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2021 Audi E-Tron GT Quattro first drive review: An electrifying tourer

Audi's E-Tron GT needs to differentiate itself from the stablemate Porsche Taycan and, based on our first impressions, it does that quite capably.

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Audi has a new range-toppping EV, and it's quite the performer.

Audi

I needn't have planned so assiduously. For my two hours with the E-Tron GT I've carefully preselected a route. I've plotted a convoluted course around a selection of well-trodden roads that I often use for testing cars, my hope being that I can cover quite a bit of informative ground in my allotted 120 minutes. But I've just driven over some speed bumps in the car park and I know that, within 100 yards of getting into the car, they have already provided precisely the information I was looking for.

Before I got to the traffic-calming lumps, however, the first few minutes with the E-Tron GT were spent just looking. Standing back. Circling. Getting in close. The odd prod or stroke. And the initial conclusion from this perusal was that the GT is an imposing and rather attractive machine. Good arches. Doesn't scream, "EV!"

The second conclusion is that you need almost Sherlock Holmes-levels of attention to detail to spot an RS from a standard Quattro. I say this because there was a Tactical Green RS parked next to "my" Kemora Grey (very like the Porsche color Graphite Blue) Quattro and it was almost identical. Clearly some options had been added to the base car, such as 21-inch wheels, but nonetheless the similarity was striking.

I'd be surprised if the 18.7-gallon frunk gets much use by owners and, like the Porsche Taycan with which the GT shares a platform, I can't help but feel the rear luggage space should have been accessed via a hatchback. The rear doors certainly don't feel like they belong to a 5,038-pound car though, being incredibly light. Space for rear passengers is not vast, but the individual bucket-type seats look very nice, particularly when trimmed in Cascade cloth (gray herringbone tweed) and this car's panoramic roof alleviates any sense of claustrophobia. The front seats are attractive too and the Dinamica microfiber that covers the steering wheel is a tactile delight. Walnut inlays along a dash would have been seen as frumpy not so many years ago, but here they look modern and, confusingly, rather cool while also adding warmth. Like the exterior, the overall design is attractive, recognizably Audi and also doesn't scream, "I'm electric!"

Now, back to those speed bumps. These are not long half-cylinders stretched across the road, these are individual lumps -- the sort of impediments that pose no problem to a wide-tracked SUV, but might take the sump off a supercar if it straddled one. They are arranged awkwardly in a sort of triangle and to be honest even at low speed I'm expecting the Audi to thump and perhaps jar a little as its wheels meet the inclines and the car clambers over. After all, historically Audis have not been known for their compliant ride.

But the E-Tron GT soaks up and shrugs off the bumps. It is positively serene inside. Yes, this car is on optional, three-chamber air suspension but, as I mentioned, it is also on 21-inch wheels, so the standard 19-inch rims with taller profile tires would no doubt be even more cosseting. It instantly marks this car out as something in which it will be relaxing to spend time. A proper GT in that respect. I still intend to follow my preplanned bumpy route, just to make sure, but I'm convinced that it will cope just fine with anything else it encounters.

Lovely lines, but it's a shame that's a trunk and not a hatch.

Audi

Accelerating, meaningfully for the first time, I find myself instinctively tapping at the small right-hand paddle attached to the back of the steering wheel. I do the same with the left-hand paddle as we approach the first roundabout moments later. These are of course not gear change paddles but instead a quick method for altering the level of lift-off regenerative braking. Tap the left-hand one, as you would in an ICE car to increase engine braking, and the regen will increase. It's a good idea and one I'm surprised more manufacturers haven't adopted (particularly Porsche). Sadly, however, even in its strongest setting the deceleration feels pretty weak so it's not as much use as you might hope. Like the Taycan, most of the energy recuperation takes place when you press the brake pedal, with the hydraulic system only putting pad to disc once more than 0.3 G of braking is required.

Punching out of another roundabout I steel myself to give it everything with the accelerator. There is a slightly clunky down-change from the two-speed gearbox and then the GT rips forwards, feeling every bit as quick as its 4.1-second 0-to-62-mph figure would suggest. Although I'd obviously be intrigued to try the 637-horsepower RS variant of the E-Tron GT, my experiences with the Taycan would suggest that less could quite possibly be more. Too much instant electric torque can be almost nauseating and actually rather difficult to modulate when tackling a twisty road. This, with 469 hp and 464 pound-feet of torque, feels like enough.

A twisty road is where I'm heading now and a few minutes later the narrower, more nuanced tarmac is stretching out between the fields. The GT tackles it with pace and poise. It is eerily easy to carry speed and, despite being a big, heavy car with the wheel on the wrong side for the UK, it doesn't feel like trying to ballroom dance with a wardrobe. The fact that the composure of the ride is retained with the dampers in a firmer setting also adds to its aplomb.

The RS variant of the E-Tron GT packs a stout 637 horsepower.

Audi

There is a slightly rising, tight right-hander that I know well and with the stability control dialed back and a provocative prod of the accelerator the E-Tron GT takes a brief smidgen of attitude through the corner. It's not exactly like a BMW M5, but it's pleasing to feel a definite rear bias in extremis in a car with Quattro.

Most of the time, though, it is just pure grip with easily accessible pace. There is an E-Tron Sport Sound available to accompany your progress, but it is very subdued and not as distinctive as I was expecting. Given the field day that people had with ring tones on early mobile phones, I think there is more fun to be had in this area with EVs.

Back on the dual carriageway and returning to base with the last few minutes of my allotted two hours ticking by, I'm trying to collate my conclusions. The ride is impressively GT. The ambiance inside is rather luxurious and befitting of a GT. It isn't quite as quiet as I was expecting from a GT, but the smaller wheels would probably also help in this regard. The 302-mile range, combined with the usual charging network pitfalls, is however a slight barrier to covering the sorts of big distances you would expect in a GT. So it's mostly a GT.

Handing back the keys, I think it would just be a very pleasant and relaxing car to live with and spend time in. It didn't particularly excite me to drive, but neither did it leave me feeling detached. And looking at it again as I walk away I think the design, both inside and out, is very clever in that it is appealingly cool and new, but also reassuringly familiar and unintimidatingly Audi. It makes a fast EV seem approachable and accessible… if you've got the requisite $100,000.