Audi Winter Driving Experience: Gasoline or Electric, what’s better in the snow?

We drove an Audi S3, an RS 6 Avant and an RS e-tron GT on a snow-covered track to see which mode of propulsion performs best on a slippery surface.

By William Clavey Wheels.ca

Mar 10, 2022 6 min. read

Article was updated 4 months ago

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If you own an Audi S3, RS 6 Avant or e-tron GT, you’ve probably already heard of Audi Canada’s ice experience program.  Following in the footsteps of sister brand Porsche with its Camp4 experience, Audi offers its existing and potential customers the opportunity to spend a night in a fancy hotel and test out their driving skills on Québec’s renowned Mécaglisse snow-covered race circuit the following day.

The goal? Showcase the different versions of the Audi quattro all-wheel drive system, push some of Audi’s most sport-oriented vehicles to the limits of their capabilities and, perhaps more importantly, have a ton of fun.

Audi invited automotive journalists and content creators to live the experience the same way a customer would. The cars lined up for the event were all stock, except for tires that had been swapped for Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded rubber.

Audi Winter Driving

What we wanted to know from this experience was what works best in the snow; a gasoline all-wheel drive vehicle, or a dual-motor electric car? We ventured out in Quebec’s picturesque Lanaudière region with the kind folks at Audi Canada to find out.

Audi S3

Audi’s two gasoline-fed participants were the S3 sport compact sedan and the all-conquering RS 6 Avant battle wagon. Each vehicle not only uses completely different drivetrains but utilize their own version of Audi’s quattro system.

For instance, the S3, which shares the core of its drivetrain with the Volkswagen Golf R, is equipped with a reactive multi-clutch system. Formerly known as the Haldex system, the S3’s all-wheel drive technology first and foremost prioritizes the front wheels. It’s also known as a front-biased system. Using a clutch pack to sense front wheelspin, the system can send some of the car’s available torque to the rear wheels. The S3 can even channel up to 100 per cent of the available torque to the rear if there’s an absolute absence of grip up front.

Throughout Mécaglisse’s various exercises, the S3 was by far the most enjoyable to flog around in the smaller, narrower sections. Its turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine may be the least powerful out of the trio, but 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque proved just right in these conditions. There is an observable delay for when the rear end kicks in, but once it does, the S3 yields clean and easily controllable powerslides that can quickly be corrected by releasing the throttle.

Audi RS 6 Avant

With the RS 6 Avant, Audi proves that station wagons still deserve their spot in today’s automotive space. With nearly 600 hp on tap thanks to a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 and enough space inside to carry a family, their gear, and their dog, it’s a superhero wearing a wagon body. It’s also a polite middle finger to the SUV.

The RS 6’s quattro system employs a completely different philosophy than the S3 in the sense that it’s a full-time predictive type. In other words, this Audi is constantly feeding power and torque to all four wheels, while sending more of it to the rear axle for improved handling.

Audi claims the RS 6’s power distribution ratio is set to a 60 rear, 40 front split. Considering that its massive V8 engine is installed ahead of the front axle and that the car weighs in at a whopping 5,031 pounds, a solid all-wheel drive system is essential to keep this monster well planted on the road. It’s also this quattro system that allows the RS 6 to sprint from zero to 96 km/h in just over three seconds, a time comparable to some supercars.

Audi Winter Driving

Yet, although this is a large and heavy vehicle, Audi showed us how effective its quattro system really is during an unrelentless snowstorm. Due to a long wheelbase, there’s a pendulum effect when you throw this wagon in a drift sequence, but carefully massaging the throttle will allow you to meticulously control the slide. The RS 6’s colossal weight does mean one needs to be alert when the big girl swings towards the other direction, but the level of grip is downright mind-blowing in such conditions.

Audi RS e-tron GT

Alone to represent electric propulsion was Audi’s most recent flagship supercar, the RS e-tron GT, essentially the Porsche Taycan Turbo’s mechanical twin. Powered by a 93.4-kWh battery pack and two electric motors installed on each axle, the RS e-tron GT has a total combined power output of 589 horsepower and 612 lb-ft of torque. Hit the “overboost” function, however, and horsepower climbs to 637 for a short while.

What’s interesting about the e-tron’s quattro system is that it doesn’t rely on clutch packs, differentials or driveshafts. And while it does house a two-speed transmission on its rear axle for improved top speed, it has no influence on the car’s all-wheel drive system.

Audi Winter Driving

Everything is controlled electronically by software that manages the speed at which the electric motors rotate. Meanwhile, the throttle pedal isn’t connected to anything. It sends an electronic signal to a computer instead.

The result of such next-generation technology is a system that reacts more quickly than any mechanical setup. There are no delays caused by a clutch pack reacting to wheel slip, nor is there a transfer of power and torque from one wheel to the next through a series of differential gears and shafts. It’s all immediate and astonishingly precise.

What this means for the driver is that he/she must be awake behind the wheel because the slightest inputs can lead to grand results. The e-tron is heavy machinery, heavier even than the RS 6, so when it starts sliding, she’s a handful to control, especially with such rapid-reacting commands. But the level of precision is phenomenal, and the amount of grip generated is downright disturbing at times.

Another fascinating observation about the way an electric car drifts, is that it doesn’t need to cope with a transmission or shifts points. In other words, there’s no “perfect gear” or “ideal r.p.m. The engine can’t get choked by an upper gear, or cut-off from a rev limiter. The power delivery is constant, linear, and as long as there’s juice in the battery, never-ending. What you end up with is a machine that’s clearly superior from an efficiency standpoint in every measure.

Audi Winter Driving

For Winter, Gasoline or Electric?

Driving both mechanical and electronic quattro systems in slippery conditions was a revelation, and a bit of a sad outcome for the internal combustion engine. While both the S3 and the RS 6 proved immensely capable and lots of fun at Mécaglisse, the cold hard truth is that the RS e-tron GT was a far more capable vehicle in every exercise.

What Audi and other carmakers are showing us with electric propulsion is how far the technology can bring us. Sure, everything comes down to good software programming but the possibilities for performance, efficiency, and driver enjoyment far surpass anything the internal combustion engine has been able to provide thus far.

I never got bored bouncing off the rev limiter in a 591-horespower, V8-powered family station wagon. The RS 6 is a grand automobile, one that’ll slide its way into automotive history books as one of the all-time great performance wagons of the gasoline era.

2022 Audi E-Tron

But the sad reality is that the RS e-tron GT, due to its impressive high-speed stability and out-of-this world precision on a slippery surface, is the car I would much rather be driving during a rough Canadian snowstorm.

The writer attended this media drive as a guest of the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.




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