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2022 Audi RS E-Tron GT First Drive Review | The halo EV arrives

CALABASAS, Calif. — The 2022 Audi E-Tron GT doesn’t go on sale in the United States until sometime this summer, but last week we got the chance to drive a German-spec RS E-Tron GT version out of Ingolstadt’s pre-production fleet (pictured above). Audi has high hopes riding on its new luxury sedan, calling it a halo car for its E-Tron sub-brand of electric vehicles. And yet, it’s impossible to discuss the E-Tron GT without mentioning the Porsche Taycan.

When the idea of modern electric cars were first pitched at the turn of the century, auto execs were practically frothing at the mouth over how simple (and thus cost-effective) a car could be. Ideas like selling customers a single skateboard chassis on which they could swap bods ranging from sports cars to minivans were openly discussed. Two decades on, the market hasn’t shifted towards cars that can be changed around like Lego bricks. In fact, brand identity is more important than ever, especially at the pricey end of the market.

Both the E-Tron GT and the Taycan were developed in parallel on what’s known internally as the J1 platform. They have a lot of hardware in common, starting with an 800-volt system (as opposed to the 400-volt system found on Teslas), which helps reduce charging times and weight alike for the 93-kWh battery pack. Both share a heat pump that uses coolant lines to transfer heat from high-voltage electrical components to the batteries to keep them operating at the ideal temperature.

The similarities don’t end there. Both cars employ the same underlying dual electric motor architecture, and thus AWD. Both have a rear axle with an electronically lockable diff and e-torque vectoring. Porsche calls it PTV, Audi calls it Quattro 2.0, but it’s all just branding. Both have rear-wheel steering, and a three-chamber air suspension, which Audi says has 60% more volume than its other air suspensions, allowing for greater variation between modes.

Despite the many commonalities, the Audi actually does a pretty good job of distinguishing itself from the Taycan. The Porsche is positioned as a super high-tech machine on the cutting edge of the electric revolution. The Audi is closer to a traditional car, splitting the difference between a traditional ICE luxury sedan like the RS7 and the future that is the Taycan.

First and foremost, there’s the styling. The Taycan is sleeker than a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet and is as much a departure from the Porsche norm as you can get these days. The E-Tron GT is much more aligned with the rest of the brand portfolio. Like other Audis, there’s a semblance of grille, even if it’s filled with diamond textured plastic. We dig its muscular sculpting of the fenders and rear haunches, and the spaces between are filled with dramatic character lines and curves. It instantly makes an RS7 look flat.

Part of that is the fact that the E-Tron GT cuts 2 inches off the RS7’s height and is 1 inch wider. The only Audi with a lower roofline is an R8. Sure, if you relax your pupils like you’re staring into a magic eye poster you can see Porsche-esque curves in the rear three-quarters view, but it wouldn’t be preposterous to say the E-Tron GT looks better. Head of design Marc Lichte calls it “the most beautiful car I’ve ever penned.”

However, it’s the interior where the E-Tron GT really sets itself apart. The first thing you’ll notice is that the lower MMI screen found on higher-end Audis is gone, replaced by physical buttons for climate control. Below that sits another row for drive mode, traction control, parking cameras, and the like. Snazzy as touchscreens may be, we actually prefer those Audis (you know, the cheaper ones) that have kept buttons and knobs around. Ironically, then, here it’s the E-Tron GT that sticks with tactile switchgear while the Taycan’s gone so screen-happy you expect Max Headroom to pop on and sell you a New Coke.

As for the cabin itself, it’s a beautiful environment that bathes you in decadent materials, Dinamica faux suede is standard and there are six different hues of Nappa leather if you choose. We should note that Audi told us that the Arras Red leather you see on our RS E-Tron GT tester differs slightly from what U.S. production will look like. The interior feels more intimate than that of an A7, cocooning you in a smaller overall space. Driver and navigator won’t mind, but rear seat passengers may feel a tad cramped. It’s not the legroom, which is sufficient due to rear footwells formed by negative space in the battery pack, but the sloping C-pillars that can intrude on your temples.

