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The 2022 Audi RS e-tron GT.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Marc Lichte, the 52-year old German designer who has overseen all of Audi’s products since 2014, reckons the brand’s new all-electric e-tron GT is the most beautiful car he has ever drawn. That’s important because the e-tron GT really needs to look great, not only because it’s the brand’s new flagship EV, but also because the way it looks is one of the main things that separates it from its Porsche twin.

If you could peek under the Audi’s shrink-wrapped sheet metal, you’d find that it shares much of its underlying mechanical bits with Porsche’s Taycan. Audi’s not trying to hide the fact both cars share the same EV platform. As a result, both the Audi and the Porsche feel quite similar. They are essentially the same size, with similarly cramped rear seats and 93.4 kWh battery packs. They’re both so ballistically-rapid that ­­­– on the road – you’re unlikely to notice that the Audi is one-tenth of a second slower from 0-100 km/h and has only 637 horsepower in boost mode while the Porsche tops out at 670. The range-topping Audi RS e-tron GT we have here is $4,900 more expensive than the Taycan Turbo, but in this price bracket that’s pocket change.

Since these high-performance German EVs are so similar, the decision over which one to get, for most people, should boil down to subjective matters: which one looks better, which infotainment system makes more sense to you, and which brand has the friendlier local dealership. The real threat to both of these German machines, however, is Tesla’s new Model S Plaid. In theory, the American car should leave the Germans in the dust in a drag race, or even on a lap around the Nurburgring Nordschliefe circuit. (More on the Tesla-shaped elephant-in-the-room later.)

First, Lichte was right; the RS e-tron GT is the most attention-grabbing Audi launched during his tenure, and probably the brand’s best design since the original TT coupe or R8 supercar. On the road the RS looks impossibly low and wide. The boxy fenders that bulge over each 21-inch wheel are a not-so-subtle nod to the 1980 Audi quattro, the brand’s first all-wheel drive car. More than once I returned to the RS to find strangers snapping photos of it.

The cabin doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations set by the stunning exterior.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The cabin doesn’t quite live up to high expectations set by stunning exterior. Inside, the dual-screen dashboard is familiar Audi equipment; it’s not the big leap forward Porsche made with the Taycan’s interior. In the Audi’s favour though is the fact it still has plenty of physical buttons – for the climate controls, for example – which are easier to operate while driving and less distracting than a touchscreen-only system.

A button between the front seats starts the car and brings forth a deep, spacey hum. It’s oddly calm actually, plus the noise lets you know this UFO is ready to take off.

Air suspension offers a surprisingly smooth and tightly-controlled ride even on bad roads; it’s borderline miraculous given how low to the ground the RS is. A physical switch on the dash sets the driving mode, adjusting the ride height and throttle response among other things. Dynamic mode turns up the volume of that spacey hum and unlocks the sort of acceleration that pins your head back against the seat. The steering is crisp, granting the RS the feel of a low-flying laser-guided missile. It’s unflinchingly precise but not tiresome, fast but also comfortable. No doubt, the RS e-tron GT is the best fast four-door – electric or not – that Audi has ever made.

To entice buyers, Audi is offering e-tron GT owners two years of free charging at Electrify Canada stations. (Annoyingly, US owners get three years of free charging.) Electrify Canada’s DC fast chargers can add up to 190 kilometres of driving range in just 10 minutes – provided you can find one of their DC fast chargers, which at the moment are relatively few and far between.

Air suspension offers a surprisingly smooth and tightly-controlled ride even on bad roads.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Audi quotes an EPA-estimated driving range of 373 km for the RS e-tron GT and 383 on the regular e-tron GT. Our test car estimated its own range at 422 km with a 99 per cent full battery and was on track to get over 400 km on a charge. That’s plenty for daily use, but still much less range than you get in the latest Tesla.

Ah yes, the Tesla Model S Plaid. On paper it has much more range and faster acceleration than the Audi or the Porsche over a single 0-100 km/h sprint. The Tesla’s roomy rear seats and large trunk easily make it a better choice as a family car. But, then you also have to deal with Tesla’s poor build-quality record and the fact the Plaid only has half a steering wheel.

Among the long-running German luxury brands, Audi currently has the largest lineup of EVs in showrooms. The RS e-tron GT is the cherry on top, a high-priced, high-performance electric toy that, while unlikely to set the sales charts alight, bodes well for the future. This is the first RS-badged EV from Audi, but it won’t be the last.

Tech specs

2022 Audi RS e-tron GT

Base price/as tested: $179,900/$194,535

Engine: dual-motor electric

Transmission/drive: two-speed automatic/all-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litre-equivalent/100 kilometres): 3.0 city, 2.9 highway

Alternatives: Porsche Taycan Turbo, Tesla Model S Plaid, Mercedes-Benz EQS

The dual-screen dashboard is familiar Audi equipment, not the big leap forward Porsche made with the Taycan’s interior.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Looks

We agree with Lichte; it’s his best design yet for Audi.

Interior

The carbon fibre filled cabin on our test car was all black and therefore somewhat dour. More colourful trim options would be nice. The small rear window means the view through the mirror is like looking out a porthole.

Performance

Audi has eschewed one-pedal driving in the RS e-tron GT, so it will feel comfortable for first-time EV drivers. The handling is sharper and more engaging than Audi’s V8-engined RS7.

Technology

The infotainment system is easy to use and will be familiar to Audi drivers, but it’s nothing new. All the usual driver-assistance-systems are available to make long journeys more pleasant.

Cargo

Tall passengers won’t have much fun in the rear seats. Legroom is fine but your hair may graze the roof. The trunk-opening is tiny.

Verdict

An expensive electric thrill ride for drivers won over by Lichte’s head-turning design

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

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