HOOD RIVER, Oregon – The Columbia River Gorge formed when a glacial lake half the size of Lake Michigan repeatedly emptied during the last Ice Age. And we’re not talking about pulling the plug in a bathtub – more like setting an explosive charge at the Long Beach Aquarium. An ice dam of the Clark Fork River, roughly 2,000 feet high at its maximum, would inevitably warm, catastrophically break and send a cataclysmic deluge of water toward the Pacific at 80 mph. It would then build back up and start the process all again, an estimated 40 times, eventually slicing a fjord-like gash through the Cascades over about 2,000 years – a blink of an eye in geologic terms.
We’re currently on the verge of a similar reshaping of the automotive landscape, and although the widespread adoption of electric vehicles sure seems delayed and dragged out, it is happening in a relative blink of an eye. Not too long ago, Audi was trotting out TDI diesels and shoehorning Lamborghini V10s into the A6, yet here we are with the 2022 Audi RS E-Tron GT – a fully electric car that isn’t some quirky eco-mobile but legitimately one of the best cars to drive. Effectively, it’s a Porsche Taycan in Audi clothing, so that last bit shouldn’t be that surprising, but it’s nevertheless a complete package of automotive excellence that once again proves an electric future won’t be a bad thing.
The RS E-Tron GT has 590 horsepower flow collectively through its front and rear electric motors, or 637 hp for a few seconds in Boost Mode. Torque remains at 612 pound-feet regardless of mode and comes on instantly – you can actually feel all four wheels slip as you plant your foot, your neck snaps back and everyone in the cars around you wonder where that blue Audi went. One could compare it to a breached dam suddenly unleashing half of Lake Michigan, but that metaphor’s already been used. Audi says it’ll hit 60 mph in 3.1 seconds in Boost Mode, which is only a tenth off the more powerful Taycan Turbo. And in case you’re wondering, both the RS E-Tron GT and 464-hp E-Tron GT fall in between the Taycan 4S and Turbo in terms of total output. The Audi also gets Porsche’s unique two-speed rear transmission, which allows the E-Tron GT to go up a higher gear at 65-plus mph to improve efficiency.
Also like the Taycans, the RS E-Tron GT does its most astonishing work on winding roads. The long, easy sweepers of Highway 14 on the Washington side of the Gorge provide the first real taste of an utterly unflappable car – a quick detour up Salmon Falls Road and back really drives home the point. Emphasis on quick. The E-Tron GT is long and comically wide, with a center of gravity that’s practically subterranean thanks to 93.4 kilowatts worth of battery pack and a low roof made of carbon fiber in the RS rather than glass. Then there’s the available rear-wheel steering, which dials in a maximum 2.8 degrees – just enough to effectively shrink this long car, but not enough that it feels like a Disney ride as in the Mercedes EQS – and of course, there’s all-wheel drive. Both are particularly helpful when negotiating the razor-sharp hairpins of Salmon Falls, which are unsurprisingly a bit damp. The E-Tron GT whips itself around as planted as a Douglas fir and lays down power ferociously towards the next hairpin.
The three-chamber air suspension helps in that regard, as it slams the car by 22 mm in Dynamic mode and firms the spring rates to practically eliminate roll. With the letters GT in its name, ride quality still counts for something, and for that, the air suspension is even more impressive. Coming down off a speed bump feels like walking on those max comfort running shoes with 2 inches of squishy foam – you can feel it softly compress without commensurate rebound. After crossing the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks and setting course on Interstate 84 toward Hood River, the E-Tron GT goes into full autobahn mode, sopping up every imperfection like a flagship luxury sedan rather than something that could keep up with an R8 on a mountain road. The high-performance tires create a fair bit of road noise, but the aerodynamic design keeps wind roar to a minimum even when heading into the Gorge’s notoriously strong headwinds. There’s of course no metal box of explosions making a racket, but as our brains still expect some spicy noise to come along with a spicy car, Audi pipes an electronic rumbling noise into the cabin. The sound seems fairly authentic and doesn’t obviously emanate from the car’s speakers, unlike the Mercedes-AMG EQS.
If the E-Tron GT has an advantage over the Taycan, it’s the interior. It’s more visually interesting with a greater mix of materials. Storage is better, too, and Audi’s familiar touchscreen is easier to use, see and reach. Thankfully, 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 better since clicking switches for changing the climate control system is a far better experience. The weird, touch-sensitive audio system controller disk that performs the same tasks as a knob used to, but worse, did unfortunately make it aboard.
Space is plentiful, at least once you manage to fall into the deeply contoured buckets. Don’t plan on graceful exits. It’s even worse in the back, with its sloped roofline, but a 6-foot-tall passenger reported being impressed with the space and the firm, supportive seats back there. The trunk is more like what you’d find in a coupe, and one wonders if Audi couldn’t have gone that extra mile with an A7-like hatchback design to improve the GT’s GT credentials even further.
As a car, the 2022 Audi RS E-Tron GT has a real wow factor, and it definitely wasn’t a sure thing that electric cars were going to have that. The starting price of $140,945 and as-tested of $161,890 speaks as much to this four-door GT’s dual nature, sensational all-around driving dynamics and top-end quality. Which is good since it’s not exactly the best electric car. It’s not particularly efficient, for one, with an 81 mpg-e rating dwarfed by the Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 (95 mpg-e) and Tesla Model S (120 mpg-e).
Both of those also go much further on a charge than the RS E-Tron GT and its EPA rating of 232 miles. We saw a bit less than that due to chilly weather and had to get a splash of electrons 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 swallow those electrons quicker than most, but there would’ve been no such need in the Tesla or Mercedes. At least the E-Tron GT can outdo the Taycan – even if we’ve seen Porsche outdo its official EPA ratings.
Of course, all of the above cars are still fancy baubles for extraordinary budgets. Until we get more cars like the VW ID.4, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Tesla Model 3, plus EVs cheaper than those with sufficient range and value, cars like the E-Tron GT are but the first few leaks out of the glacial dam. The deluge is coming, though.