Is Audi’s apparent confidence in its electric four-door coupé justified? We find out with a prototype drive in downtown LA rush-hour traffic
16 December 2018

Driving a one-off concept car is, unfortunately, often less glamorous and exciting than you’d think.

Time behind the wheel can be very restricted, sometimes to a couple of hundred yards in a straight line or two laps of a car park at 10mph. You’re surrounded by minders who are understandably nervous at the thought of a careless buffoon climbing behind the wheel and wrecking a near-priceless piece of their brand’s design history, and any hint of rain always stops play.

There are rare exceptions, though, and our time driving Audi’s new E-tron GT was one of them.

After last month’s Los Angeles motor show, where the E-tron GT made its debut, Audi pulled the concept, claimed to be worth €5 million (£4.5m), out onto the streets and gave a select group of journalists the chance to take it for a spin. On the public road. In downtown LA. During rush hour. Escorted through red lights by police officers on motorcycles. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Audi was so keen to let us try the E-tron GT in a real-world environment. After all, it may officially be a concept, but those involved tell us it’s 95% finished visually, and a significant amount of the development work for the car’s oily (well, sparky) bits has been completed. The electric four-door coupé is due to arrive in production form in around 18 months, with only a handful of small-scale changes from the prototype.

The E-tron GT will be the third EV from Audi to roll out after the recently launched E-tron and upcoming E-tron Sportback SUVs. That’s three out of a planned 12 bespoke electric Audis due to be launched before 2025, as part of a €14bn (£12.6bn) investment plan for one brand alone. The sum itself is a fraction of the simply vast cash reserves being ploughed into transforming a number of the Volkswagen Group’s marques into mass-volume electric car makers.

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Part of the reason for this is that the VW Group needs to be seen to be reacting in a wide-reaching way to the infamous Dieselgate scandal. Audi bosses will trot out the official line that diesel remains an important part of its range – and, for the time being, it still is. But, behind the scenes, they know that the sooner they can distance themselves from the fuel, the better.

Then there’s the Tesla factor. The controversial Californian electric car firm has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past few years, pioneering not just with large, long-range and high-performance EVs, but also desirable ones. It’s still only churning out about one car for every 18 Audi makes, but let’s not forget that at the turn of the decade Tesla was posting annual sales in the hundreds.

The significance of Audi launching the E-tron GT in California cannot be ignored. This is the Tesla fanzone: the increasingly environmentally conscious, tech-savvy state takes in nearly 50% of the US’s total EV sales, and you can’t walk for more than two minutes through LA’s financial district without catching sight of a Model S, X or 3 with an ‘amusing’ personal numberplate.

Rocking up at the on-trend kerbside event room Audi has hired for the day, the E-tron GT immediately catches the eye. You don’t have to be Poirot to work out the inspiration behind the four-door coupé, occupying as it does roughly the same footprint as a Model S and operating at the same price and performance level. But the design, to my eyes, is far more arresting than the now five-year-old Tesla.

First, there are the proportions. The GT is strikingly low and squat for an electric car, particularly one that’s meant to be able to seat five in production spec. Exterior design head Andreas Mindt claims that balancing the space demands of a chunky 96kWh underfloor battery with the need to seat two adults in the rear in comfort was “perhaps the biggest challenge”. But it’s a challenge that was met, with the E-tron GT’s roofline a full two inches lower than Audi’s comparable A7 Sportback. The trade-off is the car’s near-two-metre width, necessary for the battery’s substantial surface area.

Audi hasn’t yet rolled out the cameras-as-mirrors system that’s an option on the E-tron SUV, for two reasons. First, it’s still not a legal set-up in the US for a production model. And second, the traditional mirror, set to be larger on the production car than on the prototype, pushes air away from the rear end, which, according to the designers, has allowed them freedom to pen the car’s distinctive haunches that jut out and curve around the back.

The prototype E-tron GT’s doors are opened by a touch capacitive padlock logo mounted on the B-pillar, but again that’s been junked for production in favour of plain old handles, necessary for safety reasons.

Step inside and you’ll find a cabin that doesn’t look or feel a million miles away from production – not everything is functional, yet the fit and finish already feel better than in your average Tesla product, let alone any other prototype we’ve tried. There’s bad news for the touchscreen-phobic, though: Audi has increased its display screen count to four, including a new configurable one mounted up by the rear-view mirror.

Despite designers insistently referring to it as “more of a sports car than a sedan”, there’s sufficient space for four adults to travel in comfort with suitably low seating positions, although six-footers will brush the headlining in the rear.

