Audi Sport enters a new, electric era – the e-tron GT shows that's not quite as scary as it sounds
By Matt Bird / Tuesday, March 2, 2021 / Loading comments
All the established performance car brands are going to face some challenges in the move to an electrified future. It's simply too much of a step change, industry-wide, for it to be undertaken without some degree of difficulty or trepidation. For some manufacturers and vehicle types, the transition is going to be simpler than others: replicating what a luxury saloon does with batteries and electric motors is a lot more convenient than making a lightweight sports car from the same hardware.
Then there's the case of the fast Audi, specifically this new RS e-tron GT, and how it fits into the established ICE hierarchy. Though many may fondly recall open gated manual R8 or the generation of RS4 that revved to the heavens, the fact is that the fast Audi image has been forged – and continues to trade on – the sort of cars that are not unlike the e-tron already. Models like the current RS4 and RS6 are large, heavy, automatic luxury vehicles, with the security of four-wheel drive and the instant performance offered by twin turbocharging. The move to something like the RS e-tron GT – four driven wheels, immediate power, more weight than is really ideal – surely requires a lot less soul searching from brand advocates than it might from, say, Porsche or Lotus. Or even BMW, come to think of it. On paper, the RS e-tron GT seems to fit into the Audi range seamlessly. And right at the top of it, too.
Audi describes the e-tron GT has nothing less than a "dynamic work of art", a car that is the "embodiment of an expressive design language that emphasises the longstanding position of Audi as an innovator in this field". In other words it's spectacular to look at – but immediately recognisable as something out of Ingolstadt. Or Neckarsulm, more specifically, as the e-tron will be built at Bollinger Hofe alongside the R8. What was perhaps conservative as a concept at the end of 2018 makes for a stunning production car a few years later, lower and wider than anything else this long can usually be. That drama should entice new buyers (perhaps even those considering the architecturally similar Taycan) while familiar Audi cues like the Singleframe grille and rear light bar will keep those upgrading from an A7 happy. The pictures really don't do it justice – there's enough presence here to make an RS6 look pretty ordinary.
The interior is a similarly smart mix of what Audi already does well with the benefits conferred on the e-tron by its powertrain. The driving position might be better than an R8's, placing you right down low with the pedals and wheel just so; the latter is thin and nicely trimmed in Alcantara – it's honestly hard to think of how it could be improved. Interestingly, too, the futuristic capacitive buttons used in the entirely humdrum A6 for the ventilation have been swapped out here for traditional buttons that are almost slightly unbecoming for something so wantonly future focused. But they work just fine. And if the cabin isn't perhaps as memorable as the Porsche's, then it's hard to find meaningful fault with.
With a start button on the centre console and a drive selector similar to the one found in a Golf, the e-tron GT is like almost any other Audi to get going. It doesn't take long for differences to make themselves known, though; beyond the obvious lack of noise other than the manufactuered 'soundscape', there's a suppleness to the ride – even on optional 21-inch wheels – and clarity to the steering response that's distinct from the Audi norm. The RS GT feels plush from the off, a lot more like the second half of the name than we've come to expect from the rest of the RS-badged lineup. Which is no bad thing given the likely use case for most first-time buyers.
Certainly the RS GT cruises as well as its Taycan counterpart, the investment made in 'aeroacoustics' – including that remarkable 0.24Cd – ensuring unruffled progress down a motorway. Perhaps the 21-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres – the standard rim is a 20-inch – throw up a little more road noise than is ideal, though it's easy to imagine emptying an entire charge (around 240 miles according to the trip on the test car) behind the wheel and very much enjoying it. Performance is, of course, staggering, even once the initial acceleration overboost has been exhausted; not quite Taycan Turbo S levels of lunacy, but more shocking than the similarly powerful RS7 because of just how instantly speed is piled on.
More miles bring more surprises. The RS GT is, against all expectations, a remarkably easy car to configure. In this LHD example the drive select button is the correct side for the driver (it's unclear whether that will happen for RHD), meaning it's easy to cycle through Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic and Individual. Furthermore, not only can the e-tron be left in Dynamic and comfortable progress still be made, Individual isn't a bewildering array of choices: the driver selects their modes for sound, powertrain response and suspension only, the latter three-chamber air system with just two settings. The steering doesn't adjust, neither does the rear differential; the mode anxiety which is often a feature of fast Audis never materialises here – because it's good all the time, in any setting.
This sort of omniscient prowess shouldn't be a shock given how closely related the e-tron is to the astonishingly good Porsche, but it is a nice break from the fast Audi norm. No longer is there that slightly ponderous, nose-heavy sensation typical of cars with a large engine slung out front; the RS GT lives up to its precise, decently weighted steeing with pleasingly incisive direction changes. It will understeer at the limit – perhaps more than expected given how game it is up to that point – but the car's mass can only be concealed for so long. Added to which you've probably gone into the corner much, much faster than you would in any other car, too.
Better instead to turn in with a bit less speed and jump back on the throttle early, where all Audi's claims of "Quattro reborn" begin to make a lot more sense – the e-tron feels more rear-driven than any other quattro Audi, R8 included, as well as more immediate at corner exit. The delay waiting for power to be moved rearwards has been eliminated, to the extent that you'll want to be on top of it as the transition from straightening under power to something more can be pretty swift (just ask the Audi employee who spun one on the tech day). But even on the roundabouts of Milton Keynes and a little further beyond, it's clear that the RS GT is going to present keen drivers with some handling intrigue they might not have expected. And possibly give some old Audi RS drivers the shock of their lives.
Naturally it isn't perfect; the brake feel seems more artificial than it does in a Taycan, with a dead spot at the top of the travel and less confidence under big stops, for example. It would be nice to have the option of more regen, too, as the throttle pedal works so well in building all that ferocious speed. Typically the RS coasts when the driver lifts, with regeneration most pronounced in Dynamic mode and adjustable through steering wheel paddles, though even then it feels like the car could be nudged further towards one pedal driving.
They seem minor gripes, though, for what feels an immensely impressive opening gambit for electric RS Audis. By bringing together the traditional brand attributes of style, quality and performance with the dynamic advantages afforded by an EV platform, the RS e-tron GT presents a pretty formidable case for itself. Its claimed range and weight won't do anything for detractors of batter power, but for those not regularly commuting to Aberdeen or addicted to V8s, the e-tron is already a compelling alternative to something like an RS7 – it really is that good. Buyers will pay for the privilege, of course, with the RS version costing anywhere from £110,000 to £130,000. But then a new flagship was never likely to be cheap. Expect a right-hand drive verdict in due course – and plenty more plaudits, too.
SPECIFICATION | AUDI RS E-TRON GT
Engine: Permanently excited electric motor, one per axle, 93.4kWh battery
Transmission: Single-speed (front) twin-speed (rear), all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 646 (launch control overboost, otherwise 598)
Torque (lb ft): 612 (launch control maximum)
0-62mph: 3.3sec (3.6 without boost)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 2,347kg (DIN without driver)
MPG: N/A (283-mile range)
CO2: 0g/km (driving)
Price: £110,950 (base RS e-tron GT; RS e-tron GT Carbon Black £124,540 and RS e-tron GT Carbon Vorsprung £133,340)
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