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Monday, August 8, 2022
Home News Cars Test Drive: Audi's RS e-tron GT is an electric brute

Test Drive: Audi’s RS e-tron GT is an electric brute

Ingolstadt’s first performance EV is a handsome brute with driving dynamics worthy of the RS badge writes Jason Saundalkar

Audi’s first forays into the electric vehicle (EV) space began with the e-tron SUV (produced since 2019) and e-tron Sportback SUV (since 2020). The Ingolstadt headquartered company then launched the e-tron GT and its sportier offering, the RS e-tron GT, the latter being the subject of this review, writes Jason Saundalkar.

Unlike the brand’s first two EVs which are produced in Belgium, the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT roll off the line at Audi Böllinger Höfe, at the company’s Neckarsulm site. It’s the same facility that produces the R8 and is said to be a high-tech plant that feature smart technology, and is capable of carbon-neutral production and leverages eco-electricity and biogas.
The RS e-tron GT is based on the J1 platform which is shared with the Porsche Taycan – both vehicles were developed simultaneously and share several components (more on this later). While this is the case, the Audi is easily the more handsome of the two EVs. Audi says the vehicle is the ‘start of a new era, the gran turismo of the future’ and I think they’ve absolutely nailed it from a design standpoint.

From every angle (dead on front/rear, side profile, rear three quarters), the dressed in ‘Tango Red Metallic’ RS e-tron GT looked brilliant. It ticked the futuristic checkbox without trying odd/polarising design elements that non-traditional automotive brands seem obsessed with and, crucially, it’s easily identifiable as an Audi. The Truck & Fleet Middle East (T&FME) tester was optioned up with attractive 21-inch rims and wide, low profile tires that suited the vehicle perfectly.

