Motoring: Audi’s electrifying R8 supercar whirrs away into history

After spending untold millions of development dollars, Audi has decided not to put its super sportscar into production.

With an acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 4.2 seconds

BERLIN—I’m glad I got to drive the Audi R8 e-tron before it passes into the stuff of legends.

Only a handful will ever experience what was, for me, the fastest car I have ever personally driven.

I’m calling this a “last drive” because, after spending untold millions of development dollars, Audi has decided not to put its super sportscar into production because it could not make a business case for the asking price, rumoured to have been around $1 million.

That’s a tough sell when the identical looking “everyday” R8 sitting beside it on the Audi showroom floor starts at $134,200.

And while they look the same, only six parts from the R8 were used on the R8 e-tron.

Imagine going from 0-100 km in 4.2 seconds thanks to 3,629 lb/ft (yes 3,629 lb/ft) of torque and all without the bellow of a huge, fuel devouring gasoline engine.

In fact, it is so silent in operation, Audi engineers added two external speakers to give out an engine-like sound because development drivers felt more comfortable that way.

Thanks to the two 140 kW (280 kW combined) electric motors driving the rear wheels, full torque is available within a microsecond of hitting the go pedal.

There is only one speed, but with all that torque who needs more? Each motor directly drives one rear wheel.

The two motors (each the size of a pumpkin) jointly produce 380 hp and 604.8 lb/ft of torque. With its 6-1 ratio gearing that results in the stunning torque figure.

Speed is limited to 200 km/h and there are two reasons for this.

The e-tron runs on H-rated tires with a design top speed limit of 210/km/h. The other reason is duration driving at the 250 km/h top speed would sap the battery in 20 minutes.

The T-shaped battery pack is so big (530 cells) it takes up the area where the V10 engine is on the ordinary R8 as well as extending forward as a central spine that also adds to chassis rigidity.

Range is listed at 215 km which depends on how you drive. There are four ways of energy recuperation such as coasting or using the brakes, but when the system detects only 15 per cent of charge remains, it automatically defaults to a limp-home mode.

Using a 230-volt recharge station it would take 12-14 hours to top up the battery.

Weight saving and using new-tech materials were part of the design syllabus.

The frame is partially forged aluminum and carbon fibre. Most of the body panels are carbon fibre. The brakes are ceramic. Instead of a steel stabilizer bar, the R8 e-tron uses a hollow carbon fibre tube. The springs are carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). Each of these springs is 40 per cent lighter than steel.

An interesting side note was the e-tron was tested at the Nurburgring and was just 8 seconds shy of the pace set by an all-out V10 R8. On the V10 the brakes would be glowing red-hot. But on the e-tron, the temperature at the rotor face was about 50 Celsius.

The wheels on the e-tron have shrouds between the spokes that close at speed above 50 km/h to lessen air drag.

Instead of a rearview mirror, there is a rear-facing camera on the carbon fibre panel that replaces the window. It shows what’s behind on a GPS-sized screen where the rearview normally would be placed.

This obsessive pursuit of weight saving results in the balance of 42 per cent front, 58 per cent rear – in other words just about perfect.

Getting into the cockpit of the e-tron, the first thing you notice is its similarity to the everyday R8, with no weird dials or switches.

You can choose one of three driving modes – Efficiency, Auto, Dynamic – by twisting the normal Audi Connect knob and toggling through to the mode desired.

We drove the e-tron on a closed course on the tarmac of the famed, but now closed, Templehof airport in the heart of Berlin.

The first runs were in Efficiency to get used to the course with F1-style red-and-white curbs leading to the apex cones.

Then it was time to get serious.

First was in Auto with the stability control on. Blasting on the line I was hitting 140 km/h in less the length of a football field.

Clipping the first curb and then another, I whistled by the first apex with zero rubber squeal with lots of brake feedback.

Next was Auto with the ESP off and here I expected the rear to come around a bit but it didn’t.

This is because the two electric motors actually can independently speed up or slow down to produce torque vectoring. This is when entering a turn, the outside wheel revolves faster resulting in a planted rear that actually improves frontend stability while requiring less oversteer on the part of the driver.

Dynamic was just that.

You could come off the line like a shell fired out of a howitzer, dab the brakes and actually feel the beginning of the potential 0.45-g the e-tron is capable of reaching.

What I liked was the Audi personnel didn’t try to tell you what to do but just let us loose with a simple “enjoy”.

I did.

While the 10 e-trons we drove in Berlin will never see production, they will live on with a host of newly learned technologies we will see in future Audi products.

But more importantly, the R8 e-tron proves the concept of an electric sportscar is not just possible but inevitable.

 

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