It may not have a posh badge, but when it comes to what really matters the R8 has what it takes to hold its head high among supercar rivals
What is it?
The Audi e-tron Spyder – a four wheel drive plug-in diesel-electric hybrid concept car. The new open top follows the earlier e-tron coupe, previewing a new mid-engined roadster that has been conceived to join the Audi line-up as part of on-going efforts to provide the German car maker with a more sporting profile.
Nothing is official just yet, although Ingolstadt officials suggest a production version of the e-tron Spyder sporting a more conventional petrol engine could sit above the TT both in position and price, acting as junior R8.
In concept car form, the new Audi is based around a unique aluminium spaceframe, gets an all-carbonfibre body and borrows chassis components from the TT RS (double wishbone front suspension) and R8 (double wishbone rear suspension).
At 4060mm in length, 1810mm in width and 1110mm in height, the new Audi is 371mm shorter, 219mm narrower and, owing to its cut down windscreen, 142mm lower than the soon-to-be-facelifted R8. The concept car tips the scales at 1650kg.
For a one-off, the e-tron Spyder boasts truly impressive levels of build quality – on the outside, at least. Open up its rear bodywork, though, and you’re reminded it is very much a prototype. Power comes from a mid-mounted twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 common rail diesel engine producing 300bhp and 480lb ft of torque. Additional performance is provided by a pair of brushless electric motors sited up front that provide 88bhp and 260lb ft. Together the e-tron Spyder’s diesel engine and electric motors produce a combined 388bhp and mighty 740lb ft of torque, although that latter figure is a little misleading as it is not all available at once, depending rather on engine revs.
The reserves of the diesel engine were originally planned to be channeled to the rear wheels via a seven speed double clutch gearbox located behind the engine. However, packaging concerns has seen it been replaced by Audi’s stepless Multitronic CVT. The pair of electric motors, meanwhile, drive through a single speed transmission to the front wheels, a layout which provides the new Audi part time four-wheel drive.
Electrical energy for the motors is supplied by a 9.1kWh battery sited above the electric motors in the nose. It is claimed to provide the e-tron Spyder an all-electric zero emission range of around 31 miles at speeds up to 37mph.
Recharging of the battery occurs both on the run, as kinetic energy is collected under braking and on periods of trailing throttle, and by plug in means. In combined diesel-electric mode, the e-tron Spyder is theoretically capable of hitting 62mph in just 4.4sec and reaching a top speed limited to 155mph.
It is, in theory at least, also incredibly frugal, with combined cycle diesel consumption is put at 128.4mpg – a figure that equates to just 59g/km of CO2 emissions. With a 50-litre fuel tank, it could achieve more than 600 miles on a combination of both diesel and electric power.
What’s it like?
With next-to-no overhangs and considerable width relative to its length, it possesses a wonderfully confident appearance that is enhanced by the 245/35 (front) and 265/35 (rear) profile rubber lurking underneath its huge wheel houses.
You enter the cabin through conventional front hinged doors, stepping over a wide sill and dropping down into narrow, low set seats. The dashboard is horizontal plane of leather-bound aluminium and carbonfibre. It is terrifically simple in design.
There’s not a lot to signal the e-tron Spyder’s potential when you push the starter button – there’s a momentary whir of electrics from somewhere ahead, then silence again. Release the manually operated handbrake, introduce a touch of throttle and you’re away – quietly, smoothly and on electric energy alone. A short stab of the right foot then prompts the diesel engine to fire with a startling rush of induction noise followed by a gruff blare of exhaust.
It feels like a concept, which is a nice way of suggesting there’s still a way to go before the e-tron Spyder could be considered production ready. The steering, an electro-mechanical arrangement, is devoid of much feel and the hydraulically operated brakes, carrying huge 380mm front and 356mm rear carbon ceramic discs, are curiously overservoed. The carbonfibre body creaks in concert with the camber of the road, the front tyres foul against the inside of the wheel arches when you apply more than a turn and half of lock and even innocuous looking driveways need to be approached with utmost caution for fear of wiping the ultra-low front splitter clean off.
The top lip of the cut down speedster style windscreen, which tapers well around the sides of the car, also obstructs the view down the road. The suspension, while controlled, lacks the pliancy to cope with even the smallest of bumps. Still, there’s something about the e-tron Spyder, even at 30mph. The elements around which the car has been conceived are sound. Its relatively compact size and lack of overhangs allows you to confidently place in corners. The ‘feet-out-in-front’ driving position also endows it with a satisfyingly sporting feel.
Urged to press a bit faster, I give the throttle a more thorough nudge, at which the e-tron Spyder feels more the sportscar Audi clearly wants it to be. It picks up pace effortlessly once you’ve wound some meaningful revs into the diesel engine – anything beyond 2000rpm is enough to clear the early lag from the pair of turbochargers. But with a CVT corralling the drive to the rear wheels, there’s no rise and fall in the revs, merely a constant drone. As you come off the power, there’s a loud vacuum like noise from the wastegate. Nonetheless, it feels fast.
Should I buy one?
You can’t – not yet, at any rate. If the spectacularly styled, mid-engined, two seater does get the go-ahead, expect it to form part of a joint venture project with Volkswagen Group sister company Porsche.
But with decisions still to be made on whether the new Audi will be based around an aluminium space frame like that of the concept driven here or a cheaper steel based monocoque platform said to be favoured by Porsche, it won’t likely go on sale until 2015 at the earliest.
There are also questions marks about just what engines we could expect to see in a production version of the e-tron Spyder concept, although Haller is full of enthusiasm for the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine from the TT RS, which is good for 340bhp in its standard state of tune. That’s the sort of enthusiasm we like...
Audi e-tron Spyder
Price: na; Top speed: 155mph; 0-62mph: 4.4sec; Economy: 128.4mpg; Co2: 59g/km; Kerbweight: 1650kg; Engine type: 3.0 TDI and two 64kW electric motor; Power: 300bhp (diesel engine), 88bhp (electric motors); Torque: 480lb ft (diesel engine), 260lb ft (electric motors); Gearbox: Multitronic CVT