The new Audi E-Tron GT may share a lot with the brilliant Porsche Taycan with which it has been twinned, but its significance goes well beyond its common breeding. It is the first full-electric sedan model from Audi, clearly making it the envy of long-time German premium brand rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
By basing the stylish new four-door on the first dedicated electric model from its Volkswagen Group sister company, Audi has not only tapped into some serious synergies, but also managed to steal a clear march on the competition. It's a car that adheres remarkably close in terms of size and appearance to the concept of the same name revealed at the Los Angeles motor show back in 2018.
That’s not all, though. The range-topping 2021 Audi RS E-Tron GT also provides Audi Sport with a new headlining model to take into battle against the likes of BMW M and Mercedes-AMG. Neither of which has yet managed to add a fully electric model to its performance car line-up.
It is quite a coup for Audi and its increasingly prominent performance car division, following the launch of the electric-powered E-Tron Quattro SUV and E-Tron Sportback. But the question arises: with such strong Porsche genes, can the E-Tron GT really be considered an Audi?
If its styling is any indication, the answer is a definitive yes. Bold and muscular with classic proportions and impressive detailing, it sets the tone for a future line-up of electric Audi models. It features a new interpretation of the German carmaker’s signature single-frame grille, together with other key elements including angular headlamps, a long probing bonnet, heavily curved roof line, prominent rear haunches, angled rear screen, short boot deck, and complex tail-lamp graphics that extend across the rear.
It is a great-looking car, with athletic lines and a terrifically confident stance that are clearly set apart from those of the Taycan. The standard E-Tron GT Quattro receives a full aluminium body. But to further enhance an inherently low centre of gravity (more on that later), Audi has also provided the RS E-Tron GT with a lightweight carbon-fibre roof structure.
A lot of detailed work has also gone into the aerodynamics, netting the new Audi sedan a drag co-efficient of 0.24. Among the active aerodynamic elements are cooling flaps within the front end, and a rear spoiler that deploys to one of two positions depending on speed and the chosen driving mode. Audi also offers a special range of aerodynamically optimised wheels ranging from 19- to 21-inches in diameter.
Dimensionally, the new Audi is nearly identical to its Porsche sibling, running to 4990mm in length, 1960mm in width and 1410mm in height. It also rides on the same 2900mm wheelbase. It’s no coincidence: the two cars are based on the same electric car platform, the so-called J1 structure developed by Porsche prior to Audi coming on board as a partner.
There are two flavours to the E-Tron GT at launch, both featuring dual electric motors, one up front and another at the rear, as well as four-wheel drive and an 85kWh battery. The standard E-Tron GT Quattro model, which shares its drivetrain with the Taycan 4S, receives a combined 350kW and 630Nm of torque – with a boost mode extending this to 390kW and 640Nm when the launch-control function is engaged. It is claimed to reach 100km/h in 4.1sec and a top speed of 245km/h while returning a range of between 452km and 487km.
It is the considerably more powerful RS E-Tron GT that we drive here, though. Based around the Taycan Turbo, its two Magneti Marelli-produced synchronous electric motors provide a combined 440kW and 830Nm – the former figure spooling up to 475kW when you engage the launch-control function for maximum-strength getaways.
Interestingly, this is not quite at the same level of the Taycan Turbo, which offers 500kW and 850Nm from the same driveline. But it is still sufficient to make the RS E-Tron GT the fastest-accelerating four-door model yet produced by Audi’s RS performance car division.
The front electric motor provides drive exclusively to the front wheels through a planetary gear set, while the rear electric motor drives the rear wheels via a two-speed gearbox. There’s also trick electronics providing the new Audi with advanced four-wheel-drive properties, including an electronic torque-vectoring function that mimics the action of a traditional mechanical locking differential by varying the amount of power fed to each of the individual rear wheels.
