Audi R8 e-tron, stillborn greatness: Motoramic Drives
Back in 2009, Audi made huge news by announcing plans to build an all-electric version of its then-new R8, the searingly hot supercar that was crafted from the rib of the Lamborghini Gallardo and which was the chosen ride of none other than Iron Man, a.k.a. Tony Stark. Dubbed the R8 e-tron, the vehicle was on track to launch in early 2013 before Audi pulled the plug (pardon the pun) on the program late last year, having determined that the endeavor could not make a profit. And all of Audi’s products, as a matter of company policy, must be profitable in and of themselves if they are to see the light of day.
Fast forward to last week, when I found myself in Berlin driving one. Why? Well, why not? By the time the program was cancelled, Audi had already built 10 e-trons to series production quality, and despite the fact that they will never find their way into the hands of actual customers, the gorgeous red super coupes nonetheless represent rolling test beds of technology and thus, fit in well as a part of this year’s Audi Future Lab media program. So naturally, I took this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive it.
While the R8 e-tron may look much like the standard R8, the car shares only nine parts with the pre-2014 R8 that the engineers were working with during development. Everything else was redesigned and/or reconstituted in order to keep weight down. Thanks to abundant use of carbon fiber, the e-tron’s body panels, cabin tub and skeleton together weigh a scant 438 lbs., 50 lbs. less than the feathery body of the standard R8. Look closely and you’ll see that the hood is vented (and no longer conceals the trunk), most of the grillework and both side blades are sealed, and the glass rear window that gives onlookers a sweet view of the V-8 and V-10 engines in the production R8 has been replaced by a matte gray panel that weighs much less.
The tail (which now houses the trunk) is slightly taller and has no motorized spoiler. Finally, the undertray, needing to make no accommodation for a clunky exhaust system, is completely smooth. Nifty 19-inch wheels feature insets that close at 31 mph with centrifugal force to cut about 0.2 off the vehicle’s high-speed coefficient of drag (Cd), which is now heroically low at 0.27.
Inside, occupants sit in lightweight seats and face a dashboard that looks vaguely familiar to anyone who’s been in the refreshed 2014 R8. Bespoke instruments include LED coolant and battery state-of-charge indicators, and a power output dial where the tach would normally go. The smooth, 7-inch screen for the e-tron’s version of Audi’s MMI control system looks slick, and would have been cool to see on the facelifted 2014 R8, and they all work just fine, though considering this car’s mission as a technological tour de force, a bit more sense of occasion would have been welcome.
One particularly cool R8 e-tron feature we’re certain to see again is the digital rearview camera and display system, necessitated by the paneled-off rear section and which offered a crystal clear view behind the car in a full-color LED-lit screen positioned where a rearview mirror would normally go. Admittedly, it was odd at first to see a screen where a mirror should be, but it didn’t take long to get used to.