Audi RS E-tron GT review: electric extravagance

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I won’t mince words: the 2021 Audi RS E-tron GT is hands down one of the best electric cars I’ve ever driven. It’s gorgeous, sophisticated, incredibly powerful, but it is also very, very expensive.

The E-tron GT is the perfect example of why sometimes it pays to be part of a global conglomerate like the Volkswagen Group. Rather than try to cram its pre-existing EV architecture into a sportier package, Audi simply borrowed the one used by its sister company Porsche for its first all-electric sports car, the Taycan.

The result is everything an electric sports sedan is supposed to be: fast, opulent, and a bit stubborn in its adherence to traditional design. While some electric cars are just high-end computers in the shape of a car, the Audi E-tron GT is interested in being a car first. There’s no oppressively huge touchscreen, no undercooked semi-autonomous safety system, nothing that should give anyone with a big enough bank account any reason to pause before clicking “yes” on a purchase.

Some would argue that the E-tron GT is just a rebodied Taycan, and they’d be totally right. And what’s wrong with that? The Taycan is also a fantastic electric sports car. They were developed alongside each other and share an impressive 800-volt architecture that enables quick charging. The E-tron GT’s dual electric motors — one in the front axle and one in the rear — enable between 522 and 637 horsepower depending on the model and an innovative two-speed transmission that makes for breathtaking take-offs.

But all that elegance and power don’t come cheap. The Audi RS E-tron GT, which starts at $140,000, is more expensive than the Taycan, the Tesla Model S, and the Mercedes-Benz EQS. It’s also pricier than the Audi RS7, which is a luxurious speed demon in its own right. As far as I can tell, it’s more expensive than most luxury EVs, a segment that is growing rapidly.

Normally, when I get a loaned vehicle, I try to integrate it into my everyday life: taking the kids to school, groceries, errands, etc. But the E-tron GT demanded a different tact. It’s not that I couldn’t bring myself to sully the backseat with a car seat or let my kids wipe their dirty sneakers on the seatbacks. Rather, it was because the E-tron GT is a sophisticated driving machine and demands to be treated with respect.

Stand on the accelerator, and you can see why. The RS E-tron GT boasts 440kW, or about 590 horsepower, and in overboost mode, that number jumps to 637 horsepower. It can sprint to 60mph (100 km/h) in 3.3 seconds — not as quick as 2.2 seconds boasted by the Taycan Turbo S, but certainly impressive when you consider the E-Tron GT weighs over 5,000 pounds.

I’ve driven enough EVs that the thrill of near-instantaneous torque has lost a bit of its shine. Nonetheless, the RS E-tron GT managed to get my blood pumping every time I stomped on that accelerator: the skittering sound of fall leaves blasting out from under the back 21-inch tires, and then a whoosh as I was shoved back into the leather seats. (Artificial leather and microfiber are also available as an option.)

The steering felt accurate, and the slight body roll felt necessary to give the driver a good sense of the road. The RS gets torque-vectoring and rear-axle steering as standard, while base model owners will need to cough up an extra $6,000 for those features. The wedge-shaped body handled itself ably on especially curvy roads, and the brakes were extremely efficient at hauling the Audi down from speed — which is good because, when driving this car, you tend to use the brakes a lot.

Unlike some competitors, Audi doesn’t offer one-pedal driving that is typically offered in most EVs. The maximum regenerative braking, which is activated by plus- and minus-paddles on the steering column, doesn’t slow the car down that much. The result is an electric sedan that drives imperceptibly from a conventional gas-powered one, which could help win some fans who are skeptical about shifting to battery power but may disappoint fans of one-pedal driving.

One of the neatest features is the ability to adjust what Audi calls the “listener experience,” which is another way of describing the artificial sounds the car makes at low speeds. Electric cars are legally required to make an external noise so other road users can hear them coming. Audi took what could have been a dull task and made it quirky. Among the sound samples used were a model helicopter and a didgeridoo.

It’s not impossible to pick out the sonic nuances while driving the E-tron GT, but the overall effect is kind of lost. You’re left with a digital whirring sound that is not that dissimilar from a variety of other EVs I’ve driven recently. And my brain is not so far gone as to prefer it over a V10 engine roar.

The E-tron GT makes an artificial sound at low speed.
Photo by Phil Esposito / The Verge

RS translates from the German Renn Sport, which literally means racing sport.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

There are two charging ports, one on either side.
Photo by Phil Esposito / The Verge

When charging the Audi RS E-tron GT, you inevitably run into the same problems as you would with every electric car that isn’t a Tesla: the lack of a proprietary network of EV chargers. That said, the E-tron GT doesn’t lack in options. There are connections for alternating current on both sides, and on the right, there is also a connection for direct current.

Audi advertises 232 miles of range on a full battery, which falls far short of other similarly priced luxury EVs, like the Model S (412 miles), EQS (350 miles), or Lucid Air (520 miles). I didn’t tackle any steep hills, so presumably, the E-tron GT’s battery drained at a normal rate while I had the vehicle.

