Audi’s E-Tron GT concept is so close to production we can nearly taste it

We’ve often heard rumors of a battery-electric Audi Sport model; this is it.

The Audi E-Tron GT concept made its public debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, but Digital Trends traveled to the firm’s home town of Ingolstadt, Germany, several weeks before the event to get a behind-the-scenes look at the design study, and to gain insight on what it means for Audi Sport’s future.

“We have never done a show car as close to series production as this,” Enzo Rothfuss, Audi’s head of interior design, told us with an unconcealable smile. Marc Lichte, the brand’s charismatic design boss, echoed his comments. That means what you see displayed under the bright lights at the annual Los Angeles show is what you’ll get in showrooms in almost exactly two years’ time.

When it comes to electric cars, luxury automakers are putting an unprecedented focus on the SUV segment. It’s not a coincidence that Audi’s first series-produced EV, the E-Tron, will arrive as a people-mover rather than as a sexy coupe or a low-slung sedan. It’s the body style that solves many of the packaging problems engineers encounter while trying to install a bulky battery pack in a car, and it’s in hot demand in key markets around the world like the United States and China. That doesn’t mean the sedan as we know it will go the way of the VCR.

“There are some people who want to have low cars,” Lichte pointed out. “Doing a low, sporty car with a big battery pack is a big challenge. There are not so many people who can do it,” he added. Audi chose to join forces with sister company Porsche instead of developing the car from scratch. The E-Tron GT is closely related to the upcoming Porsche Taycan under the sheet metal. The two sedans share a basic platform, a 96-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, two electric motors, and numerous chassis components. Everything else is Audi-specific. Members of the development team regularly chat with their colleagues at Porsche to ensure the two cars don’t overlap.

audi etron gt concept production 2020 small e tron xxl

From a design standpoint, the E-Tron GT blazes the path that Audi’s other high-performance electric cars will follow with honeycomb-shaped inserts in the grille and a full air diffuser integrated into the rear bumper. Andreas Mindt, Audi’s head of exterior design, pointed out that his team chose not to add trim shaped like an exhaust outlet because it was important to keep the GT as authentic as possible. He also noted the black accents on the front fascia significantly facilitate the task of integrating the sensors required for semi-autonomous and autonomous driving. This concept doesn’t drive itself, that is not its calling in life, but Mindt’s team is already looking ahead. “As designers, we have to think about what comes next,” he explained.

If you ask us, the GT’s stance is its most striking design feature; photos and videos don’t do it justice. Designers trimmed the overhangs, nipped the doors into the body, and punched out the wheel arches. The concept is about an inch and a half lower than the A7 even though it sits on a battery pack the size of a mattress. These styling cues make it look fast even when it’s not moving. LEDs on both ends give it a high-tech appearance at night.

The GT’s stance is its most striking design feature; photos and videos don’t do it justice.

The interior, like Moby, is 100% vegan and damn proud of it. Audi upholstered the four seats with recycled cloth and cleaned up the planet’s oceans by making the floor mats with discarded fishing nets. Rothfuss explained Audi will offer leather and Alcantara in the foreseeable future, he predicts buyers will continue asking for so-called classic materials, but he expects demand for an interior not made with animal parts will spike in the coming years.

The latest generation of Audi’s touchscreen-based infotainment system is nestled in the dashboard. Already seen in the Q3, it’s a single-screen variant of the intuitive, dual-screen MMI Touch Response software found in bigger models. “We will have the dual-screen setup in the big, luxurious cars and offer the single-screen solution in our sporty and compact models,” Rothfuss told us. He then pointed to the steering wheel, which is flat on the top and on the bottom. The design was chosen because it gives the driver an unobstructed view of the head-up display. It will spread to every electric Audi model in the coming years.

The 96-kWh battery pack holds enough electricity to deliver about 250 miles of range on the European testing cycle. It zaps a pair of electric motors – one over each axle – into motion. They deliver 590 horsepower, enough to send the GT from zero to 62 mph in a brisk 3.5 seconds and, if you have enough pavement at your disposal, from zero to 124 mph in 12 seconds. Lichte assured us the powertrain can deliver this neck-snapping acceleration more than 10 times in a row without going into lock-down mode in order to preserve the battery pack. To make that possible, every part of the powertrain is cooled.

