with my German “fraulein” comes to an end. And what better place to showcase my newfound flexibility from yoga than at the driving range at Champions Public Golf Course (60 Fairways Drive S286966)? At least, that is the hope anyway.

The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 at the Champions Golf Course.

The Audi e-tron SportBack 50 at the Champions Golf Course.

The good news is the e-tron’s 615-litre boot comfortably swallows up any golf bag and, if needed, several of your mates’ bags, too. And why wouldn’t it be able to? At almost 5m long and 2m wide, this is by no means a small car. Thankfully, Audi’s brilliant in-car 360-degree camera system makes manoeuvring and parking a breeze in the claustrophobic car park.

4:30pm. As I make my way back to Audi’s office in the north-east, two things spring to mind: one, sucking at golf is less humiliating than sucking at yoga and two, the ease at which the e-tron handled my 150km road trip. Any other car – petrol or electric – would have survived this trip. But the e-tron didn’t just survive, it thrived.

(Related: Why is Singapore taking so long to adopt electric vehicles?)

Final Thoughts

It’ll take a pretty jaded person to get bored with the electric experience. And this coming from someone who has worshipped at the altar of petrol and horsepower all his life. The speed, power delivery and the sensation of pottering around in near silence never get old. The e-tron has these in spades – with a generous dose of refinement, tech and sheer comfort thrown in. Call me an electric car convert. Or a petrol car sell-out. I’ll take both as a compliment. With the government planning to phase out internal combustion engines in favour of fully electric vehicles by 2040, it’s not a matter of if the electric revolution will come, but when. And, if cars like the e-tron are anything to go by, the future certainly looks bright.

Photos by Katherine Ang