Audi claims that its 800-volt system enables ultra-fast charging. Just five minutes on a high-speed charging network like Volkswagen’s Electrify America, and the E-tron GT will recover 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, of range. As always, the company is assuming a rate of charge that typically exceeds what most chargers, even fast chargers, actually dole out.

Audi does not have its own charging network, like Tesla.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

It took several days of driving to drain the battery below 40 percent. I charged it once at home using the 120-volt outlet in my garage, only adding a couple miles of range after a full eight hours of trickle charging. I also charged it at a public DC fast charger, where it took 42 minutes to charge from 45 percent to 80 percent. That was at a 45kW rate — less than half the advertised top rate of 150kW.

It should be noted that Audi does not have its own charging network, like Tesla. But the automaker is offering a couple of workarounds, including three years of complimentary DC fast charging through VW’s Electrify America. (There’s that synergy again!) Audi E-tron GT customers can also get discounted in-home charging installations through a partnership with EV charging provider Qmerit. Still, it won’t be enough to assuage any of the charging anxiety many EV-hesitant car buyers experience.

The micro-suede steering wheel is incredible.
Photo by Phil Esposito / The Verge

The rear-facing camera also offers a cool 3D rendering of the vehicle.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

There is a lot of carbon fiber in this car.
Photo by Phil Esposito / The Verge

To step inside the E-tron GT is to enter a familiar world. There’s a touchscreen display and physical buttons for the HVAC system. The air vents are real air vents. There’s a center console, gear stalk, and other physical touchpoints that may seem quaint in an EV world dominated by Tesla. This is not an aggressively minimized EV interior, nor is it one designed to overwhelm the senses. Sure, there’s a lot of carbon fiber — maybe too much? — but the overall look and feel of the interior is sleek and compact.

Front-seat space is generous, but the cockpit is noticeably narrow, and the view out the back window is limited. I think I may have pulled a muscle trying to get in and out of this car, thanks to the low height and smallish door openings. The RS model comes with black leather sport seats with red stitching, which really hug your body and are designed with 14 different adjustable settings, climate control, massage functions — you name it. The steering wheel was covered in a soft suede that was absolutely dynamite to touch.

One of the odder features is the inclusion of a touch-sensitive knob to control the volume on the center console between the seats. Tim Stevens from Roadshow likens it to the infamous click-wheel on an iPod, and I have to agree. But while he found it awkwardly placed, I grew to really like it, to the point where I missed it while driving other vehicles. Of course, you can still control the volume from the steering wheel, but it seemed like a nice touch for passengers who may want to skip tracks or adjust the volume without having to futz with the touchscreen.

The Audi RS E-tron GT is an incredible car to drive, full stop.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

The base model E-tron GT comes with a glass roof that can’t be opened and isn’t tinted enough to block the sun. The RS version that I drove, however, swaps that out for an all-carbon-fiber roof. The vehicle already tips the scales at 5,000 pounds, so it seems like Audi went with the carbon fiber to save a little bit of weight.

The 10.1-touchscreen runs on Audi’s totally serviceable MIB3 software, which wirelessly supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. One of my favorite features was the backup camera, which includes a 3D rendering of the vehicle to help navigate those especially tight parking spaces. Otherwise, the infotainment system was pretty bland. I liked the built-in nav system — the directional cues were easy to follow, and the map itself wasn’t overly cluttered — but considering it runs off of a Google API, there was no compelling reason not to just run Google Maps through CarPlay instead.

I was not impressed with the parking assist feature that is supposed to guide the vehicle into a parking space with limited input from the driver. The interface was opaque, and eventually, I gave up on trying to make it work. The driver-assist system was fine, though you’ll have to pay $2,250 to get advanced features like lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. And why would you want some software driving your RS E-tron GT for you anyway?

Audi is entering a very crowded segment.
Photo by Phil Esposito / The Verge

It’s been nearly a decade since the Tesla Model S kicked off the EV race with its graceful blend of technological efficiency and addictively fun driving style. Since then, the rest of the auto industry has piled into the luxury EV segment, bringing their own unique style while trying to improve on Tesla’s well-established issues with fit-and-finish.

In addition to the refreshed Model S Plaid (released this year), we’ve got the Mercedes-Benz EQS, Jaguar I-Pace, Polestar 2, and Porsche Taycan, which is the spiritual cousin to the E-tron GT. Other vehicles slated for imminent release include the Cadillac Lyriq, BMW i4, Lexus LF-Z, and Lucid Air.

The luxury electric market is clearly in overdrive, and the RS E-tron GT is the latest example of the type of sophisticated driving machine you can get with enough money in the bank. It doesn’t beat Tesla on range, nor does it do much to improve on the Taycan, which comes in a slightly less expensive package.

What it does offer is a design that is exclusively Audi. It’s a polished, villainous entrant to the luxury EV market, and it sets the stage for more to come.

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