If I told you that you could have a 503hp, four-wheel drive road-going missile that would, nonetheless, slip silently and easily past a crowd of Green Party councillors, you’d be intrigued, right?
If I further told you that this same vehicle could, at a time when we’re now paying €1.75 a litre for unleaded petrol, spit out 5.1 seconds 0-100km/h times and yet costs about as much as a pint of beer to “refuel”, you’d probably like the sound of that, wouldn’t you?
Well, those are – baldly – the vital statistics of the Audi e-tron Quattro S. By adding an S to the badge, Audi has moved its all-electric SUV from the outer-fringes of its model lineup and into the mainstream. Just as regular petrol-and-diesel powered Audis get to have sportier, faster S models, so too now do the battery ones.
The initial acceleration is quite giddy, with a proper oh-no-I've-fallen-backwards-down-a-lift-shaft feeling
To extract the extra performance, Audi has taken the regular e-tron Quattro’s electric powertrain and turned it backwards. Well, sort of. The regular e-tron uses a big motor to power the rear wheels, and a smaller motor to power the fronts, mostly because the fronts only power up when you need them to.
For the S, Audi takes the smaller front motor and moves it to the rear, and then doubles it up. So you now have two motors, one powering each individual rear wheel. The bigger motor, usually found down the back, is now moved to the front. The combined power output of this three-motor setup is a fairly senior 503hp. The torque figure, though? Well, in “Boost” mode (which you’ll need to dial-up Dynamic mode to access) it has a ridiculous 973Nm (only for eight seconds, though, after which the battery has to have a cool-down). It has a still-ridiculous 808Nm in “normal” driving modes.
Which actually makes that 5.1sec 0-100km/h figure a tiny bit disappointing, until you remember that those three motors have to haul the e-tron’s 2.6-tonne weight up to speed every time you step on the go-pedal. Actually, when you do, the initial acceleration is quite giddy, with a proper oh-no-I’ve-fallen-backwards-down-a-lift-shaft feeling.
It’s not just about power, though. The idea is that by having a motor for each back wheel, the car’s computer can play a virtuoso tune on how the Audi’s power is parcelled out, able to perfectly select the right amount of grunt to deploy at each rear corner for the conditions, and for what the driver is trying to do.
You feel that more in tight corners than in fast ones, but the problem is that if you’re using the maniacal potency of those three electric motors to the full, you’re arriving at a given corner with an awful lot of momentum, thanks to that porky kerb weight.
And that’s where the e-tron Quattro S starts to run into its own limitations. In fairness, it has wonderfully weighted, laser-accurate steering and you can muscle and hustle it with no little excitement through a series of corners. The weight, though, is always there, constantly reminding you that the brakes and tyres are working really, really hard to keep you between the hedges.
Our test car, with a mere €1,100 worth of optional extras, clocked in with a €119,563 price tag. That's a lot of money over and above the price of the standard model
Ironically, the e-tron Quattro S is at its best when at a gentle cruise, where you can use the merest flex of your right ankle to zip easily past sluggish traffic, but really what you’re appreciating is the car’s remarkable refinement and ride comfort.
Is that a bad thing? No, not at all – there’s more than a little to be said for enjoying driving a properly fast car, but keeping it on a short leash. The problem is that the regular e-tron Quattro does that job just as well, and does it more efficiently.
That regular e-tron Quattro, in 55 form, has a still-significant 407hp, hits 100km/h in just 6.8 seconds, and has a one-charge range of up to 441km from the same 86kW (useable) battery. The S model can manage an official 372km, and realistically it’s closer to 300km if you’re on the motorway, or making use of all that power.
Worse still, there’s the much more affordable new Q4 e-tron, which shortly will be available in four-wheel drive 50 Quattro form, with 300hp, a 0-100km/h time of 6.2 seconds, and a one-charge range of 488km. The Q4 is also barely any smaller inside than the e-tron Quattro. It’s true that Audi is planning a major upgrade for the e-tron Quattro, with a more efficient battery and much longer range, but that’s at least a year away.
At least it charges up as fast as it depletes, assuming you can find a sufficiently rapid charger. Using one of Ionity’s ultra-fast 350kW chargers, we managed to get the e-tron Quattro S from 20 per cent battery to full in just 40-minutes – that’s the sort of charging performance that makes you feel much better about the oncoming electric revolution.
Of course, you’ll pay for it. Our test car, with a mere €1,100 worth of optional extras, clocked in with a €119,563 price tag. That’s a lot of money over and above the price of the (still pretty expensive) standard model, for extra performance that you’ll not use much, and which ultimately costs you an electric car’s most important performance metric – range.
I’d be lying if I said that this were anything but a maddeningly desirable car, but equally it’s a maddeningly frustrating one, too.
Audi e-tron Quattro S: The lowdown
- Power: Three-motor 370kW electric system putting out 503hp and up to 973Nm of torque with a single-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
- CO2 emissions (annual motor tax): 0g/km (€120).
- Electric range: 344-372km.
- Electric consumption: 26.2-28.4kWh/100km. 0-100km/h: 5.1 seconds.
- Price: €119,563 as tested; e-tron quattro range starts at €78,310.
- Verdict: Bonkers quick, and lovely to drive, but heavy, short-ranged, and seriously expensive.