2030 is the deadline: the end of petrol cars in Britain. Because nothing lasts forever. 'This may be the last petrol car that I design,' said a British marque designer, sketching lines on a napkin wistfully. I threw the napkin in a trunk in the attic for memorial. I have become addicted to petrol cars in these last years because they are so conventionally masculine: driving them feels like theft, and it is mind-altering. If you don’t agree, drive an Aston Martin DB11 round a small bend. It will change you. I could write about the unspoken, unconscious joy of polluting – if you trash a planet it won’t forget you – but, like me, you are probably here for the car.
So, electric. So far, I have only driven a Tesla model X. It felt like a small and ambitious house. It had doors like wings and mitigated the misery of waiting to charge in service stations by being substantially more comfortable than service stations. That is why Tesla drivers sit in them. They are allowed to get out. It was controlling, though, which I expect from Elon Musk. The model X preferred to drive itself – though the steering wheel buzzed to remind you to stay conscious – and it had a romance mode, even though it seats seven, which is the definition of ambitious. The satnav became a video of a fire. The lights dimmed. Barry White started singing. When I locked myself out of the model X in the rain, I had to telephone a call centre who unlocked the car remotely, which will do nothing for the mental health of paranoiacs. The model X was mesmerising, but I thought I should drive something a little less mad.
So I turned, of course, to Audi: to the new RS e-tron GT quattro in Daytona Grey (£135,000 or thereabouts). The Duke of Cambridge, an environmentalist like his father, whose DB6 runs on biofuel (English white wine and whey, a conceit I love because it is so English), now drives an RS e-tron GT.
This news allowed me to spend a happy hour reading the duke’s history in cars and staring at photographs of him driving his first car a Ford Focus. His escape car at his wedding was his father's Aston Martin DB6 but the Audi RS e-Tron is his first electric vehicle.
The RS e-tron sits, on the scale of environmental responsibility, neatly between a Range Rover and the Gold State Coach, and I wonder what that tells us about him. He usually drives British cars but is now prepared to drive German cars if the environmental impact is smaller. Is he, then, sensible, peaceable, international?
He drove it to the inaugural Earthshot Prize for environmental innovation and has reportedly installed an electric charger at Kensington Palace. Meanwhile, Tony Stark (Iron Man) drove an RS e-tron at the end of Avengers Endgame (2019), and he did so pointedly, as if it meant something, and it did. Popular culture is turning toward electric.
This is, at heart, a car for rich and cautious executives. (The incautious would merely buy V12, a straight road and a mountain of tyres). And because car design is an obsession for our species, and something we do very well, from Ferrari to Mini, it is beautiful. (The Tesla may have wanted to me to slow down, speed up, and have sex to Barry White. But it was not beautiful). It is long and low and sinuous, with its pretty grill, its wedged shaped headlights and its interlocked 0s, like the Olympic signage after a failed mugging. Inside, it is as comfortable as £135,000 or thereabouts should make it: black fine leather; black honeycomb stitching. We will see far more of this before 2030.
Petrol or no, the power is incredible. It will do 0-61.2 mph in 3.6 seconds. (One version can do it in 3.3 seconds). I have fretted about the noise. Will there be no noise? Audi has installed speakers that produce a kind of whirring that is not a roar but something subtler; something to grow on you. I wonder if personalised theme tunes are far away; like the Sat Nav that talks like Roger Moore. (He is the fifth most popular voice behind Darth Vader). Perhaps ABBA will battle R&B on the M5 as people's custom whirs sing out. It will do 280 miles on one charge. The emissions are – and this still looks incredible on a spec sheet – 0. Revolution brings innovation. So does catastrophe.