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RS Q E-Tron: Audi's Dakar-bound dirt devil gets tested

This hybrid off-roader features an electrified powertrain that's good for about 670 horsepower.

Audi RS Q E-Tron - racing
Audi's ready to get dirty in the Dakar Rally.

Audi will compete in the grueling Dakar Rally next year, but instead running a conventionally powered off-roader, the four-ring brand is set to field its new RS Q E-Tron, a rugged little dirt devil with an electrified drivetrain. In advance of the big event in January, testing of this prototype model is now underway.

The automaker from Ingolstadt wants to be the first to win Dakar with an alternatively powered vehicle. Unlike other racing machines set to compete in this arduous rally, the RS Q E-Tron is electrically powered. One motor-generator unit is fitted at each axle, providing four-wheel drive and a maximum output of 500 kilowatts, about 670 horsepower, though the vehicle may not be allowed to have that much during the race. All that giddy-up should allow the RS Q E-Tron to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph on loose surfaces in less than 4.5 seconds.

These propulsion assemblies are borrowed from the Audi E-Tron FE07 Formula E car, only slightly modified for use in this application. Like in other electric vehicles, no conventional transmission is required here and regenerative braking is supported. The RS Q E-Tron's front and rear drivetrains aren't physically connected, but via software the vehicle can simulate having a locking center differential for enhanced traction in punishing conditions.

The RS Q E-Tron looks like a pretty capable off-road race machine.


As for the battery, it's a proprietary design, weighs about 815 pounds and has a capacity of about 50 kWh. That's great, but where are you supposed to charge an EV in the middle of the desert? Well, this is where the RS Q E-Tron gets really clever. It also features a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that powers a third motor-generator unit that recharges the battery. Basically, this vehicle is a series hybrid. When internal-combustion engines are used as generators, they can be operated in a narrow range for maximum efficiency. In the RS Q E-Tron, this four-cylinder should run between 4,500 rpm and 6,000 rpm, where it's expected to consume less than 200 grams of fuel per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.

The Audi RS Q E-Tron was created from the ground up in less than 12 months. Giving engineers even more headaches, rules for alternative-powered vehicles had not been finalized when work began, which also took place during a global pandemic. This vehicle will undergo plenty of testing starting now until the main event, the Dakar Rally, kicks off next January. It will be fascinating to see how this innovative off-road vehicle performs at the event.

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