They were straight out of central casting for a slightly corny car movie. Black Nissan 370Z, white Subaru WRX STI. Lowered, fancy wheels, antisocial exhausts. Wings like picnic tables, wide and flat. Kings of the mountain. It was a weekday afternoon, a time when most people are dutifully plugging away at work. We had thought we’d have the river road to ourselves.
Audi had invited me on a brief test drive of the upcoming 2022 RS E-Tron GT. A bit of name clarification: Every electric Audi wears an E-Tron badge; the GT is the swoopy sport sedan of the new electric-car lineup, built on the same platform as the Porsche Taycan; adding RS to the name brings all the available go-fast goodies. The plan was to spend 90 minutes or so on the winding hillside roads that hug the Hudson River near West Point, N.Y., getting familiar with the newest, quietest sport sedan in the Audi lineup.
We’d done a few runs up and down the mountain when we spotted the kings lounging in a turnout at the base of the hill. The E-Tron GT I was driving was a European-spec pre-production prototype. Because of this, Audi insisted on sending two representatives out with me, a lead car and a chase car, with me in the middle.
But our three-car convoy had caught the eyes of the kings. The E-Tron’s drivetrain is silent, but they noticed our speed and heard the yowling of our tires. On our next trip up the mountain, they bolted out of the turnout and elbowed their way into our trio, the 370Z ahead of me, the STI directly behind.
It was the future chasing the past. The Nissan and Subaru barked, boomed and blatted through stick-shifted gears, their uncorked exhausts echoing against the rock walls. In the middle, I whispered along on a cloud of instant EV torque and Audi’s slightly cartoonish synthetic motor noise.
Talk about a serendipitous way to find out if Audi’s electric sedan can hang.
The E-Tron GT joins VW Group’s growing portfolio of all-electric vehicles (in response to, y’know, some problems with internal combustion). As such, it shares a platform and basic drivetrain with Porsche’s electric super sedan, the Taycan. Both models use an identical 93.4-kWh lithium-ion battery mounted in the floor. Every E-Tron GT has two electric motors, one on each axle. The base model makes 469 total horsepower (235 front, 429 rear), rising to 522 hp during launch-control overboost, and 464 lb-ft of total torque (472 on overboost). The top-spec RS model I drove gets a more powerful rear-axle motor, bringing the all-wheel total to 590 hp (637 on overboost) and 612 lb-ft of torque, and a claimed 0-60 of 3.1 seconds. That puts the RS E-Tron GT right between the Porsche Taycan 4S with optional Performance Battery Plus (562 hp on overboost, 0-60 in 3.8) and the Taycan Turbo (670 hp on overboost, 0-60 in 3.0), while leaving room at the very top for the Taycan Turbo S, with 750 hp on overboost and an eye-watering 2.4-second 0-60 as measured by us last year.
Like the high-performance Taycan variants, the E-Tron also gets adaptive air suspension and rear-axle steering. And like every Taycan, the E-Tron’s rear motor drives the wheels through a tricky two-speed automatic gearbox with a low gear for rocketlike acceleration and a high gear for freeway cruising. When we first tested the Porsche Taycan Turbo S, we found this decision puzzling—the rear-motor gearbox makes acceleration response unpredictable, and it doesn’t seem to offer much benefit in driving range—and those qualms remain with the E-Tron GT. In Comfort driving mode, the gearbox defaults to 2nd gear and only downshifts with a hefty prod of the accelerator. You can briefly catch it flat-footed, waiting for the downshift to send you hurtling down the block, chased by the faint high-pitched squeal of powerful circuitry. The pro move is to only drive in Dynamic mode, which locks the rear axle into low gear at sub-highway speeds and ensures that you’ll never have to wait that millisecond for the massive high-torque hit of acceleration which makes EVs so much fun.
The EPA has yet to certify the E-Tron GT’s battery range, but Audi estimates the RS model I drove will do 232 miles under conventional testing conditions. That’s hardly on par with the Tesla Model S, which offers just over 400 miles of range in top-spec, along with quicker acceleration and more power to boot.
The variable-ratio electric-assist steering is quick, with just enough effort to feel sporty, but it’s utterly devoid of feel. And the rear-wheel steering system gives occasional moments of weirdness. The system countersteers the rear wheels below 31 mph for a tighter turning radius, switching to parallel-steer above 50 mph for high-speed stability. Between those two speeds, the rear steering effect can go either way, decided on the fly based on a number of real-time variables. On the roads we were traveling, you enter most corners between 30 and 50. It takes a minute to get used to the varied responses.
It would only take a day of back-road driving to get used to the RS E-Tron GT’s idiosyncrasies. The fact that it’s an EV makes all these traits more noticeable; with no engine noise to distract you, no gear-selection decisions to occupy a small sliver of your brain’s processing power, you start to pay more attention to the more subtle characteristics of a machine. The sum total of the E-Tron GT’s parts, the air suspension, the grippy 21-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires, the carbon brakes, and yes, the rear-wheel steering, add up to a competent and outrageously capable performance sedan. It drives a lot like a Taycan. That’s hardly a bad thing.
This is a hefty machine, all of 5139 lbs. The adaptive air suspension does an admirable job of balancing comfortable compliance with taut body control, and thoughtful packaging keeps the battery weight nice and low to the ground. That, plus the otherworldly EV acceleration, makes the weight largely disappear from your mind—unless you try to brake too deep into a corner and give the front tires more than they can handle. Unlike other EVs, the E-Tron GT only offers a small amount of lift-throttle regenerative braking, switched between three levels of intensity using steering wheel paddles. Those levels might as well be called Zero, Barely Perceptible and Minimal. Thankfully, the RS model offers gigantic optional carbon-ceramic brakes, measuring 16.5 inches up front and gripped by a 10-piston caliper. On our up-the-mountain, down-the-mountain runs, the pedal travel briefly grew after a particularly taxing run, but stopping power remained prodigious.
The biggest differentiator between the Taycan and the E-Tron GT is the interior. Simply put, the E-Tron GT has the best interior of any Audi on sale today. To my taste, it’s a more stylish place to sit than the Porsche. The dashboard is low, with Audi’s fully digital virtual cockpit instrument cluster and a large touchscreen on top of the center stack, angled toward the driver. Blessedly, unlike other Audi models, the HVAC controls are handled by physical buttons rather than a second touchscreen. The interior quality is top notch, and even in the pre-production model I drove, everything felt solid and well-assembled. Little squeaks and rattles are especially frustrating in an EV, since there’s no engine noise to mask them; the RS E-Tron GT I drove exhibited zero strange noises. At speed there was hardly any wind noise, just a light thrum of tires.
The E-Tron GT, like the Taycan it’s based on, has a few idiosyncrasies: the relatively unimpressive driving range, the seemingly unnecessary complexity of the two-speed rear drivetrain, a rear-steer system that can take you by surprise if, like me, your first few minutes behind the wheel are spent hustling along a winding mountain road. Electric performance sedans are still a new concept, and the world’s automakers have not yet settled on a ubiquitous common formula. Some weirdness will persist until that formula is established.
Until then, it’s gratifying to know that a sleek, silent sport sedan can hang with the kings of the mountain. Perhaps in a few years they’ll be driving EVs too.
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