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Audi’s E-Tron blends luxury with cutting-edge tech Vs 2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Quick Spin

We've already seen the first pure-electric Audi in teaser images, under QR-code camoflauge and even unveiled under a barrage of lights accompanied by a DJ set from Diplo. But no amount of pomp and circumstance, sly marketing or famous DJs matter until you get behind the wheel. Good news then, that I finally had the chance to drive the Audi E-Tron in a barren desert, about as far as you can get from a well-orchestrated launch party.

The 2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport truly cements that "driving like a Lexus" now means something far different than it ever did before. It's not dull, it's not anonymous and old ladies probably won't like it. It should not be painted pearlescent white. Instead, the new ES is genuinely engaging to drive, feeling every bit like it was spawned from the same gene pool as the lustworthy LC coupe and surprisingly sharp LS flagship sedan. I actually enjoyed driving it more than the BMW M550i, and I liked driving that car quite a bit. Seriously. No one is as surprised by that statement as the guy who typed it.

Audi’s E-Tron blends luxury with cutting-edge tech. A tech-filled SUV that’ll woo fans of gas vehicles.

Audi’s E-Tron blends luxury with cutting-edge tech
Audi’s E-Tron blends luxury with cutting-edge tech
The Audi E-Tron will land in the second quarter of 2019, in an increasingly crowded electric-SUV segment. But its main competitors will be the Tesla Model X and the Jaguar I-Pace. Both are outstanding vehicles and the German automaker needed to make sure it could compete with those and rival SUVs coming from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. So far, it looks like Audi pulled it off and the E-Tron is a great debut into the EV world for the automaker.

This isn't the first Audi E-Tron though -- the Audi A3 hybrid gets that honor. But that will be the last E-Tron with a gas tank. The new SUV (starting at $74,800) with its two electric motors ups the ante of the E-Tron brand and paves the way for the upcoming E-Tron GT sedan (announced at the LA Auto Show, coming in 2021). While the 2019 E-Tron shouldn't be expected to perform like a sports sedan, it does give us a peek into what we can expect from Audi.

The new E-Tron comes with Audi's all-wheel-drive "Quattro" system, which is powered by two electric motors, which are powered by a 95kWh battery under the floorboard. That array of cells will comes with an eight year/100,000 mile warranty and if any of the modules go bad, Audi says the entire battery setup can be removed and the offending cells can be replaced. That should ease the minds of those concerned about what happens when part of a battery goes south.

That battery pack provides about 400 horsepower and 489.7 foot-pounds of torque. On straightaways and highways, I overtook cars with little effort for an SUV -- Audi says it'll do zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds. The acceleration won't impress your friends that much (especially if they've been in a Tesla), but it's more than adequate for 99.9 percent of your daily driving.

Audi gave me the opportunity to take the vehicle on some dirt roads heavily dusted with desert sand. The Quattro system did a great job making sure I stayed on the road and not get stuck in the loose sand. Audi was quick to point out that it's not a robust offroader but my drive suggests it will be capable enough for most on dirt roads (without too many ruts) or out in the snow.

Cornering was fine on dirt and sand roads where ruts and drifts can lead a vehicle to a bad situation pretty quickly. On asphalt, it's more than adequate to make highway on-ramps and measured drives through mountain roads enjoyable. It corners better than the Model X, but not as precisely as Jaguar's I-Pace. That's to say, it'll get you to your chalet during dry and snowy conditions with no problem, just don't expect too much of it while going around actual corners.

There's regenerative braking here, too. Testing it on the mountain roads in the United Arab Emirates, I was impressed by how quickly I could generate battery power -- you can even control the level of regeneration while coasting with the steering paddles. The highest setting was enough to slow me down from a moderate speed to get around a sharper-that-usual corner.

The brakes are the real technological feat here. The first 0.3 G of deceleration (light braking) is handled by the two motors, that then feed that energy to the battery. Anything more than 0.3 Gs and the traditional hydraulic brakes take over. Like most electric vehicles, you can also adjust your driving behavior to extend the range and see real-time results in the display in the dash cluster.

There's also the traditional charging setup. The vehicle ships with a DC fast charger port and can accept up to 150kW of power. Unfortunately, it's tough to quantify that into range per minute of charge. It's fast, but the automaker still needs the EPA to give it a proper rating for the United States. The European WLTP test gives it a range of 248.5 miles but the EPA's more stringent tests should be less than that. That information should be available closer to the release of the car in the United States.

Meanwhile, the in-car tech is powered by Audi's new MMI infotainment system. Like the system found in the A7 and A8, it's a great update and a frustration-free experience. Even the climate controls which use the second display (below the main one) are easy to use and because Audi places the shifter near the system, you're wrist can rest on the housing and you can quickly build up muscle memory to adjust the temperature.

The adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist are also new and are carried over from the sedan line. I noticed that the centering was a bit tighter on the E-Tron than on the A8, but that may be due to the well-maintained roads around Abu Dhabi. They are far nicer than the roads around Big Sur where I drove the Audi Sedan.

Another small update to the system is the capacitive touch detection that senses if your hands are on the wheel -- a first for Audi. As long as I was touching the wheel, I didn't have to periodically wiggle the steering (to produce a bit of torque the car could register) which is how the system reminds you to put your hands back on the wheel. It's a pleasant upgrade that should please anyone that does a lot of long-distance driving (or is stuck in gridlock on a regular basis).