The complexity of the electric driveline is matched by the chassis. It uses a three-chamber air suspension, electro-mechanical roll stabilisation, and adaptive damping. Plus, on the top-of-the-line RS E-Tron GT, a rear-wheel-steering function aims to provide it with added manoeuvrability over the standard E-Tron GT Quattro at low speeds and, in combination with the torque-vectoring function, greater agility at high speeds.
The suspension is the same aluminium-intensive double-wishbone front and multi-link rear set-up seen on the Taycan Turbo. Although, Audi has defined the tuning by giving it what Dennis Schmitz, technical project leader for the new car, describes as “greater everyday usability”.
All E-Tron GT models come with an 800-volt electrical system that can be charged at up to 270kW. It is claimed to add 100km of range in just five minutes, or take the battery from a five per cent to 80 per cent state of charge in less than 23 minutes, provided you can find a high-powered charger when you need one. Sockets for the charging cable are housed behind flaps in each of the front fenders.
Most prospective owners will, however, rely on a 11kW wall box, which is claimed to provide the new Audi with a 5–80 per cent charge in “around nine hours”. With combined average energy consumption between 19.3 and 20.2kWh/100km, the range is put at between 433km and 472km on the WLTP cycle.
The clear departure in styling between the E-Tron GT and Taycan is not reserved exclusively for the exterior. The interior also departs quite significantly from the Porsche, giving it an appeal all of its own. It’s very contemporary in look and appropriately expensive in feel.
The driving position is superb – more sporting than in any other four-door Audi model owing to lowly mounted front seats and a flat floor that sets your feet quite high relative to your backside. Forward visibility over the long bonnet is excellent, and a key drawcard. However, you can’t say the same about rearward visibility. This makes the use of cameras vital when manoeuvring in tight spots.
The dashboard evolves the design seen in other recent new upper-end Audi models, and adopts a more driver-focused approach. The vertical centre console is angled towards the driver, while a wide horizontal centre tunnel houses a compact 'gearshifter'.
The overall design is very technical, with angular elements intended to make the 12.3-inch digital instrument display, which offers three different layouts in classic, sport and E-Tron, appear freestanding. Infotainment functions are housed within a high-set 10.1-inch display.
All models receive Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus media centre, with 4G LTE connectivity for features such as real-time route calculation via HERE maps and Car-to-X functionality. A so-called E-Tron route planner seeks out optimal charging stops for any given journey, while triggering the cooling or heating for the battery for the most efficient charging temperature.
Rather than incorporating a secondary display for the air-conditioning controls, as in other recent new Audi models, the RS E-Tron GT uses physical buttons for the standard three-zone climate control. The interior can be pre-cooled or heated via Audi’s smartphone app, which can also be used to pre-heat the mirrors and rear window.
Audi has cleverly played the sustainability card with material choices. An optional vegan package uses synthetic leather with either Alcantara-like microfibre cloth or wool-like Kaskade upholstery in combination with Econyl – a 100 per cent recycled material that uses nylon from waste fabric and recovered fishing nets – for the carpet and floor mats. Trim materials include galvanised plastic, open-pore walnut wood and carbon fibre.
Among the options is a multi-field head-up display and 16-speaker, 710W Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Accommodation-wise, it is about on par with the latest A5 coupe, albeit with a little less head room all round. The rear benefits from recesses incorporated in the footwells to free up leg room and enable occupants to slide their feet underneath the front seats, though it is nevertheless quite snug up back. Combined boot space for both the front and rear compartments is put at 366L for the RS E-Tron GT, and a slightly more generous 405L for the E-Tron GT Quattro.
Once underway in Comfort mode, the RS E-Tron GT is terrifically smooth and well mannered at typical city speed limits. You rarely notice the shifting of gears, the only acoustic giveaways to your progress being a faint whistle from the electric motors under load and the distant roar of the tyres on less-than-smooth road surfaces. It is superbly refined and quite soothing to drive, with ample reserves that allow you to glide along with the traffic with truly effortless qualities.
Find an open road, though, and the full force of the new Audi’s advanced drivetrain soon becomes apparent. Switching into Dynamic sharpens up the throttle response, and primes the electric motors for the sort of straight-line performance matched by a very exclusive club of road-legal production cars.
