New Audi RS e-tron GT prototype review

We try out the new all-electric Audi RS e-tron GT ahead of its official arrival next year

Verdict

Arriving eight years after Tesla first demonstrated there was an appetite for high-performance, premium saloons, Audi can’t just match the American start-up; it has to set a new benchmark. The RS e-tron GT certainly feels like it, demonstrating refinement, performance and luxury above what you’ll find in any Tesla today. 

As landmark cars go, the new RS e-tron GT is quite a big one for Audi - perhaps its most important of the last 20 years. Not only is it Audi’s Tesla fighter, it’s also the first fully electric model to wear an RS badge and a car that will “shape the future of premium high performance” at the German company. 

Ahead of the car going on sale early next year, Auto Express joined Audi’s development team as the final touches were being applied to the very late prototypes. Save for the sci-fi disguise, this is the very model that will be silently whirring its way into showrooms in the spring. Having said that, if you really want your RS e-tron GT to look like the one in these images, Audi is seriously considering adding the finish to the options list, such is the interest that it has seen amongst potential customers.

Audi isn’t showing its hand when it comes to the full technical breakdown on the e-tron GT, but here’s what we know so far. This RS model will sit, as you’d expect, at the very top of the line-up. It uses a 94kWh battery as standard, a two-speed gearbox, a rear locking differential and one electric motor on either axle, and develops 591bhp and 850Nm of torque. An overboost function increases that to 638bhp.

Final homologation has yet to take place but engineers are targeting a WLTP range of 250 miles on a full charge, 0-62mph in less than 3.5 seconds and top speed capped at 155mph. In the UK it’s going to cost from around £125,000. 

Later down the line, more modest e-tron GTs will be added to the range; some will have a greater electric range at the sacrifice of some power, while others will pack more grunt at the expense of some miles. Ultimately, the aim is to bring the entry-level price to around £100,000. So it won’t be cheap.

All e-tron GTs are based on the same J1 platform that currently underpins the Porsche Taycan. It was jointly developed by Audi and Porsche, but Ingolstadt lost out to Stuttgart on who got to go first. Whereas the Taycan is billed as a high-performance saloon, Audi is making a point of difference by pitching the e-tron GT as exactly that: a Grand Tourer.

To achieve this, Audi engineers have developed unique three-chamber air suspension and steering systems over the Taycan to help give the e-tron GT its own character. 

On the road, the e-tron GT certainly feels like a more long-legged and relaxed cruiser over the Porsche. The differences are small but noticeable, with the Audi displaying a greater sense of fluidity over a mixture of roads. The suspension and dampers feel surprisingly soft in their set-up for an RS model, absorbing and rounding off bumps nicely, while the steering is light but still very direct. It means at low speeds the e-tron GT is no more tasking or difficult to drive than a family hatchback. That’s a compliment. 

In Comfort mode - one of four settings, Efficiency, Dynamic and Individual being the others - the RS e-tron GT defaults to the second of its two gears for greater refinement. In Dynamic mode it starts in first - there is no way to control the two gears manually - for maximum performance and acceleration, shifting up to second with a notable thump at around 50mph. 

No matter how many times you squeeze the throttle into the (vegan) carpet, the savagery of the car’s acceleration is always shocking. Even as RS, this e-tron GT is around 100bhp short of the flagship Taycan Turbo S’s output, but you never step out of it wanting any more; 591bhp and 850Nm is plenty. An even hotter ‘Performance’ version is understood to be on the way but we’re really not sure it’s necessary.

Over fairly technical and challenging pieces of road around the Greek island of Rhodes, the e-tron GT’s character transformation from GT cruiser to sports car is pretty remarkable. This is a heavy car, at around 2,200kg, and a wide one, at two metres, but it has an uncanny ability to mask its true size and weight. Part of it is down to all of the car’s weight being packed down right beneath your feet, to give a low centre of gravity, while the addition of rear-wheel steering gives a sense of agility and nimbleness that you just do not expect in a car this big.

Audi’s variable quattro all-wheel drive system constantly monitors and redirects power between the front and rear axles, depending on which needs it most. In theory, 100 per cent of the car’s torque can be sent to the rear wheels, but the RS e-tron GT always feels naturally planted and secure, no matter how aggressive you are with throttle inputs. 

There isn’t an awful lot of feedback coming through the steering wheel, but you can really load up an outside wheel with a huge amount of force and feel the rear axle push you round and out of a bend. Body roll is almost entirely eliminated in Dynamic mode, but putting the RS e-tron GT in its softer Comfort setting, even over tighter and more challenging roads, does give the car a greater sense of fluidity. It allows the body a degree of extra movement which gives you a better understanding of how the car is reacting to your inputs, as well as the road surface. 

On a practical level, the RS e-tron GT certainly has its merits, although it’s not what you’d call a family car. One neat feature, as you’ll find in the Taycan, is the ‘foot garage’ in the rear of the car. Within the battery pack that sits beneath the floor, engineers have hollowed out the sections to allow rear passengers to comfortably sink their feet into so they don’t end up sitting at an awkwardly skewed angle. 

Headroom is also pretty impressive; those above six feet tall won’t struggle for space, but the aggressively sloping roofline, combined with small rear windows and dark headlining, can make it feel a little claustrophobic in the back. Boot capacity is pretty generous, at around 400 litres, with an additional 80(ish)-litre storage compartment under the bonnet for charging cables. 

The cabin itself remains under wraps until the car’s official debut at the beginning of next year, but a sneak peak revealed a design akin to that of today’s A7 four-door coupe: a wall of digital displays and clusters, combined with brushed aluminium and swathes of Alcantara. Sure, it’s not revolutionary, but the RS e-tron GT’s on-road ability more than makes up for it.

Model:Audi RS e-tron GT
Price:£125,000 (est)
Engine:94kWh battery, two electric motors
Transmission:Two-speed auto, four-wheel drive 
Power/torque600hp/850Nm
0-62mph:3.5 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Range:250 miles (est)
CO2:0g/km
On sale:March

Most Popular

How to transfer a number plate from one car to another
MINI number plate change
Tips & advice

How to transfer a number plate from one car to another

Need to know how to transfer a number plate between vehicles? Our step-by-step guide breaks it down
22 Nov 2020
Best mini jump starter packs 2020
Best jumper starter packs header
Product group tests

Best mini jump starter packs 2020

Don’t get caught out with a dodgy battery as we test eight of the best jump starter packs
18 Nov 2020
New Volkswagen Golf GTE 2020 review
Volkswagen Golf GTE

New Volkswagen Golf GTE 2020 review

Is the new 242bhp plug-in hybrid Volkswagen Golf GTE the pick of the range? We find out...
19 Nov 2020