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.