2019 Audi e-tron has cameras instead of mirrors*, but do they really work?

2019 Audi e-tron first drive – Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

The 2019 Audi e-tron will skip out on one piece of technology when it arrives in the United States, hence our asterisk in the title. U.S.-spec e-trons will not receive the futuristic camera-as-mirror technology. Thank outdated regulations for that.

Instead, we’ll receive standard side mirrors, while Audi outfits international models with a side-camera system, something Lexus offers on its ES in some markets.

Green Car Reports took a deep dive into the system in a Thursday report, and it was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Mounted on the upper door sills are two 7-inch, 1280×1080 OLED screens, where one might expect a stereo speaker to reside. These screens provide the feed from a corresponding rear-facing camera sitting where we expect side mirrors to be. 

2019 Audi e-tron first drive – Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

Audi said the camera system helps improve the e-tron electric crossover’s coefficient of drag from 0.28 in U.S. versions to 0.27 for a Euro-spec version. That small difference can add 3 miles of electric range at highway speeds.

While the technology brings novel promises with it and true engineering benefits, when pushed to the test in everyday driving scenarios, it seems they fell short.

Sunlight often washed the screens out during the day, and during nighttime driving the display registered blotchy halos from the headlights of cars following behind. Furthermore, the surrounding world becomes more granular as the sun set further and darkness washed over the day.

2019 Audi e-tron first drive – Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

The brightness levels also seemed to play havoc with drivers’ eyes. During the day, the screen was dimmer than one would prefer when flicking their eyes between the windshield and checking for traffic. But, at night, the screen was far brighter than needed. The camera system also means a driver will spend a good amount of time staring at five screens—two OLED screens for the cameras, a digital gauge cluster, and an upper and lower screen for the infotainment and climate control systems.

And depth-perception? Very poor with the cameras, unlike a good ol’ fashioned mirror, which the human eye adapts to much easier. At the end of the day, it appears Americans won’t miss out on the technology.

The e-tron is currently available to order and is priced from $75,795. Deliveries commence in the second quarter of 2019.

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