Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, QC – For most of us, driving a car or an SUV is just a more personal way – unlike public transportation – to get around on a daily basis. But for others, driving is much more than that: it’s a lifestyle, a way of expressing themselves, a goal to achieve or simply a way to have fun behind the wheel of their favourite car.
This is the focus of the Audi Driving Experience program, a driving experience tailored to the customers of the four-ringed brand. Unfortunately, at this time, this winter driving experience is not yet available for purchase, as is the case with Porsche’s own winter driving program. Only the existing clientele can get an invitation from a dealer to get a taste of what Audi vehicles can accomplish on an icy surface.
However, for the automotive press, this invitation from Audi Canada allowed us to get reacquainted with three of the most recent models from the brand with the four rings, but also to see the disparities that exist between a traditional car – equipped with an internal combustion engine – and an electric car when they are placed in an environment where traction is greatly reduced, as is often the case at Complexe Mécaglisse, north of Montreal, Canada.
Here’s a look back at a day that was not only pleasant, but also very instructive in many ways.
A gasoline-electricity mix on ice
As expected, the Ingolstadt-based carmaker is also trying to seduce the participants of its winter driving day with sportier models, but also those that represent the future of the brand. To represent the past of the brand, the super-wagon in Audi’s lineup, the mighty RS 6 Avant, was the only option with an ICE engine.
On the electric side, the future was showcased by two of the brand’s electric family, the super sedan RS e-tron GT, as well as the new kid on the block, the Q4 e-tron SUV. You’ll have gathered by now that the most affordable of the three is also the most poised of the trio, even though developments in recent years have allowed Audi engineers to develop some of the best sports cars on the planet.
With 295 horsepower and an optimal 332 ft-lb of torque, the Audi Q4 e-tron – and its Sportback variant – is not what you’d call a power monster. In fact, it shares its MEB platform and many of its components with the Volkswagen ID.4, which landed on our roads several months before the Audi model.
The RS e-tron GT super sedan is a different kind of animal. Less practical than the compact SUV, the most powerful livery in the e-tron GT lineup is a very good look at the potential of electric power in an automobile in general. With a combined output of 590 horsepower (or 637 hp in boost mode for 2.5 seconds) and 612 ft-lb of torque, the Porsche Taycan Turbo’s cousin – the two models share the same platform, but also the same powertrain – has no complex in front of the other RS car at this ice driving day, the Audi RS 6 Avant.
For comparison’s sake, the organizers also brought along two examples of the super wagon, the spicy version that comes with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine delivering 591 horsepower and 590 ft-lb of torque, via an eight-speed automatic transmission and the good old Quattro all-wheel drive system with its center differential that sends power to both axles as needed. Despite its advanced technological content, the wagon represents the brand’s past.
The day began with a slalom exercise which gave us the opportunity to explore the different driving modes available with the Audi Drive Select system in the new Q4 e-tron and its Sportback variant.
Turning off both the traction control and stability control made the crossover more playful during controlled drifts with the pendulum effect. By pushing a little harder, participants could see that the Q4 e-tron could easily skid out of control.
As the vehicles made their way around the snow-covered course, the icy surface became more exposed, making it more difficult for the participants to keep up. And despite the presence of studded winter tires, they simply weren’t long enough to bite into the ice. Despite this, the vehicle performed quite well during those first few minutes of winter driving.
My favorite mode was certainly the one where the traction control was partially deactivated – or Sport mode if you prefer – which allowed a little more angle in drifting maneuvers, without losing control thanks to the involvement of the driving aids.
A duel at the top between the past and the future
The Q4 e-tron’s driving prowess was fun enough, but Audi had saved the best for dessert. The second exercise planned was the famous rally technique, also known as the “Scandinavian flick”. In a wide right-hand turn, the car had to first use the weight transfer to the left, before releasing the throttle or braking slightly (to bring the weight back to the front of the car) and turning the steering wheel to the right and thus triggering a controlled skid to the right, while taking care of keeping the angle as long as possible, until the next straight.
For this exercise, the two other Audi vehicles were available. First, I got to drive the RS 6 Avant, the wagon that has enough power to do this kind of man
euver, the twin-turbo V8 that makes the driver’s efforts heard as he pushes his right foot into the floor of the car to maintain the drift with ease.
I must admit that I already had a soft spot for the brand’s electric sedan, which I liked a lot when I first drove it on the road. But this time around, the RS e-tron GT would have to dazzle me to surpass this perfect mix of raw sportiness and comfort offered by the automaker’s super wagon. And guess what, the RS e-tron GT really delivered, especially with its ease of handling, but also with its very low center of gravity. The electric sedan is far from being a lightweight, but its battery pack bolted under the floor makes the car feel “glued” to the road.
This reality was amplified by the circle-skid exercise, which, as the name suggests, consisted of maintaining a drift around a central snowbank for as long as possible. While the RS 6 Avant had no trouble getting the rear axle to kick, it was once again the RS e-tron GT that proved surprisingly easy to spin in circles. In fact, I had to stop because of snow accumulation on the sides and windshield of the car, despite the windshield wipers working at their highest speed. I had almost no visibility outside the car when I stopped.
Obviously, a professional driver can do better with either of these cars, but I must admit that the electric car, with its fully variable all-wheel drive, is easier to control with the tip of the right foot – which can easily modulate the power to be applied – when it comes to this type of slightly more playful driving.
Despite my attachment to the “traditional” car, I have no choice but to embrace the electric option, which will only get better with time.