But enough about head room: what about the powertrain? Well, Audi has provided some conveniently rounded figures for the concept that are targeted for production. A 0-62mph time of 3.5sec, 0-120mph in under 12sec and a range of 250 miles on the new WLTP test regime. All Tesla-baiting figures that should be easily deliverable by 2020.

Engaging drive in the E-tron GT is as simple as selecting D on the new push-button gear selector (set to gradually replace the rocker gearshift in current Audis), stabbing a button marked with a chequered flag on the wheel and pulling away.

Of course, the only noise registered from inside comes from the burbling motors of the police escort bikes – ridden by retired officers, if you were wondering why they are catering for spoiled journalists rather than out catching criminals.

The lack of squeaks and rattles as we negotiate our first crossroad is very unlike a concept car. The whirr of the motor isn’t as well insulated as it will be for production, but its response in our admittedly low-speed situation is as crisp as you’d expect from a brief stab of the accelerator.

The steering feels consistently weighted and accurate, and the brakes seem unusually consistent for a regenerative set-up.

Yet something that’s clearly not finished is the suspension: the GT will have double wishbones combined with air springs for production, and the current steel spring and damper system is seriously stiff, pogoing over broken and undulating surfaces. It’s likely that the ride height will increase slightly for production. The potential for this car to offer a reasonably dynamic driving experience is there: after all, it has a lower centre of gravity than an R8, rear-wheel steering and electric torque vectoring.

Chances to test the handling, outright performance and, indeed, the range are limited here. The only firm conclusion I can draw while we wait at the lights for the photographer to set up is that the air-con isn’t functioning. It’s November but in the mid-20s, and the glass roof is gently cooking the GT’s occupants. What’s easier to gauge is the amount of attention from the smartphones being pointed at our car by passers-by, even in a city known for its fair share of dramatic public spectacles.

As we pull up back where we started, the car’s minder lets slip that we will be seeing the E-tron GT on the move again soon – as Tony Stark’s ride in the next Avengers film, due for release in April.

While the public will decide if the blockbuster marketing pays off, this early go behind the wheel delivers a promising insight into Audi’s battery-powered future.

Audi E-tron GT concept specification

Where Los Angeles, US Price £90,000 (est) On sale Mid-2020 Engine Dual electric motors Power 582bhp Torque 600lb ft (est) Battery 96kWh lithium ion Gearbox Single-speed, direct drive Kerb weight Unspecified Top speed 149mph 0-62mph 3.5sec Range 250 miles CO2 0g/km Rivals Tesla Model S, Porsche Taycan

READ MORE

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Comments
19

16 December 2018

Looks good, particularly the muscular rear flanks. 

Tesla I am sure will up its game in the refresh of the model S which is being redesigned as we speak from secret sources within the company.

Looking interesting...

17 December 2018

This is by far the most visually compelling Audi for a long time. I am nevertheless disappointed that EV doesn't appear to bring the packaging advantages that it promises. This Audi still has the proportions of a conventional car.

17 December 2018

  Something that makes a Tesla model S look old.......

Peter Cavellini.

17 December 2018

dressing op EVs like X-Mass trees are the enemry of battery power efficiency. Who's going to bring the first EV that is more electric aplliance like: affordable without EV subsidies, lightweight, compact and efficient?

17 December 2018

Interesting to read this article and here some good thoughts are shared.Can you please share the detaILS ON Dental implant in Jaipur.

17 December 2018

How many VAG Electric Car VAG stories will there be this week. I'm going for SEVEN 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

17 December 2018

didn't bother reading it all, something about a concept car due to maybe arrive properly in a few years at the sort of price and performance that Tesla have been happily selling cars for many years.. is that the gist of it?

I do think the world has grown up from being 10 year olds obsessed with my dad's car is faster than yours mentality, they don't want 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and 250 mile ranges, they do want 0-60 in 6 seconds and 350 mile ranges.

 

17 December 2018

Is well and truely underway. Lots and lots of talk but very little action so far. When will the VAG group break the news that the batteries in these cars will be leased seperately from the car itself to keep down costs. Common sense tells me that the used car market on a baterry operated car will be very volatile because the batteries themselves will probably have a 10 year life maximum. 

Daz

17 December 2018
Dilly wrote:

Common sense tells me that the used car market on a baterry operated car will be very volatile because the batteries themselves will probably have a 10 year life maximum. 

Considering old-school Prius batteries *might* need reconditioning after 11 years, li-ion batteries will hold up a lot stronger, even with repetitive fast-charging. The 10 year expiry date is nonsense.

17 December 2018

Due mid 2020 means the earliest deliveries nearly 2 years away, by which time the competition will have moved on.

Or is this just more VAG PR noise to keep our minds off dieselgate and that the boss of Audi is in jail?

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