The Euros strike back! The cheap yet chic EVs matching and even beating BYD Dolphin, MG4 and other Chinese electric cars
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I know what you’re thinking: Of course it was. Everyone knows electric cars are fast. But I’m not just talking about raw speed. Driving Audi’s RS e-tron GT back-to-back against the V8-powered RS6 at track velocities was an eye-opening experience, and one that reaches beyond just lap times.
First I’ll set the scene. It’s the Phillip Island GP track in Victoria. Curvy and undulating, it’s a place that values executing corners perfectly rather than rewarding raw straight-line speed.
The cars are some of Audi’s greatest. The iconic RS6 Avant Performance, new and improved for the 2024 model year with somehow even more power and torque from its twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine (indeed, a miracle that a European car still even has such an engine), and the top-spec RS e-tron GT, which I had also driven before, but only on the road.
I was there primarily to sample the RS6 on the track for my review, with a few laps in the RS e-tron GT, in my mind, simply a bonus. I wasn’t too excited about them. I knew the e-tron was fast already. I knew it would probably be faster off-the line, and down the straight than the RS6, but I had convinced myself that nothing would compare to the V8 roar and the raw mechanical prowess of the go-fast wagon.
You see, I had subconsciously subscribed to the idea that combustion, by default, would be more exciting. You’ve heard the hilarious metaphor in every comment section of an article about a fast electric car; it usually goes along the lines of - “Sure, you can technically microwave a steak and it’s faster, but wouldn’t you rather it be grilled?”
Here’s the thing though. It wasn’t.
I drove the e-tron first. Racing instructors went in front of us to dictate a decent pace and help us get best results from the corners. The e-tron was terrifyingly fast, but again, I knew it would be. The instructors, who were driving RS Q8s, warned us that the e-tron would have so much power still left in reserve and so much traction in the corners it could easily take the Q8 at any time and to please not do that. I must admit, it was tempting on the main straight when the V8 twin-turbo Q8s felt like they were slowing you way down.
So yes, the e-tron was fast.
Then, the moment I had been waiting for. For a long time actually. I had never driven an RS6 on the track before - a truly fast eight-cylinder turbocharged station wagon with all-wheel drive - can you get any better for a car nerd?
But after the whirlwind that was the e-tron, I was left disappointed. I had suddenly become hyper-aware of so many intricacies of a combustion drivetrain. I could feel turbo lag, delays in the transmission, the power building through the RPM range instead of arriving instantly. It was frustrating. As though this monstrous, fire-breathing V8 simply couldn’t keep up with the new bar the RS e-tron GT had set my expectations at. It huffed and puffed, barked and spat, and at one point complained that its diff was getting hot.
Meanwhile the RS e-tron GT got on with it without so much as breaking a sweat. It was cool, composed, an absolute scalpel in the corners with its low centre of gravity and ultra-accurate steering, where the RS6 comparatively felt like a butter knife. It left me at a loss for words. This station wagon, which I have been impressed by for so many years, was suddenly an antique, and that’s despite it being the fastest, most powerful iteration ever built.
That’s not to say the RS6 was slow. And it’s also not to say it wasn’t huge amounts of fun. But compared to the e-tron something was missing, and this is because the e-tron was more than just fast. It was also incredibly engaging.
Without the distractions that the combustion engine brings with it; the sound, the transmission, the delay, plus the added instantaneous speed of the electric motors, the e-tron made the world melt away. It’s just you and the track. You’re hyper concentrated on the steering, the effects of which seem amplified. You’re hyper aware of the level of traction available to you, without the distraction of letting the engine and transmission get caught off guard. Because it’s all the feedback you have in the corners, you can focus on it more.
Put simply, the e-tron reduces everything to only the most important parts of the experience, and it is simply all-encompassing. It’s fun. Not in a laugh out loud because you broke into a drift, or downshifted into a hilarious engine roar kind of way, but in a properly visceral, raw kind of way where actions and reactions are amplified.
Of course there are downsides. From what little attention I was paying to the status of the battery, the GT was chewing through 30 to 40km of range per lap, and Phillip Island is only 4.5km long. This gives you a useful track time of optimistically 12 laps before you need to recharge (less if you want spare charge to actually get to the nearest charger).
Having a look at PlugShare, the universal charging station aggregator, shows just one active DC plug on the island at the time of writing, and it’s a slow 25kW unit which would take about three hours to top your e-tron back up from 20 per cent. Sure, two more fast charging pylons are in the works for the island, but it’s hardly an appealing prospect to have to compete with tourists either.
Still, if there’s one thing I took away from this event, it’s that electric cars are nothing to be afraid of on the track. Sure they’re fast, but if my experience was anything to go by, they are anything but boring, and the degree to which it made such an advanced 4.0-litre V8 with all the tech feel antiquated has possibly permanently changed the way I look at combustion cars.
I know I won’t convince everyone, and it’s not as though you can just go down to the track this weekend and drive two quarter of a million dollar cars to see what I’m talking about, but I will leave you with an alternative food metaphor: The RS6 is like a deep fryer. It’s indulgent, gratuitous, delicious but deep down you know it’s bad for you (or, in this case, the planet). The RS e-tron GT is like an air fryer. It’s fast, it’s lean, it’s clean, and doesn’t leave you with a mess to clean up afterwards (apart from a questionable power bill).