The electric R8 has been shelved, but Audi’s let us drive it. An opportunity missed, or a smart ‘pass’ by Ingolstadt?
The R8 e-tron is a rolling billboard for Audi to make us all aware of its e-tron models, of which you’ll be able to by an A3 version later this year. But while Mercedes has given us the chance to put down a slab of money to park an electric SLS on our driveway, Audi has remained static (sorry) with the R8, making no more than the batch of 10 prototypes it’s already built. So should we be grateful that the R8 e-tron won’t be clogging the M25 with a flat battery, or should we be miffed that the electric sled from Audi won’t be joining our long-term fleet?
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So can Audi build a decent electric supercar?
Yes. While we’d rather hear the cackle of the regular R8’s V8, or the punch of the V10 version, the e-tron is massively quick and entertaining to drive. Its two electric motors send 375bhp to the rear wheels, less than the V8 and V10 R8s, but a massive 605 lb ft of torque that’s tapped from just one rpm. To put that in perspective, the V10 has 390 lb ft. The e-tron slingshots itself from 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds, but while that’s not as quick as the V10, it’s mighty impressive considering it’s carrying 577kg-worth of lithium-ion batteries. More extensive use of carbon sees the body weigh 23kg less than the regular R8s, with impressive tech such as the glass-fibre reinforced plastic coil springs and titanium rear-wheel hubs all helping save weight. It weighs 1780kg, much less then the SLS and a mere 210kg more than the R8 V10.
Supercars are more than just acceleration times though…
Absolutely. Audi knows this and, despite uninvolving drives from many of its current RS variants, the e-tron has been set-up to corner like it’s on rails. The fact that it’s rear-wheel drive (earlier Quattro versions were deemed to add complexity, weight and cost for no tangible performance gain) and has makes the most of the Audi Drive Select system.
In Efficiency mode, it’s not docile or boring, with loads of grip and an ESP system that isn’t too obtrusive. Flick the Drive Select to Auto and switch the ESP off, and the R8’s a much more chuckable car – and massively faster point to point. This is because the clever torque vectoring system comes into effect here, and it has the ability to not only brake either rear wheel, but accelerate it if need be. So the e-tron still turns in brilliantly, and you can slide the rear-end around corners. Drive smoothly – which is easy – and you’ll carry much more speed from one corner to the next. You’ll get a little oversteer on lift-off, but it’s neither snappy nor hard to control. The brilliant ceramic brakes help – they’re not woody feeling, on/off units common in electric chariots, but actually have progression and feel. They’re electric at slow speeds but are a blend of both at electric and mechanical at speed.
What does it sound like though?
The quieter drive isn’t as evocative as the normal R8’s raucous soundtrack, and there’s a synthetic e-sound that’s produced by four boxes in the cabin. To us, it sounded like a golf-cart on crack, with ferocity to match.
What else has changed?
The driving position, dated dash and wide-stance when you’re behind the wheel are a carbon copy, but the throttle behavior braking and steering are all unique to this R8. Inside, there’s a 7mm thick TFT screen (straight out of the A3) for the reversing camera, as there’s no rear windscreen – that’s been binned to save weight too, as well as increasing body stiffness (up 40 per cent). The 19-inch alloys also have clever carbon covers that close to create a flatter, more aerodynamic surface at speeds of more than 50km/h. This helps achieve a Cd of 0.23, a 0.02 improvement over petrol R8s.
So should they have put it into production?
We’d rather have this car on our roads than some of the disappointing rides loitering in supermarket car parks. And we’d rather this than the electric SLS. Yet unlike the £302,000 AMG, Audi R&D boss Wolfgang Durheimer is black-and-white about the R8 e-tron: there’s simply no business case for it. “I went to engineering school, but I also went to business school where I was taught to make my company a profit,” he said. Each of the ten made owes Audi around £855,000, which wouldn’t have been the price had it made showrooms, but you get the idea that this is an expensive way to go slower than the R8 V10. A clinical approach to an electric supercar that’s far from clinical to thrash around a tack that has is wondering, what was Mercedes thinking when it decided to sell the SLS electric? And especially when the R8 drives and performs so well? It is a shame – although the carbon construction will likely be seen in the next R8/Gallardo, so not all is lost.