2024 Audi Q4 55 E-Tron First Drive: Big mid-year changes yield zesty EV

AGOURA HILLS, Calif. — The Audi Q4 E-Tron doesn’t seem to get the attention it probably deserves. Perhaps because it looks so much like other small Audi crossovers, it blends into the crowd and is falsely assumed to be like the Mercedes EQB – the electric version of an ICE car. It isn’t. The Q4 E-Tron is built on a dedicated electric platform (dubbed MEB, it’s shared with the ID.4 and other electric Volkswagens), and benefits as a result. Its unique, high-quality, space-efficient interior boasts a big back seat for its size and lots of clever storage. The driving experience is also just as refined as you’d expect from an Audi.

At least that was our take, but apparently, there was enough demand for immediate improvement that the 2024 Audi Q4 E-Tron sees an unusual mid-model-year update addressing a number of key mechanical areas. And no, apparently it isn’t a 2024.5 model year.

A new rear motor (a permanently excited synchronous machine one to be exact) is optimized for greater thermal management and therefore efficiency, resulting in a total system output increase of 40 horsepower over the old Q4 50 E-Tron (the rear-drive Q4 40 E-Tron gets none of the updates about to be described and remains unchanged at 201 hp). The rechristened Q4 55 E-Tron now produces 335 hp and hits 60 mph in 5 seconds flat. That’s 0.8 seconds quicker than before.

But, wow, does it feel quicker than that, as Audi has tuned the throttle to thwack you with torque at the slightest touch of your right foot. It’s most noticeable in Auto and Dynamic modes, but even with the slightest bit of initial throttle mush in Comfort mode, it springs to life with the eagerness of a terrier that just spotted a squirrel. Pull out of the pre-school parking lot, BAM. Light goes green at the on-ramp, BUH-BYE. Yet, it ultimately reminds me of the VR6-powered 2000 Jetta I once owned. I recall reading a review of it at the time that said engineers clearly tuned the throttle to make the torquey engine feel more powerful than it was, as once you got out of that initial hit, the power band proved not to be as robust as it initially seemed.

That’s just meant as an observation rather than a criticism. I’d much rather drive a car eager to move and that trusts you to be judicious with the throttle than the lackadaisical nature of most cars today. Besides, you can always set it for the Eco mode if it’s over-caffeinated for your tastes.

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Now, apparently, “lackadaisical” would be how some deemed the original Q4 suspension and steering tuning (even if we didn’t), so Audi injected some of that excited terrier DNA into them too. The result is steering, in particular, that always feels engaged, regardless of mode, and eager to turn in. In conjunction with the taut suspension, there’s an almost hot hatch energy about the Q4 55 E-Tron when driving around town. Between that and the go-get-‘em throttle response, I could see owners unintentionally making enemies of the local constabulary.

But then I drove the Q4 in my usual testing playground of the Santa Monica Mountains. Even more so than the motors revealing themselves to be not quite as juiced up as its initial response wanes, the chassis’ energetic character around town proves to be a veneer once you actually start to push it. In short, the Q4 55 E-Tron feels sporty, but isn’t. That hot hatch energy disappears as the Q4 suddenly feels like the tall and very heavy crossover it is (4,850 pounds to be exact). The stability control came on early and often in the initial stages of my mountain drive without obvious reason. I then did something I basically never do: I turned off stability control, or rather, reduced the reins to the minimum amount the car allows. Sure enough, there was no more hyper-nanny stability intervention, but there were a couple of “whoa there” moments from the rear end, usually when turning in, that speaks to some unusual chassis dynamics afoot.

Ultimately, though, too many cars are the exact opposite of this situation: dynamically capable, but you’d never guess it by the way it responds to your inputs. Stay away from technical mountain roads (“Um, that won’t be a problem,” says just about every potential Q4 E-Tron buyer), and this sure seems like the superior trade-off.

Audi also reduced brake pedal travel, but that just makes me wonder how long it was before. It’s still awfully long and gradual, and doesn’t seem in keeping with the eagerness of the other primary controls. The revised, sporty-feeling suspension can also yield a rather choppy ride on the highway, at least when paired with this tester’s optional 21-inch wheels. It feels like a car with a short wheelbase, which isn’t quite true, but its wheelbase-to-length ratio is basically the same as the Q5. Most EVs have much longer wheelbases than an SUV of comparable length.

2024 Audi Q4 E Tron interior from driver2024 Audi Q4 E Tron touchscreen home screen2024 Audi Q4 E Tron climate controls

In addition to performance gains, the new motor also pairs with an also-new battery pack. Its capacity remains 82 kilowatt-hours but new chemistry and mineral content results in faster charging speeds, from 150 kW to 175 kW. This is still below many luxury EVs. Range also improves from a just-not-enough 236 to a just-acceptable 258. It’s probably just psychological, but crossing the 250 barrier sure makes a difference. That said, you’re still getting the same range as a Kia Niro EV while vehicles of comparable or lower prices can cross the 300-mile threshold and charge at a faster rate.

There are no changes inside, but that’s just fine because this remains a great interior in terms of both quality and functionality. The 11.6-inch touchscreen is much closer to the driver than usual (note how it juts rearward and is canted toward the driver) and its distinctive haptic feedback is not only appreciated from a functionality standpoint, but further enhances the overall perception of elevated quality. There are also still buttons for the climate controls and other vital functions; no cost-cutting screen takeover here.

Storage is also excellent, with good cupholders and multiple bins in the center console, plus an available vertically-mounted wireless phone charger with a clip to keep your phone in place. All doors have unique diagonal bottle holders, which are a brilliant idea, but would be better executed if padded in some way as bottles tend to rattle around on their hard-plastic lining. Backseat space is generous for a small SUV, while my earlier Q4 E-Tron luggage test showed it can hold more stuff than both the rinky-dink Q3 and surprisingly small Q5. Lower the dual-height cargo floor and chuck the rigid cargo cover, and all six test bags will fit – albeit just barely and with greater difficulty than many EV crossovers from both luxury and mainstream brands.

2024 Audi Q4 E Tron center console2024 Audi Q4 E Tron back door bottle holder

Despite all those mid-model-year updates, the price is unchanged. Great news! The bad-ish news is that the Q4 E-Tron still ain’t cheap. The all-wheel-drive 55 E-Tron starts at $56,395 (including destination) and goes up to $65,290 with options like the $7,000 Prestige package you see here, which stuffs it with a wealth of tech and comfort goodies that would be available on cheaper mainstream-brand EVs. You also have to add $3,000 if you’d prefer the Q4’s Sportback body style. Conversely, you could try to find a rear-drive, 201-horsepower Q4 40 E-Tron, which starts at $50,995, but it received none of the updates mentioned above. That seems like a harder value pill to swallow.

As always, choosing a luxury car like the 2024 Audi Q4 E-Tron comes down to how much you value the interior quality, the added refinement and ritzier brand. Assuming you’re OK with that, then, the revised Q4’s day-to-day functionality along with its energized around-town driving experience makes for a delightful car for commuting and errand running. Considering the typical EV use case where a second, at least partially gas-powered vehicle exists for longer journeys or general family hauling (or heck, maybe mountain road ventures), it seems like a spot-on proposition. Plus, with the expanded range and quicker charging, it’s a lot more capable of going far afield if necessary.

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