Last month I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with Audi and climb behind the wheel of their two fastest vehicles, the best of their ICE vehicles and the best of their EV lineup.
Phillip Island is one of Australia’s most famous circuits and rightly so, it’s an amazing place to drive a performance car, showcasing everything these cars have to offer, with a series of long, high-speed turns a long straight, but it’s the serious elevation changes, with some big braking events that make it special and challenging. What I wasn’t ready for was the dramatic elevation changes that don’t come across on TV and the stunning views of the sea in the horizon can definitely be distracting.
Audi‘s top cars are the RS6 Avant Performance and the GT e-tron RS and it’s actually no accident how close these two are in straight-line performance. I had the opportunity to sit down with Audi executives and asked them about the intentionality of having a 0-100km/hr time of 3.4s vs 3.3s. As I suspected, these figures were engineered to be close and Audi says that provides a performance option regardless of the drivetrain choice of the buyer.
All vehicle buyers are at different stages of the buying curve, some are early adopters and already have EVs in the garage, while others won’t buy one until the absolute last minute (when ICE vehicles stop being sold). Most buyers are somewhere between these two extremes and Audi wants to give buyers a great EV option when they’re ready.
The drive day with Audi provided a rare opportunity to climb behind the wheel of both cars one after the other for a direct comparison.
Above is the video version, and below is the detail description of the day’s events.
ELECTRIC: Audi GT e-tron RS
First up was Audi’s flagship electric vehicle, the GT e-tron RS. Having spent a week in a review unit a couple of months prior, I was very at home in the car. What was clear after racing around Philip Island was just how amazing the car was as into the top end, it just continued to deliver power right past the 200km/hr mark. I said in my review that this car is wasted on public roads and that was absolutely true, evidenced by the smile on my face as I stepped out of this drive experience.
What I loved was Audi’s 1-on-1 driver coaching, provided by a professional driver in a lead car. Casually driving flat out with 1 hand while monitoring my driving through the rear-view mirror, he provided great feedback on my vehicle placement and speed through corners. I got faster and faster with every lap under my belt, by implementing the tips from the driver coach.
This experience is something Audi offers to owners as part of the Audi Drive Experience, something that has been running since 1997 and become very popular, with more than 10,000 customers taking part. While track days are certainly a focus, there are also lifestyle drives (in Australia and even overseas), the opportunity to drive other Audi vehicles outside the ones they own. Audi added the e-tron to the program in 2023 and it’s been a great success with many owners experiencing it for the first time on track.
With the e-tron, there’s a ridiculous amount of power, delivered through those massive performance tyres and brakes. I was seriously impressed with the e-tron, not only in a straight line, but around the corners of the circuit. This is a track with high-speed flowing corners, but the most taxing corner of all was the big braking event downhill before turning hard right and accelerating out. This did showcase a sense of weight in the car, not felt elsewhere. Thankfully Audi strapped some massive brakes to the e-tron to deal with this and after a few hard laps, I never felt any sense of the brakes getting angry at th e punishment they were taking.
Overall the GT e-tron RS is a stunning vehicle, albeit very expensive, if you can afford it, the performance and enjoyment you get from that vehicle is nothing short of amazing.
ICE: Audi RS6
Next up was the best of the combustion side of the business and at the top is the RS6/RS7. I had the chance to race the RS6 Performance around the track, again being provided professional guidance to improve my lap times.
The level of performance Audi is able to extract from this engine is seriously impressive, and if you’re someone who loves the sounds from an exhaust, this note is one of the best.
Audi is a brand that has a long history in motorsport and that really shows the most when pushing the car to the limits. The RS6 is much lighter and more nimble than the heavier e-tron, and is a great demonstration of what is possible when the best Audi engineers are unrestrained by budget and given the task of creating a road-going race car.
As much as I pushed hard during my laps and reached speeds of 220km/hr, I was humbled when I jumped in to ride with the professionals. having done thousands of laps around the circuit watching them work was an eye-opening experience. Their ability to push the car to its limit without going past the point of no return was stunning and we managed to do a full 20k/hr faster down the straight.
If you’ve ever driven or even watched the races at Philip Island, you’ll know that the long straight is followed by a long sweeping right corner and if you miss your braking markers, that would not end well.
Reflecting on both drives, they really are both amazing vehicles that achieve their performance in very different ways. Personally, I am completely sold on EVs and the GT e-tron RS is a stunning offering from Audi. With a price tag that is beyond what most people buy at, I’m glad to see Audi bringing more EV options to the Australian market.
I hope Audi moves on from targetting parity between their competing businesses and goes all out with their EV offering. Audi, among others, has a real opportunity to get off the fence and make an EV that outperforms the ICE lineup. With the right combination of batteries and electric motors, I think Audi could easily drop that 0-100km/hr time to sub 3 seconds. This would mean those buyers chasing the best performance, have a clear and obvious direction when spending their dollars on a new vehicle.
The whole two days were a great opportunity to see experience and talk about the best from Audi and I particularly enjoyed the chance to see the Q4 e-tron ahead of its release in Australia in 2024. You can read more about the Q4 here.
Media also had an opportunity to experience other parts of the Audi driving experience, including some drifting on a wet skid pan as well as a gymkahana in their RS3 as part of a timed competition.