Overall, the EV’s wide and low stance and smattering of RS kit (carbon roof, wing mirrors, functional vents etc) screamed futuristic and aggressive. In fact, in my book, the RS e-tron GT is hands-down the best looking EV you can buy today.
Familiar Ergonomics
Getting into the T&FME tester presented a cabin that screamed quality. Like the exterior, the interior is immediately familiar if you’ve been in other Audis. That said, there are some new elements on this EV that I hope will filter over to some of the brand’s current vehicles when they receive their mid-cycle refresh.
Like other sporty Audis, the dashboard is designed to face the driver and Audi’s lovely virtual cockpit is now displayed, sharper than I’ve ever seen before, on a 12.3-inch display with a resolution of 1920 x 720 pixels. As before you have the option to switch between modes: classic; sport and e-tron; the latter is the one I used extensively for the test drive, which puts your speed, range, gear, regeneration etc centre of the bright and crisp screen.
Flanking the centre information is space for ancillary information which you can quickly pull up using the steering-mounted multifunction buttons.
Sitting to the right of the driver’s display is the 10.1-inch central MMI touch display. The screen provides acoustic feedback and enables you to interact with the car’s infotainment, navigation, comfort settings etc. It proved responsive and easy to use, though the screen does retain fingerprints and looked a mess that I relented and wiped off after each drive.
Thankfully, on the RS e-tron GT, Audi opted to ditch the lower centre screen – on the current generation RS6 and S8 that T&FME tested in 2021 and 2020 respectively, that screen offered climate controls, which meant taking your eyes off the road if you wanted to make adjustments. On this EV however, that screen’s been replaced by good old fashioned buttons, which I developed muscle memory for over the four day test period. The AC performed well, quickly cooling down the luxurious though somewhat monotone colored cabin in early December within a few minutes of setting off.
Sitting below the centre vents, you’ll find a few more useful and frequently used buttons including ‘Drive Select’. Considering this is a RS vehicle, we’d expected to find a RS button on the steering wheel, so we could flick through modes without needing to take our hands off the wheel (this button was on the steering wheel of the RS6 and RS Q3 that we tested in 2021).
Audi has also done away with a traditional gear selector and instead fitted a smart looking rocker style switch that became second nature to use within a couple of hours. In close proximity are the handbrake controls as well as the EV’s start/stop button. The one issue I had with this lower part of the centre console is there isn’t much space to keep your things – you get a small binnacle to the side of the gear selector that isn’t deep or long enough for the biggest phones on the market. There are also two cup holders towards the rear of the centre console, the second of which is where you’d expect there to be a padded elbow rest for your right arm.
Over the course of our test drive, I found my elbow sliding into that cup holder and once even bumped my funny bone (which is no laughing matter in reality).
Getting into the back, I was pleased to find rear seat legroom and headroom generous. The big issue in terms of practicality however is truck and frunk (front trunk) space – you get 366 litres at the back (without folding the rear seats down) and 81 litres in the front. The rear trunk space is significantly lower than what you get in other EVs and even Audi’s own A7 Sportback for example (535 litres), while the frunk’s 81 litres is halved (roughly) by the EV’s charging cable kit.
In an electric car, everyone can hear you scream
As I’d mentioned earlier, the e-tron GT shares several key components with the Porsche Taycan, including its 800-volt electrical architecture (benefits include high continuous output, shortens charging duration and reduces weight and space required by wiring), front and rear electric motors, two-speed rear axle mounted transmission, all-wheel steering and even the air springs. All these components work together to make the RS e-tron GT a monster in spirited driving or a refined GT when you just want to eat the kilometres and get to your destination unstressed and without harming the environment.
The RS e-tron GT offers 590hp (510hp in the standard e-tron GT) and 612lb-ft of torque, though engaging launch control will offer 637hp for 2.5 seconds. Using launch control, the RS e-tron GT ripped from 0-97km/h in an incredible 3.2 seconds (measured using the EV’s onboard timer). That’s super impressive when you consider the EV weighs 2.3-tons without a driver but what impressed me even more was the fact the EV was able to deliver exactly the same result back-to-back. Audi says it’s employed a high-tech thermal management system that works to ensure performance doesn’t suffer even when it is called upon repeatedly.
Nothing can really prepare you for the instant and seemingly endless torque from those electric motors. Off the line or when you’re already at speed, if you floorboard the accelerator, it feels as though you’ve been shot out of the world’s largest canon. What’s really unsettling is the EV doesn’t make a racket while pinning you to your seat, all you hear is the interesting, space-aged hum that the EV plays into the cabin (and on the outside) to give you an auditory indication that you’re moving at speed (in dynamic mode, the sound is noticeably more aggressive). The sheer pace of the RS e-tron GT does take a day or two to get used to and Audi has done a great job calibrating the accelerator, so you can progressively metre out exactly how much thrust you want to summon from those two motors.
More impressive still is, despite the EV’s SUV challenging weight, the RS e-tron GT is a dynamic steer. The lithium-ion batteries are located at the car’s lowest point between the two axles, and Audi even says the vehicle has a near perfect weight distribution of 50:50.
That set up coupled with the chunky tires, all wheel steering, and adaptive air suspension
meant the EV was surprisingly agile and had this reviewer grinning through the corners.
The EV’s set-up does a great job of recreating the surefootedness of Audi’s brilliant mechanical quattro system, while the rear wheel steering made low speed maneuverability in tight spaces a cinch.
With regards to braking performance, it’s worth noting here that the RS e-tron GT only really employs its physical brakes in hard braking scenarios; the rest of the time the vehicle’s regenerative braking is what slows progress when you get off the accelerator. You can adjust how much regenerative braking the car provides via the steering mounted paddles – this is a brilliant move considering you’ll likely want to adjust this on the fly depending on conditions. Set at maximum regeneration, the car does slow quite noticeably every time you lift off the accelerator but it’s not enough that you could do entire journeys only managing the accelerator pedal.
In terms of ride quality, one advantage of substantial weight when combined with well sorted suspension is a composed and refined ride, and indeed, this reviewer was chuffed with the EV’s overall composure. Going over bumps or broken road, the EV was comfortable regardless of drive setting, and thanks to the lack of a combustion engine and the inclusion of acoustic glass on our tester (optional extra), the vehicle was an incredibly tranquil place to spend time in. The seats, as you’d expect, are wonderfully supply and supportive – this is a car that you could happily spend hours and hours in.
Can it go the distance?
Audi claims the RS e-tron GT’s 85kWh lithium-ion battery offers up to 487km when fully charged and, by the end of my time with the vehicle, I was convinced the EV could do that range or manage better. After two days with the Audi, doing my 90km round trip to and from the office each day, the vehicle’s battery still had about 50% of its charge, despite those trips including a fair bit of spirited driving.
I can’t say I’ve had this sort of a reassuring experience with earlier EVs; after I’d performed the two, back-to-back 0-97km/h launches, the range estimate dropped by 48km on the RS e-tron GT. When I did the same with an older EV, the range dropped by 150km, which really knocked my confidence in terms of how much range I’d actually be able to get out of that vehicle.
In terms of charging, the RS e-tron GT supports both AC and DC charging from 11-to-270kW and Audi has given the EV two charging points just behind the front wheels. An AC charging port can be found on both sides of the vehicle, while a DC port sits only on the right-hand side. All the necessary cables are provided along with the vehicle and Audi notes that using a standard 11kW AC charger, an empty battery can be fully charged overnight. 22kW charging will top up the battery faster however, when working with a powerful DC terminal, the EV can leverage 270kW charging and recharge energy for up to 100km of range in just over five minutes. Charging from 5-to-80% SoC (state of charge) takes just 22.5 minutes under ideal conditions, Audi says.
Verdict
With all its optional extras, our test RS e-tron GT costs AED660,000 which makes it the most expensive Audi we’ve ever tested. The Audi isn’t quite perfect but it’s a handsome brute of a thing that’s easily the most confidence inspiring EV I’ve spent time in to date. And, when it comes to its cabin, the RS e-tron GT simply leaves what’s offered by non-traditional automakers in the dust in terms of refinement, fit and finish.
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Stephen Whitehttps://truckandfleetme.com/
Stephen White was formerly editor of Big Project ME.
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