Like the Tesla, the e-tron proves electric cars can have supercar performance
8 December 2009

What is it?

It's a show car but one that, refreshingly, doesn't have the word 'concept' in its title. The Audi e-tron is an all-electric sports car – and one that is going to be put into production.

Audi is going to make 1000 examples of the e-tron from 2012, and the car we've driven is the first prototype. It's a two-seater with a mid-mounted battery pack and four motors (one for each wheel) which, in total, produce 313bhp.

The e-tron looks suspiciously like an R8 but there's more to it than that. It's shorter in the wheelbase, has shorter overhangs and sits lower. It's similar in that it has the same width and that this prototype uses a hacked R8 aluminium spaceframe chassis. Some suspension components are shared too and, while that will probably stay the case on the production version, the e-tron will get its own spaceframe.

Likewise, the body will differ on the final version. Here it's made from carbon composites to keep the weight down to 1600kg but even though Audi says the e-tron will be sold at “above R8” prices, composites are too expensive to be practical on such a big production run. Some clip-on panels might be carbonfibre, as standard or an option, but more likely Audi will use aluminium. Also expect some of the e-tron's aerodynamic and fancy active bodywork accouterments to be toned down or disappear altogether.

What's it like?

The lovely thing about the e-tron is that already, despite being at an early stage in its development, it feels like a proper product. From the moment you set eyes on it close-up, it exudes a look of solidity and preparedness.

Truth is, it's still a little flaky, but utterly understandably for a car which has been put through no production work so far. Close the doors too hard and the window glass is liable to shatter. The interior is beautiful, minimal, crisp and clean but when I say it looks a million dollars, I fear that's actually what it's worth.

But nonetheless, the panel gaps are super tight. The metal ribs that run down the back of the car are superbly finished and pop up with satisfying vim to allow cooling air into the battery pack. The charge-socket lies on the rump and it, too, is thoughtfully finished. Behind the wheels (nicked from an R8 V10) sit purposeful carbon-ceramic brakes. In short, it feels like somebody has thought not just about how the e-tron looks, but also how it goes.

That's how it turns out, too. The finished e-tron will have similar performance figures to a Tesla Roadster – a range of 150 miles (variable depending on how you drive it), 0-62sec in a number starting with four and a top speed of 124mph, limited because it takes such a whopping amount of energy to keep a car going at that speed.

The prototype isn't that fast yet – its power reduces limited from 50mph and it runs into a limited brick wall at 62mph, but it gets there briskly (I'd say in about six seconds at the moment).

I've driven a few cars with electric drive now but the novelty still hasn't worn off. The four motors combined make not just 313bhp but 3319lb ft of torque and the delivery and response is, er, electric. You ask, you get. By dint of having more powerful motors at the back than the front, power delivery is split 30/70 front to rear.

Weight distribution, meanwhile, is 48/52 which, combined with the power output, should make the e-tron corner very neutrally, if with less agility than an R8. Because the battery pack reaches right to the roof of the car, too, the finished article will probably roll more and feel less agile than the petrol R8. Already though the brake pedal feel is solid – better than a petrol R8's. The steering is more intuitively heavy, too, and direct and accurate.

Our test drive was tantalisingly short so I can't tell you too much about the way the e-tron corners. It rides firmly, as most prototypes and concepts do, but the ride/handling finessing hasn't even started yet, so it could turn out utterly different. It certainly shows promise.

Ditto the interior might change, for something rather more conventional. It'd be a shame if it did – Audi's design team have gone for something lighter and cleaner than they usually would, because they felt they could go out on a limb with an electric car. I hope they keep their nerve.

Should I buy one?

Here's the rub, of course; you can't until 2012. And when you can you'll be looking at the wrong side of R8 money for a car which, yes, is slower than an R8 and, yes, has a limited range and, yes, takes up to six to eight hours to charge from flat (two and a half from a high output socket).

So you'd have to really want one. But given the technology will filter through to other cars in and given the e-tron is only the second zero-tailpipe emission car that's desirable and sporting, I hope there are a whole bunch of people out there who do want one. I'll probably end up being one of them.

Join the debate

Comments
14

9 December 2009

Looks like the Peugeot designer has moved on

9 December 2009

Can someone explain why; every time I turn on a light bulb at Home I'm polluting the Planet. But a 250kW Electric Car is "Zero Emissions"?

We are also being told the Country is short of Electricity, so where does the (significent) extra capacity come from if we all go electric?

R32

9 December 2009

[quote Lapps]

Can someone explain why; every time I turn on a light bulb at Home I'm polluting the Planet. But a 250kW Electric Car is "Zero Emissions"?

[/quote]

Absolutely right - great point!

9 December 2009

[quote Lapps]

Can someone explain why; every time I turn on a light bulb at Home I'm polluting the Planet. But a 250kW Electric Car is "Zero Emissions"?

We are also being told the Country is short of Electricity, so where does the (significent) extra capacity come from if we all go electric?

[/quote]

You mean the government haven't thought something through! We are all living in a dream world if electric cars are zero emissions - they aren't - and looks like we won't have any nuclear powerplants either

9 December 2009

So after 5 years we will have another electric sports car that is no more efficient or faster but more expensive than a Tesla, and Audi call this progress?

I call it cynicism.

9 December 2009

The reason these vehicles are called zero emissions, is because they have no emissions from the tailpipe. It is debatable, as they still require electricity to charge their batteries, thus not emission free. However if you want to take into account the production of electricity to charge this car, you would also need to take into account the energy required to extract ,refine ,transport and pump oil. The only emissions taken into account on an internal combustion engine are the tailpipe emissions. If you took into account the whole chain required to get oil to the pump, the emissions would be a lot higher. I do agree with your thinking, and wish that the government thought about the clean production of electicity before trying to get people to purchase electric cars.

9 December 2009

I spose in theory you might be able to create your own electricity at home, but not many people can even if they wanted to harvest 100% of all their own electricity needs.You really need to live in a watermill and create your own hydro-electrical power to create enough and have some left over to sell back to the grid. Then under those very specific circumstances it could be deemed as being *zero emissions* car.

9 December 2009

I like the concept of this car.

And i also do worry about the future electricity capacity in the UK, even without electric cars in 20 years time we dont have enough to supply ourselves. Electric cars may have to be banned or restricted by the government if such a situation arises in the interest of national security, forget CO2 emissions, the country's strategic energy supply is much more important.

Lets hope they build many more power stations, or Europe is nice to us.

9 December 2009

Woot! I think that everyone who is looking at electric cars in 2009 and thinking, 'these will never catch on' or 'these are not the future' or 'these are not a more eco-friendly choice than petrol', is basic. Though the present belongs to the ecomotives, bluemotions etc; electric cars are the future. And, how can anyone with an interest in motoring and technology fail to be excited by all this shiny new propulsive technology? And look at those torque figures, awesome stuff. All we need now is a solar panel on every roof and a windmill on every hill so we can drive around in them guilt free.

10 December 2009

The very coolest part about this car is that they can apparently have the left wheels driving forwards and the right wheels driving backwards (or vice versa) and rotate the car within its own axis...

The prospects of a car with four separate motors and no old-style drivetrains are mind-boggling, once they get over the obvious hurdles of range and recharging.

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