Electric vehicle owners once considered themselves special; a rare breed, just a little more environmentally conscious and technologically advanced than Joe Q. Internal-Combustion. But like all emerging technologies, EVs are transitioning from advanced fancy tech to being plain old cars — in theory, a good thing for the planet.
The Q4 is Audi’s latest effort at normalizing the EV market. It pushes the brand’s EV offerings up to five models — the most currently on offer from any automaker. With its faux grille and sporty styling, it doesn’t even really look the way we’ve come to expect EVs to look. The electric drivetrain seems like the least important part of this car. It’s a good strategy to make EVs more appealing to the everyday Audi customer, considering the company’s goal of selling only electric cars by 2033 and to be totally carbon neutral by 2050. The Q4 itself is already built in a carbon natural plant in Zwickau, Germany.
But no one wants yesterday’s car for today’s model year. If the EV portion isn’t the wonder it once was, what is? The next frontier, of course: A semi-autonomous safety suite. Unfortunately, that’s also where the Q4 falls short.
Full Disclosure: Audi flew me to Oceanside, CA, put me up in a hotel, and fed me while I tested the 2022 Q4 50 Sportback in Prestige trim alongside a group of other journalists.
The Q4 is Audi’s 5-seater entry-level electric SUV, built on the VW Group’s MEB platform that also underpins the ID4. It starts at $48,800 and can go all the way up to $61,900 for the Q4 50 Prestige trim (our test vehicle). That’s before you add on options like the $1,300 Black Out package, which hooks you up with 20-inch 5-spoke wheels and high-gloss black trim, or the S-Line, which adds sporty design elements inside and out.
The compact SUV comes in both standard and Sportback forms. They are basically the same vehicle, except the $3,000 extra you spend on a Sportback will snag you a Q4 with a fastback design, while the standard vehicle is compact and SUV-shaped. Defying both logic and reason, the Sportback provides more cargo room than the standard SUV, thanks to the shape of the tailgate.
Both styles of Q4 can be had as a 40 or 50 model. The Q4 40 has one electric motor sending 201 horsepower to the rear wheels for a top speed of 99 mph. The 50 comes with two motors — a rear synchronous motor and front asynchronous motor, which means it engages seamlessly when more power is needed — for 295 horsepower to all four wheels and a top speed of 112 mph. The Q4 40 gets two trims, Premium and Premium Plus, while the Q50 gets another step up the fancy ladder with the Prestige. Both Q4s come with an 82-kW lithium-ion battery with 265 miles of range in the 40 or 236 in the 50. You get a little boost up to 242 miles in the Q4 50 Sportback. All can charge to 80 percent in 36 minutes on a fast charger.
The winding roads snaking through California’s Laguna Mountains make for a picturesque setting for a drive, but the actual driving can get a bit intense. Locals fly down these roads with well-versed confidence, while the sharp turns, blind corners, sudden elevation changes and trees that seem to grow directly on the blacktop can make a newcomer like me nervously pick their way through the hills. You need a car that shines in the handling department, with solid steering and brakes, or else you’ll find yourself gritting your teeth on your first go-around.
The Audi Q4 is not that car. Sure, the electric motor provides plenty of pep, with smooth acceleration and an incredibly quiet cabin, but driving this car specifically on these canyon and mountain roads was a handful. The progressive steering ratio might give the Q4 the tightest turning radius in the Audi lineup, but it made my own inputs on the road feel unpredictable. I constantly found myself grabbing at the poorly responsive brakes in the apex of curves that in most other cars would have been easy to manage.
The way Audi does regenerative braking in the Q4 leaves a lot to be desired. You control how much regenerative braking is provided using paddles on the back of the steering wheel. There are four levels to choose from, from barely-there to enough regen to bring you nearly to a stop, though the car will still creep along at 3 or 4 miles per hour. With this awkward setup, one-pedal driving in the Q4 is impossible — when you hit the gas, the regenerative braking resets to the default unless you’re in Dynamic Driving mode. Trying to dial in the regen while dealing with the unpredictable steering was so laborious that I quickly gave up on using regen on what should have been an easy recharge down the mountain.
Similarly, I engaged the semi-autonomous driving safety features, and found them lacking. This is all cutting-edge technology, so naturally there is room for improvement. The Adaptive Cruise Assist (ACA) seemed to rush up fairly quickly to vehicles ahead of me in traffic. While it both accelerated and braked in time without fail, it made me a bit nervous, so I turned it off and focused on the augmented-reality display instead. This, in turn, told me I was following too closely, despite being at least two car lengths away from the car in front of me, putting up an annoying red alert in my field of vision.
