► Full review of hot e-Tron S
► Available as SUV or Sportback
► New tri-motor drivetrain tested
Forty years since the debut of Quattro all-wheel drive, Audi has reinvented it for a new era of high-performance electrification. This e-Tron S is the first fruit of that, with a new new twin e-motor system on the rear axle, and a single motor on the front.
Both the regular shape e-Tron and its Sportback coupe version are available with this new hot powertrain, and we’ve tested it in the UK and at Audi Sport’s test centre in Neuberg.
Can’t we already buy an e-Tron with electric all-wheel drive?
Yes, the e-Tron debuted last year as Audi’s first all-electric vehicle, and does feature all-wheel drive, but it’s got only one motor per axle. Audi says the more powerful e-Tron S, meanwhile is the first mass market vehicle to feature twin electric motors on the rear axle. Along with that, the e-Tron S features a 95kWh battery – the same capacity as the e-Tron 55, but those extra motors mean a total of 496bhp and 717lb ft on overboost and a 0-62mph sprint done with in just 4.5 seconds.
Not only that, but a more rear-biased driving experience that includes drifty showboating, extra dynamic accuracy, and the ability to instantly take torque away from a single rear wheel if, say, one wheel finds itself on mud and the other dry tarmac are par for the course.
How does it work?
It starts with the same asynchronous electric motors you’ll find on the e-Tron 55, which is the next step down in the range, and like all e-Trons has more power at the rear axle than the front. But here’s the twist: the S takes the 55’s rear e-motor and puts it on the front (for up to 201bhp), then takes two of the 55’s front e-motors and puts them on its rear axle (for up to 354bhp for the rear tyres). There’s space to fit those two motors because it’s all been in the plan since the beginning, five years ago.
That aforementioned overboost lasts for eight seconds but, even if you can keep your foot pinned for more than that, there’s still an extremely healthy 429bhp and 596lb ft on tap.
In normal driving, the front e-motor switches off, and only chips in when the driver calls for more acceleration, or the drivetrain senses slip.
So it’s just very fast in a straight line?
We wouldn’t say *just*, but boy is it quick. Thrilling whip-crack starts are just a throttle stamp away, and all of that power is dealt with impeccably because of that powertrain arrangement.
It’s called electric torque vectoring, and kind of works like a mechanical limited-slip differential, except there’s nothing but software linking the two motors. It also responds in milliseconds (up to a 25 per cent quicker than a conventional system, says Audi), and can apply 162lb ft more torque quickly and seamlessly to the outside rear wheel in a corner than it does to the inner wheel. And because it’s electric, there’s also more torque being applied full stop.
Meanwhile, on the front axle, wheel selective torque control uses the discs and pads to gently brake the inside front wheel. It all helps rotate the car in to the corner, just as comparable systems do with internal combustion engines, propshafts, differentials and driveshafts.
All the motors and the software are designed in-house by Audi, with each e-motor supplied three-phase power current by its own power electronics. Co-ordinating everything is the Electronic Chassis Platform, ensuring every part of the triple-motor jigsaw does the right thing according to grip levels and driver inputs for a harmonious drive.
What’s the e-Tron S like behind the wheel?
It’s certainly got a broad skillset, from a small amount of confidence-inspiring understeer to flamboyant oversteer if you select Dynamic mode and slacken the stability control system.
During our time at Audi’s Neuberg test facility, the huge electric performance naturally means instant and nausea-inducing acceleration accompanied by nothing but eerie silence. There’s a clear rear bias to the e-Tron S Sportback but pressing on through a fast right-hander, the contribution from the front axle is clear – it pulls the e-Tron through the apex as the rear tyres edge towards their limit, and there’s just a little understeer as that power pulls you out. It gives you confidence to lean on the front end and push harder.
Switch to Dynamic and slacken the stability control and the e-Tron S does what no other Quattro does – it’s happy to drift at lurid angles, screeching from the corner with armfuls of opposite lock and even smoke from the rear tyres, but this is quite a different feeling compared with a typical internal combustion engine and propshaft, diffs and driveshafts. Imagine going sideways in a super-sized dodgem and you’re somewhere close – instant urge, not a lot of finesse to the accelerator, but fun all the same.
What about if you’re not driving it at ten tenths?
It’s impressively serene. There’s no hiding the fact it’s a 2.6-tonne SUV, but the management of its bulk is something to be commended. Motorway cruises are impeccably quiet – something rare in an EV that may have no engine noise but usually means other intrusions like tyre roar and wind buffeting are amplified – with the air suspension quelling lumps in the road, despite our test car running on large 22-inch wheels. The e-Tron S, it seems can lower your resting pulse rate as much as it can raise it in the right situation.
Neat tricks carried over from the regular e-Tron include adaptive brake regeneration (where the car is aware of upcoming junctions via navigation data, and an emergency ‘range mode’ that switches all of the ancilliaries if you’re cutting it too close to the bone with range.
Speaking of range…
Yes, Audi claims up to 223 miles on a charge according to WLTP figures. Given this is an Audi Sport model, our test in the UK included motorway and urban driving, along with plenty of opportunities to exploit all that available performance – our range predictions according to the car were more near the 190-mile mark.
Verdict: Audi e-Tron S
Forty years since Quattro’s debut, the e-Tron S demonstrates the benefit of having an electric motor on the front axle and two on the rear. It’s not only the simply huge performance and gluey traction, it’s the very fine level of control that can be used to guide the car through corners, even to the point of oversteer. It’s obviously not as fun as the old days, throttle blipping your way out of a corner with armfuls of opposite lock, but the e-Tron S proves it’s more than just a more powerful e-Tron.
It can still be a cushy, refined EV cruiser for a family. And while range isn’t impeccable, having the ability to have some real fun behind the wheel of an electric car shouldn’t be ignored.
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Specs below are for e-Tron S Sportback