Feature: Coast to coast in a Q8 e-tron Sportback on a single charge

Fantastic highways of Tamil Nadu meant bliss for the Q8 e-tron.

It seemed like a walk in the park when the idea was put forward in the edit meeting. I smirked as the cruise from Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to Varkala Beach in Kerala was lovely from what I could remember. Not impressed with the look on my face, a “caveat” was added – I would have to do it in an EV. 

Sure, that should be fine too, since EV infrastructure isn’t what it was a few years ago. Some more murmuring and another note followed. I would not be allowed to charge along the way. “C to C in one C” meant Coast to Coast in one Charge. And if that wasn’t enough, a final instruction was to get shots of the sunrise and sunset at both locations. Even though I maintained an unfazed look, in my head, I had already started calculating. 

This drive seems like a cakewalk, right up until the part where you start driving.

Thankfully, I was at liberty to pick the EV of my choice and since it was a long cruise, I wanted a comfy, feature-packed and, most importantly, long-range EV with a big battery. Basically, I wanted the newly updated Audi Q8 e-tron Sportback. 

The race before the race

A day prior, we flew to Madurai, which is the closest airport to Rameswaram, and made a beeline for the car that had already been transported to the start point. The roughly three-hour drive was in agony since I had my fingers crossed throughout, hoping the car had a fully charged battery. To my dismay, that wasn’t the case. This was a huge challenge already and the race had not even begun.

Route of our journey from Rameswaram to Varkala

I had jinxed my own fate when I assumed charging infrastructure issues are a thing of the past. A quick check on the myAudi connect app revealed that the closest DC charger was 50km away in the next town called Ramanathapuram. A Relux DC fast charger that’s capable of 30kW charging, and the app showed that it was free and in working condition. I clenched my fist in excitement, yet again, adding a fat layer of jinx. 

Finding the only EV charger occupied by another car makes one pull their hair out.

Upon reaching the charger, I found out a Tata Nexon EV was already sipping juice, which meant some waiting time. As it topped up and hushed away, I parked the Q8, plugged in the charger, and scanned the code. Droning and whirring, the DC charger came to life. It was charging at a steady 30kW for precisely five minutes when suddenly it shut off. Reason? Voltage drop. I could hear echoes of the Taycan K2K drive where we experienced a similar issue in Rajasthan. This often happens in small towns where load shedding or low voltage is a serious issue. Each time the voltage dropped, the charger shut and I had to repeat the entire process of plugging it out and back in, scanning the code and starting the charger. 

Frequent voltage drops made charging a painful task. 100% charge took 15 attempts and five hours.

After 15 painful attempts and roughly 5 hours, the battery was at 100 percent charge. I, on the other hand, wasn’t. I had to drive back 50km for the night stay in Rameswaram, which was in the opposite direction.

It's a new day

Our hotel was just a few kilometres from Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram where you can get some spectacular views of the sunrise. We reached a nice secluded spot before daybreak, and waited for the sun to show itself to mark the start of the race. However, a dense cloud cover meant we would have to wait a tad longer to get that all-important sunrise shot. In a few moments though, the clouds parted, revealing my rival for the day. 

6:36am, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, 0km

As the sun shone on the Q8, I was glad that I chose the Sportback. Not only is it more aerodynamic, which gives it a longer range, but it also looks incredible, especially in the red and black dual-tone paint.

Sadly, I didn’t have much time to revel in the Q8’s design. It was 7am and I had a deadline – sunset at Varkala Beach was at 6.20pm, and Google Maps claims it takes around 9 hours, but a lunch stop and unexpected traffic is something Google does not factor in. 

I jolted across Dhanushkodi as the waves crashed alongside and over the perpetually busy and iconic Pamban Bridge. Range displayed with the air conditioning on and in Efficiency mode was around 437km, which, for the 475-odd km was a bit worrying. However, I was confident that over time, it would improve and get close to its 600km claimed number. 

437km of range to cover nearly 500km shattered confidence.

I drove out of a just-awoken Rameswaram and onto the highway where I was certain the Audi would enhance its range thanks to consistent cruising speeds. There are two ways of getting to Varkala, one is straight through the Konni Reserve Forest, which is shorter, but is through unpredictable and steep mountain  roads; while the other is slightly longer via Nagercoil and Thiruvananthapuram, but has wide highways that have recently opened. Choosing the latter was a no-brainer. 

Choose to cruise 

As I got onto the highway, I turned the recuperation to its minimum. On a highway, the last thing you need is the regen bogging the car down. What you need is to coast freely and thus move further along down the road. When the roads are level, regen at its minimum is what works best. 

Despite the long drive, there was no compromise on comfort – AC, cooled seats, music, the works.

The drive mode too was set to Efficiency, because, why not? The displayed range was very close to the distance, so I needed all the help I could get. I was sceptical about the performance, but a few overtakes were all it took to convince me that this mode was good enough to eke out that 408hp. I’ll save ‘Dynamic’ for the twisties in Kerala. 

