Whether it is judicious management, or just ‘big ship syndrome’, Audi has launched finally its EV showcase model that Iain Robertson believes to be the first true rival to Tesla’s domination of the EV market, at prices to make a grown man weep.
Realising that I am in a minority of observers that consider the Tesla Model S to be a most attractively styled large saloon, displaying a svelte profile that would not look out of place had it originated from Jaguar’s studio, I am also firm in my belief that Elon Musk’s obtuse address to the EV scene will continue to bust transport conventions. Of course, he is a bloody PR nightmare, a factor that leaves me unsurprised that Tesla’s PR operation is incapable and virtually irrelevant.
Yet, credit where it is due, similar attractive lines adorn the smaller Model3 and surely underpin its more price conscious introduction to EV motoring that has allowed it to top a number of territory ‘sales’ charts. While EV technology is not a novelty, in world of Infernal Combustion Engines (ICE), Tesla remains a leader, because it had zero preconceptions and was first to the modern market. However, if its cars were grossly ugly, while they might draw attention, claiming registrations would have been incredulous.
Every carmaker of the past decade has been playing a game of ‘catch-up’ but, then, every carmaker has also allowed China to become central to its supply chain needs, fostering and in the process enabling the worldwide mining of rare metals necessary for lithium-ion battery-pack production to be monopolised by that State. Although late to the oriental table, it is amazing that Tesla was even allowed to build one of its Gigafactory complexes in China. Hardly anyone can knock Tesla for its total-electric enterprise.
Not quite three years ago, Audi took its ‘i-robot’ movie concept into production reality with the first e-tron EV model. In the intervening period, the VW Group has been working exhaustively on removing the exhaust systems from its mainstreamers but, while the total numbers remain small and controlled by market demand, the electrification programme is almost in full Teutonic swing, which warrants Audi’s fresh onslaught into the upper echelons of the EV scene. Both e-tron GT and RS variants are revealed simultaneously, designed to shock and generate reaction.
Their banner headlines are intended to send tremors up Tesla’s corporate spine. Boasting up to 592bhp in GT form and 639bhp as an RS, both on ‘over-boost’, allied to 0-60mph acceleration figures of comfortably less than the notional 3.0s, erodes the much-vaunted Tesla ‘ludicrous mode’ advantage to near-zero. Top speeds are restricted to 152mph (GT) and 155mph (RS). This is the stuff by which EV legends are made and, despite some media outlets promoting the Jaguar i-Pace onto that platform, it simply does not measure up alongside the e-tron. Better watch where you place your cards!
Style stance is next and the Audi possesses it in spades. Its quattro legacy enables pronounced and blistered wheel arches to feature, without a whiff of irony. Just contemplate the rest of the exterior detailing, which looks as though it had leapt directly from the stylist’s pen to production, scarcely taking time for respiration en-route. Within an outline that is just less than 5.0m long, 2.0m wide and 1.5m tall, the resultant four-door is the epitome of elegant super-coupe designs and is achingly beautiful from every viewing angle.
However, science has played its role in creating that shape, which results in a drag co-efficient of just 0.24, around the same as the compact teardrop of the original Honda Insight hybrid…slippery enough to eke out several extra miles from its battery pack. Buyers regretting the loss of an ‘egg-crate’ plastic front grille can specify one, instead of a convenient cover for the e-tron’s forward-facing radar and various electronic sensors, with a barely perceptible range penalty.
Yet, the lissom shape that might have caused access and accommodation problems is accounted for by careful scooping out of the below-floor battery enclosure. Four typically Teutonic gentlemen, fattened by their speculative money-making on the Frankfurt stock exchange, can occupy the cabin. Mind you, the main keyholder might be well-advised in getting them to extinguish their finest Cuban cigars before entering. The blend of recycled plastics used in both seat trim that also features finest Nappa hide elements, centre console and floor mats are unlikely to take kindly to having hot ash dropped on them. Audi is keen to emphasise the man-made structures that use all manner of recycled materials, including old fishnets, in their manufacturing processes. Apart from minor textural differences, they look hardly any different to Audi’s normal, top-notch trim materials. The lack of conventional power unit allows an 81-litres storage space beneath the bonnet, supporting the 405-litres of more conventional boot space.
The e-tron’s drivetrain is based around a pair of electric motors (175kW front; 320kW rear), the RS model boasting a monumental, up to 612lbs ft of torque. The high-voltage battery can store 86kWh of energy in either model. Its 800 volts enables a high continuous output and shortens the charging duration, while reducing both weight of and space required by the wiring. Equipped with a pair of sockets (one on each front flank) and necessary Type 2 (domestic) and Type 3 (public) charging cables, it can accept a 62-miles range charge in just five minutes, while the customary 0-80% can be achieved in around 23 minutes. Maximum ranges are given as 295 (GT) and 280 (RS) respectively, in ideal conditions.
While standard spring and damper suspension is provided on the GT, air is fitted to the RS and is an option on the GT. Possessing a near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution, the e-tron’s handling is well-balanced and electronically managed to draw on the all-wheel drive system, whenever it is needed. As an additional aid to low-speed manoeuvrability and maximum stability, all-wheel steering is fitted as standard to the e-tron GT Vorsprung and to all RS e-tron GT models. At speeds of up to 31mph a spindle drive turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to that steered by a maximum of 2.8 degrees, above that speed turning them slightly in the same direction.
Conclusion: Audi flexes its ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ tagline to good effect in the all new GT and RS e-tron models. The range is priced from £79,900 to £133,340.