The RS e-tron GT feels like a reset for Audi, but it could also change the way you think about cars.
THEY say if you want to predict the future you should study history. Or you could simply cast an eye over the Audi e-tron GT, a car that looks like it sneaked into 2021 from a design studio five years from tomorrow.
You might imagine that, being an electric car, the e-tron GT will have made its escape from the future in stealthy silence, but it actually rolls along emitting a prominent whirr, both outside and in. It’s loud enough to turn heads, which is borderline hazardous because once eyes are laid on the Audi’s slinky bodywork, they tend to linger there.
The people who made the e-tron GT obviously felt some need to replace the snarl of an engine, which makes them my kind of people, which in turn is why the Audi is my kind of electric vehicle (EV).
Audi Singapore has two versions for buyers to ponder, but neither is about spreading e-mobility to the masses. Instead, the e-tron GT seems to be about Audi attempting to stamp its authority all over the coming electric age.
The basic version costs S$489,000 with certificate of entitlement, and that’s after a clean air rebate and early EV adoption incentive lop S$45,000 off upfront taxes.
Then there’s the RS e-tron GT, which will set you back S$620,000, an eye-watering sum by any measure.
Just as well, then, that its performance is eye-watering, too. The RS e-tron GT happens to be Audi’s most powerful car ever, with its two motors collectively unleashing up to 646 horsepower in brief bursts to all four wheels.
The resulting acceleration has to be felt to be believed. In a frightening 3.3 seconds the Audi crosses 100km/h (something I can neither confirm nor deny), which is just enough time for you to squeak out a garbled oath through the cords beneath your straining neck muscles.
Beyond the fearsome forward lunge, there’s the sheer sudden violence of the experience. Blitzing down an empty road in the RS e-tron GT feels like being thumped in the bosom for no apparent reason, only it’s mildly and strangely addictive.
And unlike other electric cars, the Audi doesn’t let up as the speed rises. Instead it finds a second wind, and only picks up the pace harder and harder until it feels like it’s warping space and time around you. At least now we know how it got here from the future.
It’s worth pointing out that high performance electric cars are this fast, or faster. The Porsche Taycan Turbo S, a mechanical cousin that shares half its parts with the Audi, apparently slingshots to 100km/h in 2.8 seconds.
But like the Porsche, the RS e-tron GT has the decency to handle properly. It behaves and feels like a traditional car, because its steering and brakes aren’t vague and over-assisted, and while it can zing around bends at sphincter-clenching speed, it does so with a palpable sense of effort that makes it feel as if you and it are both working together to cover ground quickly. Even the fake engine sounds play a welcome part in that; driving the Audi has made me realise that something missing from other electric cars is the music of mechanical effort.
The Audi’s ace card is its air suspension, which is standard in the RS but a S$7,373 option in the regular e-tron GT. Its adaptive springs and dampers keep things firm and composed when you’re in a hurry, but give the car a smooth ride when all you want is to relax.
In fact, when you no longer feel like having your insides discomposed by the motors, the RS e-tron GT is supreme at being a comfy cruiser. It’s quiet, easy to handle (though hard to see out of through the tiny back window) and uncomplicated to use.
That latter point is because the cabin controls could have come from any Audi. That means if the spaceship exterior seduced you, the humdrum interior is bound to disappoint you. While the Porsche Taycan makes you use a touchscreen to direct the air-con vents, the e-tron GT has old-fashioned mechanical switches all over its dash.
That’s fine by me since it’s less fussy to operate, but one does wonder if keeping some things old school is Audi’s way of normalising the experience of driving an electric car. The e-tron GT does switch on automatically when you climb behind the wheel, but it’s otherwise nothing a time traveller from 1981 couldn’t figure out how to use fairly quickly.
But in pondering this ludicrously fast, five-seater sedan, it’s worth remembering what the e-tron GT is not.
It’s not something that pours hot gases into the air from a tailpipe, so it makes you wonder whether it’s still okay to put a kilogram of carbon into the atmosphere every three or four kilometres, which is what a similarly powerful petrol car would do.
I’m assuming someone who can afford the asking price can also afford private charging, so the Audi is also not something you drive to a filling station once a week if you want to keep using it, which makes you wonder how we ever put up with such inconvenience.
The RS e-tron GT is also not really a thing from tomorrow. Since the switch to electric cars is well and truly underway, it’s very much a car for the here and now. That said, in Singapore a waiting list for both versions has already built up, and if you want an e-tron GT you can only get yours next year. In that respect, maybe it is a car of the future after all.