It's not just Porsche targeting Tesla (with its Mission E concept). As the Californian electric motoring brand turned up to the Frankfurt Auto Show without its new Tesla Model X SUV (because, hey, launching a car at a motor show is a bit, y'know, 80s), Audi showed its intent to compete with its e-tron Quattro SUV concept.
Mobbed throughout the entire Frankfurt show, the e-tron Quattro previews what many believe will become a production Audi Q6. A low-roof, slightly more rakish than the Q7, but instead of the 3.0 TDI under the hood, you're going to get a fully electric, 300-mile range battery car that will go toe-to-toe with the Tesla.
There's just one problem with Audi's plan: you can order the Tesla Model X now, whereas the production version of this Audi won't be around until 2017, more likely 2018 at the earliest.
Audi e-tron SUV concept preview: Worth the wait?
While we know it's easy to get wound up about concepts, trust us on this one – a Q6, and electric Audi SUVs are definitely coming. And while they (yes, we reckon eventually there'll be several sizes to suit your brood and budget) won't have quite as many chrome details or 4K screens as this concept, they're likely to do all that Audi's traditionally do well (look good, be great to live with, have smart and intuitive tech content) while doing the zero emission thing too. So if you're keen on the idea of family space, a high ride and planet-hugging, emission-free lack of guilt, should you wait for this or sign for the Tesla?
Depends on your existing predisposition. It's beginning to look like a game of top trumps this. So while the Tesla has its flacon door, the Audi counters with some cool aero details – like the rear tail spoiler which extends at speed; and the pop-out, vertical separation elements that contribute to give a drag factor of just 0.25cd (pretty impressive for a 4.8m long SUV with a massive frontal area; by comparison the new A4 scores 0.24cd).
Audi talks up both efficiency and performance in its blurb about the e-tron SUV concept. But what does that mean in reality when a production car lands? The range target of just over 300 miles per charge should be no problem, while a 0-60mpg time of sub 5-seconds might not match Tesla but ought to be fast enough in any SUV. Just don't expect to achieve both at the same time.
Rather like Porsche, Audi was trumpeting the speed in which the e-tron SUV concept will be able to recharge. Via its DC system (you can use AC too) its battery can be fully recharged from flat in just 50 minutes. Oh, and the roof is made of solar panels to keep things ticking over.
Audi e-tron SUV concept preview: Something, something, Technik
Being an Audi, the e-tron SUV concept wouldn't get out of the starting blocks without a full suite of the latest technologies. And while the tick-boxing is impressive - OLED cockpit displays all round, including in the door cards; Laser-matrix headlamps; LTE module for connectivity - the most interesting feature of the e-tron is its zFAS piloted driving capabilities.
With Audi at the forefront of the development of autonomous car technologies, it was keen to show off the e-tron SUV concept as having radar sensors, cameras, laser scanners and ultra-sonic sensors which all make it "piloted driving" capable. In other words, it can basically drive for you by constantly 3D-modelling its surrounding and supporting your efforts even when you have the wheel.
Concept car puff? No, Audi is nearly ready for the real world with this stuff: the A7 it drove from San Francisco to this year's Consumer Electronics Show tells you all you need to know. Driverless cars are incoming, they're just not exactly going to be called that for legal reasons. So expect the production Q6 e-tron you can buy in 2018 to really be able to take the load off.
Audi e-tron SUV concept preview: A new take on Audi design
All this is wrapped in a car that speaks strongly of Audi brand values, and feels pretty much on-point, but doesn't have quite the "photocopier at 110 per cent" look like some of the brand's other recent efforts managed.
Thank a new design director and a slight change in direction for that. The e-trone Quattro SUV concept is a little more bling for Audi: the grille shape different, there's more chrome, the wheel arches are more accentuated. Yet somehow it doesn't reek of aggression: the low roof and raked rear giving it a whiff of a high-riding estate car that manages to dial back on some of the nastiness inherent to many SUVs.
The interior is a place you'll want to sit and revel in the technology too. The specification described coming together in a neat mix, without the plonked-in quality of Tesla's 17-inch centre touch screen (ok, so we love the Tesla screen, but the Audi looks even better). But then you could say the Audi lacks the wow factor of that idea too.
If you're still trying to answer the "Audi or Tesla?" question when it comes to electric then it comes down to this: do you buy into the idea of the Californian, Silicon-Valley way of thinking right now, or re-think from the ground up and follow the very Germanic, logical way in three years' time?
We would expect the Audi to cost less in its Q6 form-to-be than the Tesla Model X too. But both cars have (or will have) their merits: Tesla has the advantage of being first, while Audi will counters with a design that feels far better resolved. The ultimate winner? Place your bets now. We'll revisit this one in 2018.