Make no mistake, the RS E-Tron GT is blisteringly quick – about as quick as you’d ever feel comfortable a car being on the sort of unfamiliar back roads we encountered at its launch near Hamburg in Germany. Delving deeply into its considerable reserves for the first time is a true rollercoaster experience. Straights disappear deceptively quickly with just a short stab of the throttle, while corners are disposed of in a highly clinical manner.
The performance is seamless and extreme, with instantaneous step-off even without the use of the launch function and relentless acceleration when the conditions allow. Audi claims a 0–100km/h time of 3.3sec, though the smoothness and sheer energy of it all makes it feel quicker still. And with two gears to deploy the reserves of the rear electric motor, there is no real let-up in the relentless rate at which the RS E-Tron GT gathers speed until you’re well on the way to its limited 250km/h top speed.
An electronic sound generator provides the first electric Audi sedan with a spaceship-like soundtrack via the speakers. It does help you keep track of throttle inputs – becoming louder when your right foot asks for greater speed, and then more subdued as you back off. However, it lacks the intensity of a truly memorable combustion engine exhaust note and can, thankfully, be switched off when you prefer to waft along in near silence.
It is not exclusively about pace, though. Although the RS E-Tron GT tips the scales at a hulking 2340kg, its reactions are more in line with a conventional combustion engine sports car half its weight. The sheer response and precision to its handling are every bit as attention-grabbing as its ability to gather speed quickly.
The steering is whip-crack sharp, albeit a little lighter in weighting and slightly less communicative than that of the Taycan Turbo. The calibration of the front and rear steering systems is excellently judged, providing a nicely uniform and progressive action upon turn-in rather than the oddly darty feel we’ve experienced in some performance cars of late. It really does feel terrifically well engineered, giving the driver a high level of confidence.
Firm damping and an extremely low centre of gravity ensure body movement is well contained. You often expect the weight to limit your progress on challenging roads. But with a centre of gravity described as being lower than any previous Audi production car, the RS E-Tron GT corners in a very controlled and unusually flat manner, with fine poise and masses of grip at each corner. When you’ve reached the apex and get back on the throttle, huge traction makes for very high exit speeds when you’re willing to push hard.
Tellingly, it achieves all this while delivering a truly respectable level of compliance. The air suspension is not quite as firm as that of the Taycan Turbo, with its own unique software mapping providing greater small-bump absorption and a generally more settled feel.
We’re yet to get the two back-to-back, but it is clear the Audi is aimed at being a more accommodating long-distance proposition than the Porsche, which despite its clear strengths is more heavily focused on performance than outright comfort.
Equally as impressive is the braking performance. No car with this much weight to haul around should stop as well as the RS E-Tron GT does. Audi can thank Porsche here. Down through the years, it has built a reputation as a leader in braking technology, and the same outstanding qualities are reflected in the Taycan Turbo.
With an ability to recuperate up to 265kW of electrical energy on a trailing throttle through the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, you rarely need to deploy the mechanical brakes themselves. The process is similar to changing down gears in a manual car, and in certain driving conditions it allows you to maintain a fairly constant range.
When you do ask for maximum braking effect, though, the RS E-Tron GT’s standard-fit Brembo callipers and carbide-coated big discs (optional in carbon-ceramic) pull the car up with unstinting ability.
The RS E-Tron GT is a very accomplished car, with stunning performance, outstanding roadholding, a well-controlled ride, phenomenal brakes, and limousine-like levels of refinement. It is perhaps not quite as quick or as razor-sharp as the Taycan Turbo – the car with which it shares the majority of its components – but it does offer more endearing long-distance qualities than its four-door twin thanks to a more accommodating ride.
It is proof again that the performance car genre has much to gain from the wholesale shift to electric propulsion. But with a German price equivalent to AUD$220,000, you certainly pay for the privilege. At the end of the day, there is sufficient uniqueness for it to deserve to wear the Audi name, Porsche genes and all.