► We speak to the lead designer
► 670bhp, ~2sec 0-62mph sprint
At this year’s Monterey Car week, we saw a range of new concept cars from Mercedes to Infiniti, but the Audi PB18 e-tron might rank as one of of the best. The first project designed by Audi’s new Malibu-based North American design team, the PB18 looks like a futuristic take on the Audi R8 from the front, but throws away the rulebook completely at the rear.
Ingolstadt says the supercar concept takes inspiration from the Aicon concept, with the name PB18 e-tron coming from both the Pebble Beach debut venue and ‘the technological DNA it shares with the R18 e-tron LMP1 racing car.’
While that’s the official name, the working title of the project was ‘Level Zero’ – a reference to the driver being centre of attention, splitting away from the trends of featuring autonomous technology in concepts at Levels 3, 4 and 5.
From a shooting-brake rear, to a mid-battery-engined layout, the new PB18 features some key design details which we could see in forthcoming electric production cars. To find out some of the thinking behind the new car, as well as the insight into Audi’s latest design venture, we spoke to the senior director of the new design outpost, Gael Buzyn, to find out.
Getting to Level 0
From the front, the PB18 looks many other Audis, but look closely and you’ll see the grille is actually made of negative space – so it’s essentially a big hole. ‘It’s a new take on the singleframe grille which is a design signature for Audi,’ Buzyn tells CAR. ‘But of course it's an electric car so you don't need a radiator anymore – so what do you do with it?’
Style and brand recognition are both factors in the new grille, but they’re partly a byproduct of Audi’s renewed focus on driver engagement. ‘We worked that car from inside out, our goal was to give the driver the closest experience to one of a race car driver as possible,’ he adds.
‘We wanted to reconnect the driver and the road, which we think ultimately defines driving pleasure. We used transparent OLED display that prevents any obstruction, so the driver can see through the dials and through the windshield – which we've extended as much as possible,' Buzyn continues. ‘You can see the road lying literally at your feet and this gives the driver a unique sensation of speed and great feedback.’
‘And what is important from a designer’s point of view is that we use the technology to give a better experience, a closer experience to a race car than ever before,’ he adds. ‘We can do it.’
The shooting-brake, breadvan-like design hides three electric motors and quattro all-wheel drive under its skin. A liquid-cooled, solid-state battery with a capacity of 95kWh can be charged wirelessly and allows for up to 310 miles on WLTP test figures, apparently.
However, unlike most electric cars, the PB18 doesn’t use a skateboard-like layout for the batteries like you’d find in a Tesla or Jaguar i-Pace. Instead, the PB18 uses a ‘mid-electric-engined layout’ with the batteries nestled behind the driver.
‘The skateboard is great for some cars that are sitting high, like SUVs. You can do nice cars with them, but here you're speaking about the purest, most well-proportioned sports car – one inch higher and the equilibrium will be ruined,” Buzyn tells us. ‘That gives you great weight distribution and a low centre of gravity, without having to have an extra four-inches that are going to make the car less dynamic.’
Audi also claims a maximum output of 500kW, or 670bhp in Roman Catholic, with a boost of up to 764bhp available for limited periods. That plus 612lb ft means a 0-62mph sprint ‘in scarcely more than two seconds’, according to Audi. That perfect weight distribution should come in handy then…
What’s with the rear?
Of course, the most striking area of the PB18 is the rear, where Audi has optioned for a breadvan-style storage area – and that’s part of the PB18’s design origins: The new EV is the first whole project from Audi’s North American design house.
The PB18 uses the free space you get with an EV powertrain to add elements of practicality to its supercar body – with next to no compromise. Audi's latest concept car features luggage space you'd be happy with on a family hatch, but combines it with some serious speed - and inspiration came from LA itself.
Still less than a year old, Audi’s Malibu design office soaks the car-centric atmosphere of LA, and the way cars are used for several specific purposes. 'We wanted to make sure the driver can use this car for more than a day at the racetrack, which is often the case with supercars,' Buzyn tells us. 'They're not very usable.'
‘There's so much happening there. People use their cars in so many different ways, new crossovers are being born, like this one,’ he tells us. ‘Plus on a cultural level, artistic level and nature level, Los Angeles is the place where you get inspiration for design. Now the good thing though, is that it's a digital studio, so we work only with virtual reality’
Interestingly, Buzyn tells us that his studio’s focus on VR means projects are wrapped up even faster, with the PB18 moving from digital sketch to physical car in just 6 months.
VW Group on the charge
This was actually the third VW group supercar-related project to be unveiled during Monterey Car Week, with Lamborghini pulling the covers off the Aventador SVJ and Bugatti’s new Divo making its first public appearance, too.
Check out our Audi reviews