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Quattro Comparo: Audi RS6 Avant vs. RS E-Tron GT on Ice

When it comes to ice driving, Audi's Quattro system is an icon. But when given the choice between gas-powered and all-electric, which is the right call?

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read

Just about every brand that offers some flavor of all-wheel-drive has slapped a proprietary name on its system. For BMW it's xDrive, SH-AWD for Acura, 4Motion for Volkswagen and so on. However, none has developed anywhere near the cachet of Audi's iconic Quattro. Audi was among the first to show that four driven wheels could increase performance in any conditions, and now, more than 40 years since the Quattro technology came sliding sideways into the world, it's being completely upended.

Quattro as a label has been applied to many different differential configurations and technologies over the years, but with the release of the all-electric E-Tron line, it's being reinvented like never before. Audi's 591-horsepower, $143,895 RS E-Tron GT is the top of the pile for this electrified generation of Quattro. As for the more traditional, gear-driven Quattro, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than the RS6 Avant, a 591-horsepower, $117,595 super-wagon. Driving the two back to back on a snowy, icy, rally super-special stage? It's the stuff of dreams -- and also a perfect chance to compare old and new.

Audi RS E-Tron GT and RS6 Avant Get Sideways on Snow and Ice

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Traditional forms of all-wheel drive rely on three differentials, effectively sets of gears that take power from one source and split it in two. The center differential takes the engine's power and sends it to both the front and rear axles. Then, differentials at either end send the power out to each of the four wheels. 

With the E-Tron GT, it's a whole new world. Electric motors are so compact and self-sufficient that the GT carries two of the things, one nestled between each set of wheels. That means there's no center differential to mechanically split the engine's power, just a set of wires sending the battery's charge forward and aft. 

In theory, the radically different configuration in the E-Tron GT means greater efficiency (every differential loses some amount of power to friction) and far more advanced distribution of torque front to rear. But how do things feel in practice? Kind of weird, if I'm being honest, but I don't actually think that feeling has much to do with the AWD setup.

The biggest difference comes while trying to execute a technique called the Scandinavian Flick. When driving in low-grip conditions, this is where you initiate a slide in a car by steering away from the apex then quickly back towards it. Transferring the weight of the car like this usually causes the tail to slide out. It's a move you'll see rally drivers do with both style and precision, and it's something the RS6 Avant is keen to execute.

Audis on ice

Something this big and heavy should not be this much fun on the snow.


With the suspension in its softest setting and the throttle response at its sharpest, I can quickly and easily flick the RS6 into big, fun slides, all four tires throwing up clouds of snow. For such a massive and powerful car, weighing in at a whopping 4,900 pounds (more than a Ford F-150 with the 5.0-liter V8) and putting down 591 hp, the Avant is remarkably nimble and responsive. I expected to be underwhelmed by the handling and terrified of the power delivery, yet all my time in the saddle is spent grinning from ear to ear. 

The E-Tron GT, however, doesn't respond in the same way. When I try to make that flick, turning back towards the apex, the GT just plows forward into understeer, which is exactly what I want to avoid. Even in its softest suspension setting, I can't get the E-Tron to shift its weight. Why? My theory -- and one that Audi's driving instructors echo -- is that it's thanks to the car's low center of gravity. The battery pack's position in the belly helps with on-road handling, but it means turning from side to side doesn't result in the same sort of dramatic weight shift. No shift, no flick.

This means I need to find a new way to get the E-Tron GT's tail to come around. Without a handbrake to pull, the best decision is to simply be more liberal with the right pedal. A quick stab of the accelerator -- which can often lead to more understeer in a traditional AWD car -- usually serves to pull the nose of the GT around, sending the tail sliding. This results in the big drift I'm looking for.

Audis on ice
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Audis on ice

Quattro all-wheel-drive and an icy course is a recipe for a great day.


Braking is another area where these cars are very different. The E-Tron GT does not want to slow down as readily as the RS6. The EV is a little heavier than the wagon, tipping the scales at 5,139 pounds, but I don't think that's the issue. After an extended lapping session, the GT's brakes are cool, with ice caked on the wheels. My theory is that because of the extensive use of regenerative braking, the physical brakes never really get up to temperature. When I need them, they aren't there. But, again, that's just a theory.

So which is better on the snow and ice? I must admit the RS6 Avant is more fun, but I also have to say that's probably because it reacts well to my driving style, honed from decades of driving fast, gas-powered AWD cars sideways. With enough time, I bet I could figure out how to make the E-Tron GT every bit as responsive. You know what that means: more testing required. 

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.