Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive

Published:05 November 2020

Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

► It's a Taycan underneath 
► Pre-production car driven, but 98% there
► 592bhp and 631bhp in overboost

The Audi RS e-Tron GT might be derived from the same building blocks as the Porsche Taycan, but there’s no doubting this car’s significance: it’s the first Audi RS model to go fully electric, skipping the plug-in hybrid stage altogether and beating rivals BMW M and Mercedes-AMG to market with emissions-free motoring.

Is that a good thing? To find out, we’re driving the RS e-Tron GT in pre-production prototype form – hence the body camouflage, but this car is said to be 98% representative of the incoming production car. 

Pricing is TBC, but expect a £120,000 ballpark – a circa £20k premium over the non-RS e-Tron GT.

So it’s a Taycan underneath?

Basically yes. The RS e-Tron GT is based on the same J1 platform as the Porsche Taycan, and has the same 800v cabling that’s lighter and faster charging and uses a battery with a net capacity of 83.7kWh (93kWh gross).

Audi electric cars explained

There are two permanent magnet synchronous e-motors – a 175kW motor powers the front axle and is shared with the regular e-Tron GT, but the rear is larger and more powerful, at 335kW. You don’t get three motors here, as you do on the e-Tron S SUV, but the RS e-Tron GT does get an elecTronically controlled rear limited-slip differential. The electric (natch) steering has a fixed ratio, but rear-wheel steering increases agility at lower speeds. 

Just like the Taycan, there’s a two-speed transmission on the rear axle, and a focus on coasting rather than recuperation to extend battery range. However, the Audi apparently uses its front e-motor a little more for reasons of efficiency, but can switch so rapidly to the rear (5x faster than mechanical all-wheel drive) that the effect on dynamic driving should be minimal. Expect more than 248 miles on the WLTP cycle. 

Charge times will be equivalent to the Taycan, with a maximum DC charging capacity of 270kW, for a theoretical 62 miles of range in 5 minutes. A 50kW DC charger boosts the battery from 5-80 per cent in around 1.5 hours, or a 11kW charger from 0-100 per cent in around nine hours. Straightforward as ever, no?

Arguably more important is that this is the most powerful RS ever, with 592bhp (the same as the RS6, but 631bhp with the short overboost function beats it) and 612lb ft torque. It can sprint from 0-62mph in under 3.5sec and reach 156mph. All of which is just under the Porsche Taycan Turbo, and Audi has a similar focus on repeatability of that performance, even as the energy in the battery depletes.

What are the differences to the regular e-Tron GT?

There’s a much smaller difference than we normally find between standard production models like, say, an A4 TDI and an RS4, which Audi argues is because they’re already starting with a highly sporting and premium-priced platform in the e-Tron GT, not upgrading a more mainstream product into something suitably RS.

But there are no visual differences between the two bodies (though you can option a carbonfibre roof), and even the RS-spec 20-inch alloys can be specified on the e-Tron GT, which wears 19s as standard. Inside, you do get RS-specific displays for the interior, and the fantastic sports seats are different too. 

Mechanically, the RS rides on three-chamber air suspension as standard (optional on the standard car) but otherwise gets the same suspension links and hardware as its junior sibling. It also gets brakes that reduce brake dust by 90 per cent as standard (an upgrade on the e-Tron GT) or optional carbon-ceramics, and crucially there’s the performance increase of 40bhp.

What’s it like inside?

The driving position is incredibly low, especially so considering there’s a hunk of battery below your feet. The seats are also super-comfortable and supportive – our test car had the optional fabric upholstery. The grip and tactility is nicely complemented by a relatively thin, flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara. Nothing wrong with this driving position.

Best electric cars

The rear seats three (just) but there’s just enough room for 6’ 1” me to sit behind myself, and the roofline restricts headroom and encroaches on shoulder room next to the door.

Much of the dash and infotainment is familiar from the Audi A6, though it’s noticeable that the upper section of the centre console is angled towards the driver, and some of the A6’s capacitive buttons have been ditched for easier to prod buttons.

How does the RS e-Tron GT drive?

The generic name says it all – this car should excite like an RS, it’s of course an all-electric e-Tron model, but it also has a GT remit, meaning long-distance chops are high on the agenda too. One engineer said the Porsche was ‘more about every last bit of lap time’, hence Dynamic mode is softer than a Taycan’s Sport, and there’s no Sport Plus equivalent.

The ride is plush (our test car rode on optional 21-inch alloys with Goodyear Eagle F1s), refinement impressive, the steering mid-weighted and precise, if perhaps not quite the incisive response of a Taycan immediately off-centre – nothing to complain about, but perhaps a nod to high-speed stability. 

You can switch off the synthetic ‘engine’ sounds, but it’s a subtly rich note not unlike a smooth straight-six petrol and actually helps you mentally process speed. This is mixed with the very real sounds of electric motors whirring, especially under deceleration – apparently this will be toned down on production cars. With less pronounced e-motor braking than many electric cars, the coasting effect feels familiar too.

Performance is very strong, and stomping the throttle from rest squeezes your passenger’s innards and forces you back in your seat. But equally – and obviously – it lacks the ferocious surge of more powerful Taycans. Plenty here for everything bar a YouTube head-to-head, basically.

 

Did you test on twisty roads?

Yep, we zig-zagged our way up and down mountain roads in Rhodes, the surface thinly coated with dirt after a previous day’s downpour. The e-Tron’s keen steering combines with its low centre of gravity (it weighs around 2300kg though!)  to change direction eagerly and feel suitably low and planted. Grip levels are incredibly high, body motions quickly damped, and generally there’s a sTrong rear-biased flavour.

But two things: when the RS e-Tron GT does give up its hold on the tarmac, it tends to understeer without a great deal of finesse or progression, and such is the instant nature of the power delivery that it can be hard to judge how early you can get back on the throttle (and it is very early) and exploit the rear bias – I found the Comfort setting preferable for this, simply because it wasn’t quite as light-switch as Dynamic.

But wind back the pace just a fraction and this RS is a quick, stable and agile way to cover ground like this. Even with the suspension in Dynamic, its most aggressive mode, there’s sufficient compliance, including over quite badly fractured sections, though a UK drive will be the acid test.

Braking performance not only betrays the excess of stopping power from optional carbon-ceramics, but also the sophistication of the transition between regeneration mode (when the discs and pads aren’t doing anything at all, and the e-motors are actually braking) and traditional discs and pads – the pedal is natural and feelsome, but so often is re-gen doing the stopping that the carbon-ceramic upgrade seems entirely unnecessary.

Verdict

The RS e-Tron GT is an impressive drive, with the generous refinement and performance to ease away long journeys, and a very capable chassis that can entertain a performance-minded driver, not to mention appeal to them at lower speeds with its design and technology. But there’s very little differentiation from the regular e-Tron GT, and the drive ultimately misses the fizz that characterises the best RS models.

To my mind, the Audi RS e-Tron GT is more GT than it is RS. Or, to use another badge, the first electric Audi RS drives like a very accomplished S.

Specs

Price when new: £120,000
On sale in the UK: May 2021
Engine: Twin permanently excited synchronous motors
Transmission: Single-speed front axle, two-speed rear axle, all-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph, 156mph, 0g/km (from exhaust)
Weight / material: 2300kg est/aluminium, steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

Photo Gallery

  • Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive
  • Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive
  • Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive
  • Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive
  • Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive
  • Audi RS e-Tron GT review: a pre-production drive

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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