Audi RS e-Tron GT test drive

HOOD RIVER, Oregon – The Columbia River Gorge was formed when a glacial lake half the size of Lake Michigan emptied repeatedly during the last ice age. And we’re not talking about pulling the plug to a bathtub, but rather about setting an explosive charge at the Long Beach Aquarium. A Clark Fork River ice dam, about 2,000 feet high at its peak, would inevitably heat up, break catastrophically, and send a cataclysmic deluge of water out to the Pacific at 80 mph. It would then rebuild itself and start the process all over again, about 40 times, eventually slicing a fjord-like gash through the Cascades over about 2,000 years – a blink of an eye in geological terms.

We’re on the cusp of a similar reshaping of the automotive landscape right now, and while the widespread adoption of electric vehicles certainly seems delayed and dragged on, it’s happening in the relative blink of an eye. It wasn’t too long ago that Audi offered TDI diesels and Lamborghini V10s in the A6, but here we are with the 2022 Audi RS E-Tron GT – an all-electric car that’s not an eco-friendly one. Quirky mobile but rightfully one of the best cars to drive. Indeed, it’s a Porsche Taycan in Audi clothes, so that last bit shouldn’t be all that surprising, but it’s nonetheless a complete package of automotive excellence that once again proves that an electric future won’t be not a bad thing.

The RS E-Tron GT puts out 590 horsepower collectively through its front and rear electric motors, or 637 hp for a few seconds in Boost mode. Torque stays at 612 lb-ft in any mode and comes on instantly – you can actually feel all four wheels spin when you plant your foot, your neck straightens and everyone in the cars around you wonders where went this blue Audi. You could compare it to a broken dam suddenly releasing half of Lake Michigan, but that metaphor has been used before. Audi says it will hit 60mph in 3.1 seconds in Boost mode, which is only a tenth of the more powerful Taycan Turbo. And in case you were wondering, the RS E-Tron GT and the 464hp E-Tron GT sit between the Taycan 4S and the Turbo in terms of overall power. The Audi also benefits from Porsche’s unique two-speed rear drivetrain, which allows the E-Tron GT to rev up to over 65 mph to improve efficiency.

Much like the Taycans, the RS E-Tron GT does its most amazing job on twisty roads. The long, easy sweepers of Highway 14 on the Washington side of the gorge offer the first real taste of a completely unfazed drive – a quick detour down Salmon Falls Road and back really brings the point back. Emphasis on the fast. The E-Tron GT is long and comically wide, with a virtually subterranean center of gravity thanks to 93.4 kilowatts of battery and a low carbon fiber roof in the RS rather than glass. Then there’s available rear-wheel steering, which dials in a maximum of 2.8 degrees – just enough to effectively narrow this long car, but not enough to feel like a Disney ride like in the Mercedes EQS – and of course, there’s four-wheel drive to drive. Both are especially useful when negotiating the razor-sharp hairpins of Salmon Falls, which are unsurprisingly a bit wet. The E-Tron GT cruises around as planted as a Douglas fir and stalks fiercely towards the next hairpin.

The three-chamber air suspension helps in this regard, as it slams the car down by 22mm in dynamic mode and firms the springs to virtually eliminate body roll. With the letters GT in its name, ride quality still counts for something, and for that, the air suspension is even more impressive. Stepping off a speed bump feels like stepping on these max-comfort running shoes with 2 inches of spongy foam — you can feel it compress gently with no proportionate bounce. After crossing the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks and heading down Interstate 84 toward Hood River, the E-Tron GT shifts into full autobahn mode, soaking up every imperfection like a flagship luxury sedan rather than something that could follow an R8 on a mountain road. The high-performance tires create quite a bit of road noise, but the aerodynamic design keeps wind roar to a minimum, even when heading into the notoriously strong headwinds of the Gorge. There’s no rattling canister of explosions, of course, but since our brains always expect a spicy noise to accompany a spicy car, Audi sends an electronic rumble into the cabin. The sound sounds quite authentic and obviously doesn’t emanate from the car’s speakers, unlike the Mercedes-AMG EQS.

If the E-Tron GT has one advantage over the Taycan, it’s the interior. It’s more visually interesting with a greater mix of materials. Storage is also better, and Audi’s familiar touchscreen is easier to use, see and reach. Luckily the second touchscreen found in the E-Tron SUV and other Audis didn’t make the cut (probably because the Taycan architecture wouldn’t allow it), which is for the best since clicking switches to change the air conditioning system is a much better experience. The strange touchscreen audio system controller disc that performs the same tasks as a used button, but worse, unfortunately ended up on board.

Space is plentiful, at least once you manage to drop into the deeply contoured buckets. Do not plan graceful outings. It’s even worse in the back, with its sloping roofline, but a 6-foot-tall passenger said he was impressed with the space and the firm, supportive seats there. The trunk looks more like what you’d find in a coupe, and one wonders if Audi couldn’t have gone the extra mile with an A7-like hatchback design to enhance the GT’s GT credentials even further.

As a car, the 2022 Audi RS E-Tron GT has a real wow factor, and it certainly wasn’t a sure thing electric cars were going to have that. The $140,945 starting price and $161,890 test drive speaks volumes about this four-door GT’s dual nature, sensational driving dynamics and premium quality. Which is good because it’s not exactly the best electric car. It’s not particularly efficient, to begin with, with an 81 mpg-e rating eclipsed by the Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 (95 mpg-e) and Tesla Model S (120 mpg-e).

Both also go much farther on a charge than the RS E-Tron GT and its 232-mile EPA rating. We saw a little less than that due to cold weather and had to get an electron splatter at a Walmart in Hood River before heading back to Portland. At least the E-Tron GT’s 800-volt electrical architecture allows it to gobble up those electrons faster than most, but there wouldn’t have been such a need in the Tesla or Mercedes. At least the E-Tron GT can outperform the Taycan – although we’ve seen Porsche surpass its official EPA ratings.

Of course, all of the cars above are still fancy trinkets for extraordinary budgets. Until we get more cars like the VW ID.4, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, and Tesla Model 3, as well as cheaper EVs with sufficient range and value, cars like the E-Tron GT are just the first leaks from the Glacial Dam. The flood is coming, however.

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