It's a battle between the most exciting electric offerings of each brand.
The Audi RS e-tron GT has just been revealed, and it's a beauty. It's so close to the original concept and so impressive in so many ways that we immediately want it to be the best four-door EV around. But if there's one thing that Teslas don't do without the substance to justify them, it's making bold claims. And with the recent release of the new Model S Plaid and Plaid+, the Audi hasn't earned its crown just yet. Both are ludicrously fast luxury sedans, and both have price tags to make supercar owners of the early 2000s swoon. But both are capable of decimating most supercars from not only that era, but the current one. So, which is best?
As much as Tesla may try to distract you from less newsworthy details, there's a lot more to a good car than just outstanding performance. In order for you as the buyer to justify a purchase - especially one of a car that does far more than you realistically need it to - it needs to stir your loins, it needs to be attractive and feel special.
While the overall design of the Model S has been around for a long time now, that original design has stood the test of time. Still, a massaged front end and a sharper rear have been added for more aggression while the existing LED headlights shaped in a way that reminds us of a supermodel's perfectly sculpted eye shadow are the main focal point from the front. A slim grille with a logo is nicely balanced by LED fog lights while a tinted glass roof adds to the sleek look. 19-inch wheels are standard but you can have 21s.
The Audi RS e-tron GT is less subtly styled but just as effective. Marvelously intricate LED Matrix-design headlights are joined by a unique interpretation of the Singelframe grille. While the Model S has flared wheel arches, the RS e-tron GT has even more aggressive haunches and a massaged hood that gives the car a low and wide look. 20-inch wheels are standard here while 21s are available. And while the Model S Plaid gets a tinted glass roof, Audi chose carbon fiber reinforced plastic for a lower center of gravity.
Choosing between the two is tough, but it's clear that the Tesla is the better choice for those who like classy subtlety, while the Audi is for those who like making an entrance.
While Tesla prefers minimalism and clean lines, Audi is known for spectacular interiors that cram more tech into them than a space shuttle. Tesla's clean lines and uncluttered look is comprised of a massive 17-inch newly-landscape-oriented infotainment display and the industry's common 12.3-inch digital driver display. With simple upholstery and an airy feel, the Model S Plaid is a masterclass in keeping things simple. But with quality issues being a persistent part of many Teslas, Audi earns points for always building cars to the highest standard. The RS e-tron GT also has a 12.3-inch driver display, but its infotainment screen is a smaller 10.1-inch piece. And with a mix of Dinamica suede and optional genuine leather, the RS GT feels much more lavish. Ambient lighting and sporty seats add to the quality feel. Again, the Model S will appeal to the minimalist, but it loses points for its weird yoke steering wheel - which may only be an option. Then again, that rear-seat screen is a nice tough. Still, Audi takes the interior award here, as it so often does.
Before you scroll frantically to the comments section to tell me that neither car is short on tech, hear me out. In relative terms, the Tesla offering is certainly more basic. Sure, you can play Netflix shows in the Model S, there are enough Easter eggs to keep even the most childish among us entertained, and with standard heated seats in both rows, a power liftgate, and plenty of semi-autonomous driving aids like Autopilot, Tesla's sedan is nothing short of impressive.
However, Audis always offer a lot of tech. As standard, you get ambient lighting, adaptive three-chamber air suspension, and the options of all-wheel-steering, Car-to-X communication, and optional night vision. The infotainment system also offers smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while no Tesla does. In addition, Audi turns its nose up at the Plaid's 11-speaker audio setup by fitting the RS e-tron GT with a spectacular 16-speaker system from Bang & Olufsen. The Audi is the car you want to be in if you want your EV to feel something like a regular car, while the Model S Plaid is where you go if you want something out of the norm.
Audi's relationship with Porsche means that the RS e-tron GT gets a similar drivetrain setup to the Taycan. As such, there's an innovative two-speed automatic gearbox to facilitate ridiculous launches. Audi also decided to go against the norms of modern EVs by doing away with a regenerative braking system that you can feel slowing the car and rather fitting one that feels like freewheeling is happening but still regenerates up to 265 kW of power. Ingolstadt says this makes for a more natural driving experience, while Tesla's system allows for one-pedal driving. But you're really here for the numbers, so let's talk figures.
Audi's dual-motor setup produces 590 horsepower (637 with overboost) and 612 lb-ft of torque. As with most high-performance EVs, power is split between both axles, but the rear motor can be disconnected for better efficiency when required. With both in action, Audi says the super sedan will get to 60 mph in a scant 3.1 seconds on its way to a top speed of 155.3 mph.
As impressive as those numbers are, they pale in significance compared to those of the Model S Plaid. Tesla says the Plaid makes 1,020 hp while the Plaid+ generates "over 1,100 hp". As a result both models will do 0-60 mph in no more than 1.99 seconds - excluding roll-out - and the quarter-mile is dispatched with in under 9 seconds in the Plaid+. Keep going and you'll breeze past M5s and RS6 Avants thanks to a top speed of "over 200 mph". These figures contribute to a record-breaking 1:30.3 time at Laguna Seca. We're sure Audi will attempt to set its own crazy track times with the RS e-tron GT, but it'll likely head to the Nurburgring before trying out smaller circuits. It won't matter much though - Tesla has Audi licked in terms of outright performance.
It's worth bearing in mind, however, Audi's reputation for conservative performance claims. Given this, the RS e-tron GT is likely to be even quicker in the real world.
Each car here has multiple reasons to justify a win. Audi provides a locking rear differential for better handling and looks phenomenal. It also comes with more standard features and offers options like heated, cooled, and massaging front seats. But Tesla's Model S Plaid gives you insane performance and more space. The Plaid+ will do the quarter-mile in under nine seconds and provides 28 cubic feet of storage volume while the RS e-tron GT accelerates less quickly and only offers 12.9 cubes in the back and three cubic feet in the frunk. In terms of pricing, the two are closely matched, but Tesla wins this one too. The regular Plaid costs $119,990 while the Plaid+ costs $139,990. Buy the RS e-tron GT and you'll only get 10 bucks change from $140k. Add in options and you're looking at spending well over $150,000.
In terms of bang for your buck, the Tesla offering is no doubt the better choice. It's more affordable, more practical, faster, and less in-your-face. But the tech, gorgeous design, and brand appeal of the Audi are all hard to ignore. We're absolutely enamored by the RS e-tron GT, but the Model S Plaid+ just tickles us pink with its performance and practicality. It's super close, but we'd have the Tesla. Who would have thought the day would come when a relatively new American automaker would raise a proud middle finger to a decades-old luxury German automaker? It's a grand new world out there.