Audi is upping the ante on electric vehicle technology, adding its high performance e-tron technology to its S range in a tri-motor format that would appear to be an attempt to compete with Tesla’s upcoming Plaid powertrain.
The announcement, made on Friday by the German car maker, is something of a first for Australia: instead of announcing for overseas markets and then waiting for whispers of a promise for an arrival Down Under, Audi has said straight up when both models will arrive in Australia.
The Audi e-tron S and e-tron S Sportback will both be available from the second-half 2021, says Audi, and the announcement follows on the heels of pricing, specifications, and orders opening for the car maker’s flagship e-tron and e-tron Sportback in Australia.
With two motors on the rear axle and another on the front, the tri-motor format will challenge the Plaid powertrain that Californian EV maker Tesla tested out at the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife in 2019 and that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has described as “insane”.
While Tesla has not released full specifications for the Plaid powertrain, which will first be introduced on the EV maker’s premium Model S sedan, Audi has laid its tri-motor cards on the table.
According to Audi, both of Audi’s electric S models will deliver a 4.5 second sprint, and a hefty 370kW of power and 973Nm torque in an 8-second boost when using “S” gear, using an amped up version of the current e-tron 55 rear motor on the front axle.
With the same 95kWh (91kWh usable) battery used on the e-tron 55, the e-tron S will offer 360km driving range (WLTP), with the e-tron S Sportback offering slightly more at 365km driving range (WLTP) thanks to its lower stance and improved aerodynamics.
In a bid to elevate the high-performance tri-motor experience, Audi emphasises the electric torque vectoring it has applied to the e-tron S models.
While only the rear motors are in operation during normal driving mode, the front motor can jump into action on driver demand, or “predictively before traction subsides”.
The electric torque vectoring will apply drive torque independently and directly to each rear wheel in just milliseconds via s single speed transmission.
Audi says that this will enhance driver experience, delivering agility and traction even on the most challenging of curves.
Both models will come with 20-inch, 285mm wide wheels as standard, with a 21-inch upgrade available when first made available. An additional 22-inch upgrade will be introduced further down the line.
Audi has placed aerodynamics of the e-tron S ande-tron Sportback as a prime consideration, and to achieve an optimum drag co-efficient is offering virtual side mirrors (that is, cameras instead of mirrors).
“Flow-optimised” wheel arches and a controllable cooling-air inlet that cool the front wheel brakes, the e-tron S achieves a 0.28 drag co-efficient while the e-tron S Sportback achieves 0.26.
Inside, digital controls, infotainment and driver assist features abound. Both modesl are kitted with Audi’s digital MMI touch response control system in two large central displays.
A third “virtual cockpit” display allows the driver to select a special e-tron screen that moves the electric drive to centre stage, complimented by a heads-up display aimed at reducing driver distractions.
Connected services to the e-tron navigation system help drivers navigate journeys with charging stops located according to traffic data and the driver’s own driving profile.
Audi says the e-tron S and e-tron S Sportback will represent the world’s first “mass production” tri-motor vehicle, and with its UK summer launch date (as compared to a late 2020 launch date slated for Tesla’s Plaid powertrain) it may just be able to claim this title.
Pricing and local specifications for Australia will be announced closer to a release date, but in the UK the e-tron S will go on sale shortly at £87,000 drive-away ($A156,131 at today’s rates) and the e-tron S Sportback for £88,700 drive-away ($A159,182 at today’s rates).
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.