Audi is readying this stunning new R3 sports car, a mid-engined little brother to the R8 supercar. Developed in conjunction with parent firm Volkswagen, the Audi R3 could arrive in five years' time, with four-cylinder power to take on the Mazda MX-5 but not enough grunt to tread on the toes of Porsche’s Boxster (now an inhouse family rival, don't forget). The Audi R3 is a replacement for the stillborn R4.
It will be co-developed with a Volkswagen sports car; we’ll see a concept of VW's version in just a few months' time, before development starts in full for launch in 2013.
So just what is this Audi R3?
Plans are still at an early stage, but sister brand VW will test the waters with a mid-engined sports car concept at the November 2008 LA Auto Show (see the current October 2008 issue of CAR Magazine for the full scoop on the sporty VW).
The Audi R3 would – in effect – replace today's TT. ‘At the moment, both programmes run alongside each other, but as soon as production engineering begins, we must decide between the competing front- and mid-engine layouts for the TT,’ explains a source from Ingolstadt. ‘To keep the Audi a safe distance from the Boxster and Cayman, we are concentrating exclusively on four-cylinder engines.'
I thought Audi had already been down this route with the R4?
The proposed mid-engined Audi R4 went nowhere – mainly because Porsche wanted to protect the Boxster and Cayman. Audi and VW have since learned their lesson. The new sports car concept thus aims at a wide but relatively conservative €25,000 to €45,000 (£20,000 to £35,000) price range.
The Audi R3's launch timing also carefully avoids the Boxster, which will be facelifted one last time late in 2008 before its replacement arrives in 2010. While the new Mk3 Boxster has practically cleared all R&D hurdles, the smaller mid-engined sports car concept by VW and Audi won´t be ready for production before 2013.
So why are VW at it again?
Former brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard gave a green light to the quirky looking Eco-Racer, which was duly shot down by the bean counters who could not see a market for the high-tech, high-price halo version nor for the low-cost, big-volume all-steel alternative.
Now Volkswagen Group chairman Martin Winterkorn is on the case, and one can safely assume that he enjoys the support of Ferdinand Piech, the powerful chairman of the supervisory board.
The proposal we are going to see at the 2008 LA show pursues three different strategic goals. It's flexible enough to provide VW and Audi with different variants, yet it's also cheap enough to take on the Mazda MX-5 which dominates the market segment.
The VW-Audi sports car will be mid-engined, so critics cannot accuse the car of being a tarted-up VW Golf, while Audi will also finally get the dynamic TT it has always wanted.
So the next Audi TT will be mid-engined?
The TT replacement is due to appear in 2013 – and it sounds like it's going to become the sports car it always should have been. At last. ‘Going mid-engined would instantly silence critics who accuse the TT of being a reskinned overpriced Golf,’ comments our friend from Bavaria. ‘It would also work wonders in terms of price positioning and brand image, and it would complement the R8.’
What engines would power the Audi R3?
Audi would install the 180bhp 1.8-litre TFSI motor, a 2.0-litre version rated at 220bhp and a brawny S-line model good for some 280bhp, our sources suggest. Diesel TDI engines would also likely get the nod, with a frugal 125bhp variant of the latest 1.6-litre common-rail derv, plus 170 and 204bhp versions of the 2.0-litre.
While quattro four-wheel drive may be a useful marketing instrument, it does add weight and incur friction losses, and it is not an absolute necessity in terms of vehicle dynamics.
Although certain versions of the new TT would again challenge Boxster and Cayman in bhp and mph, price and prestige will remain key differentiators. Here's hoping Winterkorn and Piech get their wish.
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