As I was savouring the many functions of the Q8 e-tron, the sun had already started to peek through the panoramic sunroof, and it was just 10am. 

A couple more hours of driving continued, and around 12pm, we had covered well over 200km nearing Tirunelveli, the half-way mark on our drive. That meant we had a strong 6 hours in the bank to make it to the sunset point, now only 200-odd kilometres away. Complacency set in, and I made an egotistical error (as I would later find out), and stopped for some hearty lunch. 

12:10pm, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, 236km

Now a quick snack would have helped a lot, but when you are in the heart of the South, a wholesome biryani served on a banana leaf with some Chicken 65 and a cooling glass of milkshake is just bliss. As I cooled myself in the AC restaurant from the searing 42-deg C heat, the sun stopped for nothing. It was only when I saw the shadow that the car cast, I was snapped back into reality. It wasn’t over my head anymore, it was ahead and closer to the sea. 

As I got back on the road, tunnel vision set in, and the e-tron buzzed across the highways. The well-marked and paved roads were a treat to drive on and with ADAS tech on board, a lot relaxing too. Lane Keep assist on the e-tron works like a charm to keep you within the lane and adaptive cruise control meant I could relax my right foot as well. Then there’s the Audi pre sense adding another layer of safety that ensures autonomous braking. Impressively, you can also turn off the pre sense manually if you are in a crowded area and don’t want the system to get confused with your natural braking habits.

Stunning backdrop of windmills near Nagercoil is a visual treat.

As I relaxed on the newly built highway with the seats massaging my back and ventilated seats blowing cool air, we crossed the spectacular Ramco Wind Farms, 22km shy of Nagercoil. A sea of windmills was not only stunning to look at but also reminded me how important sustainable energy is and that EVs are only helping the case even further.

This was the last leg of Tamil Nadu, and soon after this, I would be in God’s own country, Kerala. These two states, rich in culture and heritage, are spectacular in their own ways, but are also easy to differentiate. As soon as we entered Kerala, the roads weren’t broad and wide anymore. They were narrow and lined with coconut trees, colourful houses and speedbumps peppered all over. Thankfully, the standard 176mm ground clearance of the Q8 e-tron can be raised to 226mm by switching it to off-road mode. That said, there is no switch to avoid the hyper-traffic of Kerala – state transport buses almost grazing the sharp lines on the Q8 e-tron, auto rickshaws that seemed to be running a Stage 3 tune, and two-wheelers that could very well be in the next Bond flick.

Random traffic jams thrashed my comfortable lead.

It was fast-paced, winding and exciting. Perfect time for the Dynamic mode to step in. And so I did, for exactly 7km before traffic set in. 

Varkala Beach is a huge tourist attraction and thanks to the narrow roads, bottlenecks are frequent. I woefully crawled, knowing very well that time and tide, and the sun, stop for no one. 

An epic sundowner

As the e-tron inched ahead with its sensors going berserk, I could see the sun that was now dead ahead. Soon the traffic thinned, the roads, still narrow, opened up, and I got into Walter Röhrl mode. On climbs, the visors were dropped, but not the pace. In Dynamic, the Q8 e-tron truly firms up and offers total performance. Half a flex of the right foot, and the Quattro ensures there is enough traction to race ahead. The air suspension, which was soft and comfy on the highways, firms up and restricts a fair amount of body roll, and the steering, which was light and breezy in town, weighs up as well. All that’s missing is the brutish V8 exhaust note of the RS models.  

6:20pm, Varkala beach, Kerala, 476km

As I scampered up towards the Varkala cliff, the sun was glaring in my eyes from time to time, almost ridiculing me. It was 6.10pm and it felt like the internet was wrong. It seemed the sun would be setting before I got there. 

But thankfully, a few more turns in, the narrow, winding road spat me out on a flat-top section over the hill, as the sun left its orange tinge in the sky. Got the perfect spot to park, and with it, a stunning sunset with the Q8 e-tron. The task was completed.

On crunching the numbers, the Q8 e-tron returned 4.6km/kWh, which meant an astonishing real-world range of 524km from its 114kWh battery pack. Towards the end, it did get a bit too close, with just 9 percent battery left and a range of 42km, but that’s how random traffic blocks and uphill driving affect your range. That said, the range is not an issue anymore, but it is the charging infrastructure that has to be amplified along the main highways, and importantly, there needs to be more DC fast charging options. Their upkeep will make them more reliable.

All said and done, there is something incredibly therapeutic about a long drive. Especially one that allows you to disconnect from the general driving distractions and cocoons you in comfort and silence. The Q8 e-tron does that very well. In fact, it has a lot in common with the sunrise and sunset. It’s calm, quiet, unassuming and yet, each time you experience it first-hand, just so soothing. It doesn’t have the flash and bang of new-age EVs, but then neither does a sunrise or a sunset. In its simplicity and unpretentiousness, lies its magic.

Also See:

Date with an icon: Mercedes-AMG SL 55 meets Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Feature: Gran Turismo movie vs game vs real life

Post a Comment

Post a Comment (0)
To Top