Audi is understandably precious about the pre-production Daytona Gray RS E-Tron GT we sampled. During our drive around the winding Santa Monica Mountains, there were handlers ahead of and behind us in separate vehicles. Though brief, our spin did reveal some interesting characteristics.

The car rolls out with a friendly, engineered whine similar to that of the Taycan, or some kind of hovering transport in a sci-fi movie. But mash the pedal and the takeoff is nothing short of immediate. It’s cliché to say that acceleration pins you against the seat, but it does. With 637 horsepower and 612 pound-feet on tap, the RS E-Tron GT goes from 0-60 in just 3.1 seconds (the non-RS has 522 hp and 464 lb-ft and takes 3.9 seconds).

That’s not to say it’s turbulent, though. A fast ICE sports car like the Nissan GT-R NISMO snarls as it claws at the asphalt. You can feel the gnashing of metal and churning of machinery all around you. The RS E-Tron GT, on the other hand, simply picks up the pace like it’s floating on a beam of light, with only a slightly louder hum and wind noise.

Most surprising, however, is the RS E-Tron GT’s steering response. Given the loose feel of the A6 and A7, a certain level of drive-by-wire fuzziness was expected. Instead, the steering returned feedback that was, for lack of a better term, Porsche-like. Body roll is imperceptible, thanks to a heavy battery pack in the floor sucking the center of gravity way down.

The RS comes with ceramic brakes (16.5-inch front, 16.1-inch rear) that drag it to a stop effectively and without fade, despite a 5,139-pound curb weight. We didn’t have a chance to test if the steel 16.1-inch front, 14.4-inch rear brakes will do the same for the non-RS’s 5,060 pounds. That’s still a lot of mass, and it keeps the RS E-Tron GT from delivering the raw connection to the road that you’d get from a true sports car. On the other hand, the E-Tron GT will probably blow that sports car away on paper in every quantifiable metric. Also, we didn’t get to drive it at Autobahn speeds, or on the highway at all, but we believe the mass (along with all-wheel-steering) will actually plant the RS with a feeling of supreme stability at sustained cruising speed, just like a proper GT should.

In half an hour of spirited driving, we saw the range drop from a nearly full charge of 220 miles to 160 even though the actual distance covered was only 19 miles. Though Audi’s waiting for the EPA to certify its maximum claimed range of 232 miles (238 for the non-RS), the reality is that indulging in the E-Tron GT’s irresistible accelerative powers will sap range at an alarming rate. That could be a turn-off for some buyers, especially with a car that’s billed as a GT (and when Tesla can start with a claimed 412 miles).

When do you need to recharge, the E-Tron GT offers two ports. On the driver’s side is a standard J1772 AC connector, and on the passenger side is a 270 kW CCS1 DC connector that can get the battery up to 80% from empty in about 20 minutes. Imagine, being able to charge while parallel parked without dragging the cable across the car!

The E-Tron GT starts at $99,900 (before destination charges, which haven’t been announced for the 2022 model year). The RS adds $40,000. On paper, though, there are places where a Tesla Model S wins out — significantly more storage space with a 26.3 cubic foot trunk versus the Audi’s 14.3 (not to mention a 5.3 cubic foot frunk to the Audi’s 2.9), a claimed 1.9-second 0-60 time for the tri-motor $144,490 Plaid+ that also has maximum advertised range of 520 miles. But for those who are accustomed to traditional cars, it’s the unquantifiable areas like interior feel and steering response that give the Audi an edge.

The Taycan actually seems like it’s closer to the Model S in spirit, which brings us to our final point. Yes, the Audi and Porsche have distinct identities, but it seems they were inadvertently switched, “Freaky Friday” style. Audi was always the Vorsprung durch Technik brand and Porsche the traditional driver’s choice. Here, it’s the E-Tron GT that seems to be more driver-oriented with its cabin layout and muscle car styling, while the Taycan takes on the role of spaceship. Not that we’re complaining. Given the price point, and features, the E-Tron GT slots neatly into the sweet spot between the base Taycan and 4S, while the RS E-Tron GT nuzzles between the 4S and Turbo. In both cases, the Audi strikes the perfect balance, and factoring its more car-like charm, it’s arguably the one to get.

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