Audi will make and sell sportier performance versions of its E-Tron and E-Tron Sportback electric cars powered by a three-motor system, the company announced on Friday. The news comes as parent company Volkswagen says it has tapped Audi to “take the lead for research and development” for the entire Volkswagen Group.
The new performance models will be dubbed E-Tron S and E-Tron Sportback S, and Audi says they’ll be “more agile, sharper and more dynamic” than the non-S variants. That’s all thanks to the addition of a third electric motor (two on the rear axle, one on the front) that bumps the total power from 265kW to 320kW, or 370kW in an eight-second boost mode. (That’s roughly 350, 429, and 496 horsepower, respectively.) Both vehicles will be able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 4.3 seconds, which is a little more than a second quicker than the standard versions.
Those aren’t mind-blowing specs compared to some other electric vehicles on the road, Tesla or otherwise, but it’s plenty powerful for what is ostensibly still a luxury four-door vehicle.
Audi didn’t share when the S versions would be available or how much more they’ll cost. The company says the S models will be “the first electric cars worldwide with three motors in mass production,” but it will have to hustle in order to stake that claim, as Tesla is working on a three-motor powertrain codenamed “Plaid” that will power the Model S, X, second-generation Roadster, and probably even the Cybertruck. (Tesla announced that the top-line version of the truck will use three motors.)
The big question is what all of the added performance will do to the E-Tron’s range.
Audi tells The Verge that the S versions will use the same 95kWh battery as the standard E-Tron and E-Tron Sportback. The standard E-Tron (which is the only one on the road right now) squeezes just a bit more than 200 miles out of that battery pack. Adding another motor would mean more weight, and allowing for higher performance could make it easier to drain the battery even quicker. How Audi plans to deal with that balance will be something to watch.
What’s interesting about the three-motor setup is that Audi says they won’t all be engaged all the time. In “normal driving,” the company says only the rear electric motors will work. The front motor “switches itself on – with the driver barely noticing – if the driver needs more power” in situations when the car needs more grip, like in slippery conditions or when taking fast corners. The three-motor setup also allows the car to do some torque vectoring — in other words, deliver different amounts of power to different axles or wheels in real-time to give the car the maximum grip for any scenario.
Audi only released lightly camouflaged photos of the E-Tron S, and looks-wise, it’s largely similar to the standard E-Tron but with slightly more aggressive styling. That’s thanks in part to bigger wheel arches, air ducts, and a more prominent diffuser.