One feature I thought I'd like more were the side cameras and displays that replace the side mirrors. They're not allowed on US roads, so the chances of people experiencing them here are slim. The side-view displays are situated in the uppermost corner of the front doors just below where you would look with a traditional side-view mirror. To adjust the view angle, the driver's side is a touchscreen that you tap and drag to move the virtual mirror. They're slick but after a day of using them, I'm not really a fan. As with anything new, you have to train your brain to not stare at the tiny cameras attached to the side of the car and instead look down a few inches to see what traffic is doing around you.

The problem is, other than making cars a bit more aerodynamic, there isn't much value in adding more displays and cameras to a car when a mirror does the same job. I did like that the edge of the display glowed yellow when a car was behind me, but you could add that to a mirror.

Maybe if I get the car for a week, I'll come away a believer in a side camera and displays instead of mirrors. But that's unlikely since any car brought to the United States wouldn't be allowed to have the system. And since they're not allowed in this country, my thoughts on their usefulness have no real bearing on the car overall. I would have preferred a rear-view camera like the one found in Cadillacs and Chevy Bolt.

Crazy new side-view technology aside, the E-Tron is an outstanding Audi that just happens to be electric. It has all the usual Audi luxury and if you like the company's SUVs, you'll like this. Probably even more so because it's quiet, the torque is great and the fast charging means if your town has the infrastructure (which Charge America is hoping to roll out quickly) you can quickly charge while out and about. The biggest disappointment is that we have to wait until the middle of next year to get it.

The E-Tron, like the I-Pace and Model X, shows that electrification and utility are not mutually exclusive. And if you can get some luxury in there are the same time, you might as well pamper yourself while doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint.

2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Quick Spin Review | Yet another Lexus surprise. Like the LC and LS, the transformed ES wows with its engaging dynamics

2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Quick Spin Review | Yet another Lexus surprise
2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Quick Spin Review | Yet another Lexus surprise
It really comes down to what you feel through that F Sport steering wheel, through your heels planted in the floor below, and the seat of your pants that's now placed lower in a sportier driving position. The 2019 ES 350 is one of those cars that manages to shrink around you as you hustle it along, feeling much smaller than its full-size sedan dimensions would indicate. It may be based on the Avalon, but that car never felt as lithe and responsive as its Lexus cousin. The extra structural rigidity of the ES is part of the equation.

Now, to be fair, the ES in question is the F Sport model fitted with the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension derived from the divine LC, which no doubt helps the dynamics compared to lesser ES trims. But judging by the impressions of others, plus the rest of Lexus' redone lineup, lower-trim ESs seem to drive well. Even the base cars come with novel swing-valve shock absorbers designed to ably soak up bumps while keeping things level around corners.

The electric power steering motor has also migrated from the column to the rack – a sure fire way to improve steering feel. And that it does, plus Lexus has a knack of tuning the various steering settings (Normal, Sport and Sport+) to be subtle in their increase of effort. There's no overly stiff weighting to satisfy the notion that "sporty" steering equals "stiff" steering, as is often the case in cars with variable drive settings. Appropriately, I drove in Normal around town and in Sport+ on my mountain road evaluation route. The differences aren't night and day -- it still feels like you're driving the same car -- it's just been tweaked slightly for ideal performance.

These drive settings also adjust the adaptive suspension, if so equipped. One potential drawback to the F Sport and its superior handling capabilities is that even in Normal, you feel far more road imperfections than in ES models of the past. In Sport+ it can actually be unpleasant. There are those who may be distressed by this and should probably skip this sportiest of trim levels. Still, it doesn't suffer from the stiff-legged harshness of some early F Sport models like the previous-generation RX. An Individual mode also allows you to mix and match various dynamic elements.

The 3.5-liter V6 engine is one element wholly shared with the Avalon along, with its eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. Its 302 horsepower is more than capable for a car with such surprisingly sharp driving dynamics. Still, that Toyota eight-speed can't match the right-now responses of the 10-speed found in the LC and LS, and the front-drive layout still results in some torque steer when powering out of a corner.

Maybe at some point in the future, the ES will adopt the torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system offered in its new platform mate, the 2019 Toyota RAV4. Adding it to the ES could make a great driving car even better, while allowing the F Sport to be more seriously compared to an Audi A4 or other entry-level sport sedans. Perhaps it's not technically feasible, but given the increased importance of all-wheel drive in the market, adding an ES 350 AWD model seems like a good idea for reasons beyond the mitigation of torque steer.

If there's one let-down, it's the cabin. The design is a bit dull in comparison to the sensational LS and LC, and although everything seems screwed together to the usual Lexus standard, the materials lack a certain richness. It seems closer to the admittedly high-quality Camry and Avalon than it does a junior Lexus LS. You also have to deal with the Remote Touch interface and its abysmal touchpad controller. Sure, it now features Apple CarPlay, but it doesn't do a good job of actually controlling it – much like the rest of the infotainment system's various functions. I could live with Remote Touch in a sports car like the LC, but in a daily driver like the ES? It could be a deal breaker.

And breaking a deal for the ES 350 F Sport would be a real shame, because it's truly one of the more enjoyable cars I've driven this year. I also think it looks pretty good when painted in the test car's Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0, and who can argue with a full-size sedan back seat? Most importantly, though, it drives like a Lexus.

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Satish Kumar

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