The interior, like Moby, is 100% vegan and damn proud of it.

The GT wasn’t made for the drag strip, though. It’s a high-speed freeway cruiser. That means driving fast – at least in Germany, where part of the freeway network has no speed limit – and traveling fast instead of sitting on the side of the road while electricity trickles into a nearly-empty battery pack. To that end, the GT boasts an 800-volt charging system that fills 80 percent of the pack’s capacity in under 20 minutes. Alternatively, Audi will offer a wireless charging option will be markedly slower but considerably more convenient. Buyers will simply need to align the car with a charging pad installed in their garage and tap on the touchscreen to start the charging process.

Inside, outside, and under the sheet metal, the Audi E-Tron GT caught our eye because it’s much more realistic than the average concept car. It wasn’t built merely to turn heads on the auto show circuit, though it will move plenty of vertebrae in Los Angeles. It’s also a clear statement of intent, an accurate preview of the German firm’s third series-produced electric model. The first one is the recently-unveiled E-Tron, which will go on sale in 2019, and the second one will be a more curvaceous, E-Tron-based model previewed by the E-Tron Sportback unveiled at the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show.

Audi has already started building pre-production prototypes of the E-Tron GT in the same factory that assembles the R8, though they’re still emblem-less because executives haven’t settled on a name yet. While it will be an Audi Sport model, it may not follow the conventional RS-number naming sequence exemplified by the RS 3 and the RS 5 Sportback. Pricing information hasn’t been announced, either, and we don’t know precisely when the production version will break cover. We’re betting 2020 is going to be a busy year for Audi, though.

Product Review

If you don't know about Genesis yet, the G70 is going to change that

The 2019 Genesis G70 is Korea’s first attempt to take on the vaunted German trio of BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Competition doesn’t come much tougher than that.

Nissan IMs concept teases a future long-range, autonomous electric car

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Nissan IMs is an electric car with a 380-mile range, autonomous-driving capability, and a backseat designed for being chauffeured. Too bad it's just a concept car.

China’s GAC Motor cruises into Detroit with all-electric Entranze concept

Chinese automaker GAC Motor brought its all-electric Entranze concept to the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. This is the third straight year that GAC has appeared in Detroit, and the company has established a design center in California.

With a 48-inch screen, this futuristic dashboard is like nothing else

Chinese startup Byton traveled to CES 2019 to unveil a new version of its electric concept that's closer to series production. It has the largest screen ever fitted to a production vehicle.

Hyundai’s Veloster N hot hatchback will prove its mettle on the track

The Hyundai Veloster N will go racing to prove the credibility of Hyundai's new N performance division. Unveiled at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Veloster N race car will compete in a class with other small cars.

The 2020 Lexus RC F goes on a diet to run faster and hit harder

The Lexus RC F has been one of the heavier cars in its competitive set since its introduction. The Japanese firm's engineers set out to shed weight as they gave the model a mid-cycle update.

Lexus LC convertible concept teases a new open-air flagship

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Lexus LC convertible concept adds open-air motoring to the sleek LC's resume. But Lexus won't commit to a production version of the car just yet.

Fast and Furious fans get revved up: Toyota’s Supra sports car is back

The 2020 Toyota Supra made its long-awaited debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The resurrected sports car, famous for a role in The Fast and the Furious, goes on sale in the U.S. this summer.

Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.

Big tech, bigger grille: BMW updates its 7 Series flagship for 2020

The BMW 7 Series will enter the 2020 model year with a host of updates inside, outside, and under the sheet metal. The new-look nose with a jumbo grille hides updated engines, while passengers benefit from smart tech features.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.

In McLaren’s 600LT Spider, the engine is the only sound system you’ll need

The McLaren 600LT Spider is the inevitable convertible version of the 600LT coupe, itself a lighter, more powerful version of the McLaren 570S. The 600LT Spider boasts a 592-horsepower, twin-turbo V8, and a loud exhaust system to hear it…

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.

Ford has a plan to future-proof the hot-selling F-150 pickup truck

Worried about the threat of rising gas prices, Ford will add the F-150 to its growing portfolio of electrified vehicles. It is currently developing a hybrid F-150, and it will release an electric version of the next-generation truck.