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Big new electric RS saloon is exceptionally fast and has its own character

Here’s a test of character. Perhaps the first I can remember being like this. Can two battery-electric vehicles that share so many of their underpinnings feel like two different cars, from different brands, when both have a premium and performance slant? When both marques scream individuality?    

This striking four-door saloon is the new Audi RS E-tron GT, faster of two new E-tron GT derivatives. Here, RS means RS like RS6 or RS7 – it’s the really fast version. For the marginally slower variant, try this review instead.

The way the E-tron GT steers could only be from Audi. It has that lightness off of straight-ahead, a real directness early on, and a remoteness the Taycan avoids that just goes to show they must make all Audis do that on purpose

The E-tron is a big five-seater, which at 4.99m long is the same length as an Audi A6 but it’s wider and much lower. Which, to my eyes, makes it look rather spectacular, though when one is pinned three inches from your boot you may think differently.

The underpinnings are the telling thing, though, and they’re the Volkswagen Group’s J1 platform, which is also beneath the Porsche Taycan. As in, they’re really, really the same as the Porsche Taycan, down to wheelbase, battery size, motor positions and some outputs. There’s much more shared than most internally combusted cars from different brands on the same platform. 

As with the Porsche, then, there’s a 93.4kWh total capacity battery with a 83.7kWh usable section, creating a 283-mile WLTP range. One motor at the rear, another at the front, four-wheel drive and a two-speed gearbox for the rear only, which is rarely used (launch control and the most dynamic modes only). 

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The RS E-tron GT has a 235bhp front motor, while the rear motor makes a max 449bhp, but you can’t just add those to get their combined totals because they never reach peak power together. And the maximum they do make is only on overboost during a launch control start, for 2.5sec only.

The short of it is, then, that the RS makes 590bhp most of the time and, for not really long enough or in enough conditions to count, 637bhp, which makes it a little less powerful than a 671bhp Taycan Turbo – which is presumably a deliberate gap.

Anyway enough numbers, there will be more later. Open the E-tron GT’s frameless doors and you’ll find an interior rich on material quality and Audi design. No hint that you’re in any other brand than an Audi in here. This is one of the things that the VW Group does well, which is why, I suppose, we perceive that an Audi is a classier car than a Skoda even though so many of the mechanicals are the same. 

It’s stylish, and despite the rakish roofline pretty spacious in the front with good enough head room, and adequate head room in the rear. Even though the floor is what’s filled with batteries, there’s still a big centre console, aping a transmission tunnel, but that helps generate the individual cockpit sort of feel that’s probably right for this kind of driver’s car. 

There are a good many physical buttons too, which helps, though I did like the old rotary dial of Audi’s multimedia interface – still there to supplement a touchscreen it’d be spot on, but I don’t want to grumble about a car that thankfully retains so many physical buttons.

One of them changes the drive modes, which adjust comfort and steering weight but the general character remains the same. And in both, it is, it’s fair to say, a character set reasonably well apart from the Porsche. 

Not in terms of performance, you understand. There’s not a lot they can do about that, one suspects. A motor makes its motory power and although there’s noise augmentation, the sci-fi whoosh isn’t enough to separate these cars apart. Despite the RS’s 2347kg kerb weight, it goes like the clappers: 0-62mph in 3.3sec kind of clappers.

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Power is delivered impeccably smoothly and quietly. And on the rare occasions the car does select first on the rear gear (standing start or dynamic modes at slow speeds), as in the Taycan you’ll be pushed to tell.

You can pull a left steering-wheel paddle to increase the level of throttle-off retardation, though the RS E-tron GT never gets anywhere near being one-pedal driving, which I think is a shame, even though I like the current default deceleration, which has the car coasting when you lift off, so it feels like an automatic internally combusted car.

I think Audi has worked to make the rest of the dymamics feel as ICE-Audi-ish and un-weird as possible too, for those coming to the E-tron GT from another Audi. And here’s where those initial fears about character have been allayed. Although who would be more fearful: Porsche that their car felt like an Audi, or Audi that theirs felt like a Porsche? Probably Porsche.

Anyway, the way in which the E-tron GT steers could only be from Audi. It has that lightness off of straight-ahead, a real directness early on, and a remoteness the Taycan avoids that just goes to show they must make all Audis do that on purpose. 

It’s less engaging than a Taycan but quite reassuring in its own way: nice to have the breadth of options between the two brands, and the Audi is a pretty relaxing steer, stable enough around straight-ahead but largely low effort when you turn it. 

It rides in Audi-esque fashion too, with a underlying firmness – though the 265/30 and 305/30 21in tyres would explain that – and with good composure but more body looseness than a Taycan. 

The RS does a good impression of driving like an RS Audi, with a few key differences to its ICE siblings. First is its weight, but although it can’t shed that, the fact that the masses are low and central does mean the RS turns with real conviction, while the powerful rear motor means you can feel it pushing itself straight on corner exit, in a way that no recent Audi bar the R8 does.

You could well. It's very good. But you should know, and might have noted if you've also seen the review of the regular E-tron GT, that the differences between this model and a regular E-tron are not as great as they are between, say, an RS6 and a regular A6 petrol model. The two electric variants feel far more similar in the way they behave. Time will tell whether that's a problem for 'quick' models. But still, I liked this a car a lot. As much as a Taycan? Pretty much. It’s less engaging to drive but I’d want to look at it more, and it does feel special.

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Those other numbers I promised? The E-tron GT can charge at up to 270kW on a DC charger, 11kW as standard (22kW optional) on AC. Neither of which is as quick as plugging it into a pump for three minutes, but you’ll know that if you’re thinking of buying one. 

Some other numbers, and quite big ones: £110,950 in base form. There will be other numbers too, adding rapidly, as soon as you go near the options list.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Audi E-tron GT