Lane Assist was a bit better, but if a lane widened, the system rebelled and tried to tug the steering wheel directly towards the most consistent line it could find on the road in order to center itself in the lane. Even when two lines were perfectly visible, correction to one side or the other was abrupt.
The heads up display with Augmented Reality was hard to get used to at first. Audi uses it to project directions and driving information directly in front of the driver’s line of sight, a readout that’s invisible from any other angle. Like many other automakers, this AR uses polarized glass, so some eyeglasses and sunglasses will make the display disappear. That proved a bit of a problem in sunny California, but certainly not an insurmountable one for an owner. The AR is meant to keep the driver on track without them having to reference a distracting screen or interrupt their podcast with audio directions.
To be honest, I didn’t really warm up to the AR, and found it to be a distraction several times. The first time I got into the Q4 in busy, multi-lane Oceanside traffic, the directional arrow in front of me jumped around the windshield and wildly changed size before my eyes. Being in traffic in an unfamiliar, busy city with a little arrow popping around in front of you is not an ideal scenario.
It got better as the drive continued on freeways, but once we hit the canyons the AR seemed to malfunction again. As I drove down from the hills, it blipped out. Instead of arrows or upcoming turns, a blue dot appeared, not doing much to warn me or guide me in any way. It began to wander across my field of vision and was joined by another, identical dot, offset from its brother by a few centimeters. The two dots marched across the windshield with every curve until they seemed to scoot off the screen. Another driver on the trip had the same issue. Product specialists told me the malfunction was likely due to the winding roads and elevation changes cutting the car’s data connectivity down to nothing. It’s true, there was hardly any phone service up there. But why send us up and down a mountain to demonstrate this technology if it doesn’t function in those mountains? Audi says this AR system is the next step for the automaker, and while it is certainly a step in the right direction, they might want to keep walking to achieve a solid heads-up AR display without these distracting bugs.
The interior of the Q4 is swathed in leather, like any good luxury SUV. The trim is high-quality wood grain, open pores and all, with lots of soothing lighting elements in the doors and floor. There’s plenty of piano black to smudge up, even with the obsessive hand washing that accompanies traveling during a pandemic. Audi told us the Q4 has the quietest interior they’ve ever manufactured, and even in heavy traffic it’s whisper quiet.
The driver’s setup in the 2022 Q4 is pretty standard, with a beautiful digital display and a 10.6-inch infotainment screen. But the 2023 models will pick up some fun styling cues from the S-Line trim, which includes an even larger 11.6-inch screen, the largest Audi has ever offered, with a cockpit-like tilt towards the driver. The steering wheel will also have flat edges on the top and bottom of the wheel, which makes it both unique, satisfying to grasp and actually functional — unlike Tesla’s steering yoke.
Along with all those basic stats are some fun creature comforts, like water-bottle-sized holders in every door, customizable daylight running lights with four different configurations and a 10-speaker surround sound system. Volume control for that system is located in its familiar place on the steering wheel, as well as on a rougher touchpad knob on the center console.
The back seat had plenty of headroom for fully grown adult passengers, with both the front and rear occupants getting 38.3 inches. The Q4 gets 24.8 inches of cargo space with the rear seats up and 53.1 with the seats down. The Sportback gets 26.1 cubic feet with the rear seat up, and 54.4 with it folded.
While you could compare the Q4 to the similar-in-price-and-range Mercedes-Benz EQB EV SUV, the Q4 is aiming directly for the Model Y’s spot as an affordable, compact electric SUV. Normally, I wouldn’t say the Tesla is a better product, but the choice comes down to what you’re willing to give up: The comfort in knowing your vehicle was built by a historic automaker with all of the driver-focused methodology and quality that comes with it, or the knowledge that the latest high-tech features will actually work. Tesla can do mild Level 2 autonomy incredibly well when it’s not over promising things to its customers. With EVs becoming commonplace, that might just be worth it for the extra $17,000.
Technologically advanced cars are wonderful. Plenty of folks aren’t looking for personality or a dynamic driving experience in their crossovers; they’d rather treat their vehicle like a smartphone — constantly updating for the latest and greatest tech. But you do so at your own peril as the latest and greatest won’t always have every kink worked out just yet. Loyal Audi customers will find the Q4 to be familiar enough to make them comfortable with EVs, but I don’t see this vehicle converting many Mercedes and Tesla owners to grab those four rings.