Audi anticipates the layout of the Tesla Plaid drive with the three-motor e-tron S. Is that Vorsprung durch Technik? Christoph M. Schwarzer put the e-SUV through its paces for two weeks in the wet and cold winter, encountering familiar virtues of the e-tron but also gathering a bunch of new impressions.
The best-selling car of 2020 in Norway was the Audi e-tron. Mind you, across all vehicles, not within electric cars. And Audi, that's quattro. The e-tron is basically all-wheel drive and can be ordered with 64 kilowatt-hours (abbreviated kWh, model designation 50) of net capacity or with 86 kWh (model designation 55). In addition, there are two body variants each, namely the unnamed hatchback and the hatchback called Sportback. Since the end of the year, Audi has also been delivering the top model e-tron S: instead of two electric motors, it has three. A design that Tesla has so far only announced for the Model S Plaid. Could this breathe new life into the claim Vorsprung durch Technik?
At the rear axle of the e-tron S, an electric motor drives each wheel via a single-speed gearbox. Torque vectoring, i.e. the distribution of power between left and right, works perfectly and in milliseconds. In this way, Audi solves an age-old problem: In a curve, the outer wheel travels a longer distance than the inner wheel. To ensure that this does not lead to tension, a differential distributes the power. And it is precisely this differential that normally results in no engine power at all reaching the tire as soon as one side (usually the inside of the curve) loses grip.
The perfect differential
Generations of engineers have subsequently tried to ensure optimum power distribution with mechanical differential locks or electronic braking interventions, but it is only electromobility that allows what is physically conceivable, namely optimum and adapted left-right distribution.
The Audi e-tron S is designed as a rear-wheel drive car; the front engine is only switched on when required. This combination of three electric motors raises traction to a new level: When accelerating out of tight corners or roundabouts, the e-tron S simply pushes. The peak power is 370 kW and the maximum torque is 973 Newton meters. A decent bang for which the adaptive chassis should be set to dynamic.
The standard sprint to 100 km/h is completed in 4.5 seconds, a value that would have been considered abnormally fast at the turn of the millennium, but is clearly undercut by a Tesla Model X with 2.8 seconds. Even more blatant is the Model S Plaid, which can be pre-ordered, a quasi-drag racer that catapults passengers to 100 km/h in 2.1 seconds or, as a Plaid+, in "under 2.1 seconds", according to Tesla. One problem of the Audi e-tron S: overweight. The vehicle registration document states 2,695 kg, or around 2.7 tons. That is too much.
Rather safe than sporty in wet conditions
In the grim northern German winter with sleet, wet roads and gusty winds up to force 9, this ballast noticeably slows down the Audi. The winter tires are the limiting factor when entering corners. Despite its low center of gravity, the e-tron S pushes over the front wheels early.
At this point, the author of the article admits to being not yesterday but the day before yesterday when it comes to sportiness in cars: battery-electric cars have a low centre of gravity and a good load distribution between front and rear, but they can't really be agile per se because they are too heavy. Notable exceptions are the BMW i3 and the Tesla Model 3 SR+, but they still don't come close to what a Renault Alpine offers in terms of lightness.
That doesn't change the fact that the Audi e-tron S is objectively almost always faster than the rest. During the two-week test period, the road was also dry at some point - then quite a lot is possible and probably even more with summer tires.