Audi e-tron: The future is here now (if you can afford it)

The Audi e-tron is a showcase of the future of automotive tech as we know it. Not long from now, all electrically-driven cars, be they battery, fuel-cell, or plug-in hybrids, will likely sport the kind of technology that the e-tron exemplifies.
Audi e-tron, Frankfurt Auto Show
Image courtesy of AchimH

by Aaron Turpen

When it was introduced as a concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, the Audi e-tron was the surprise supercar that took the show by storm. Electrical storm, that is. This all-electric performance machine is all that and a bag of chips.

Specs:

  • Type: Dedicated Electric Vehicle
  • Class: 2-door Sport Coupe
  • Manufacturer: Audi
  • Propulsion system: 4x motors producing 230kW
  • Top Speed: 124mph
  • Vehicle range: 154 miles
  • Fuel(s): Electricity
  • Battery system: 53kWh Lithium-ion
  • Time to full battery recharge: 6-8 hours / 2.5 hours
  • Price: $160,000USD (approximate)
  • Availability: 2011

The manufacturer says

Four asynchronous motors with a total output of 230 kilowatts (313 hp) give the Audi e-tron the performance of a high-output sports car. The concept car can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62.14 mph) in 4.8 seconds if necessary, and goes from 60 to 120 km/h (37.28 to 74.56 mph) in 4.1 seconds. The torque flows selectively to the wheels based on the driving situation and the condition of the road surface, resulting in outstanding traction and handling.

Overview

It is not often that we are privileged enough to see the future and realize that it is the future we are seeing. The Audi e-tron has several elements that are the most likely future for automotive transportation.

First and foremost, it's Quattro Drive is a clear step away from combustion-engine and drive train thinking and takes advantage of all of the elements that electric drive can offer. This is illustrated in the way that Audi measures torque.

Rather than measuring torque from the wattage of the motor at the drive axle, as is the norm, Audi instead is measuring the torque of the wheels on the ground, which is some ways is a truer measure of the vehicle's power. So the nautical miles for the e-tron are not measured from horsepower, but instead are measured where the rubber meets the road, giving the car 4,500Nm (3,319lb-ft).

It is not often that we are privileged enough to see the future and realize that it is the future we are seeing.

That's a lot of power, though in comparison to the oft-mentioned Tesla Roadster, the e-tron is slower on the uptake despite having more impressive power numbers.

The 0-62mph (0-100km/h) is a long 4.8 seconds compared to the 4 seconds of the Roadster. The 37-74mph (60-120km/h) speed, however, is extremely fast at 4.1 seconds, which is where the Roadster weakens. The top speed of the e-tron is limited to 124mph in order to preserve the lifespan of the motors.

Audi didn't stop with the motors and Quattro Drive technology, however. They took what they called the "holistic approach" and seem to have thought of everything, in typical German fashion.

The braking system of the e-tron is also highly innovative. Taking the next step from regenerative braking, Audi instead integrated electronic braking at the rear and hydraulics at the front, all four wheels using lightweight ceramic braking discs. This not only facilitates full regeneration on slowing and stopping, but also allows brake by wire, which removes the frictional losses from residual slip that mechanical brakes often suffer.

e-tron interior

Several interior and driver-assist technologies, which Audi has used in several of its models, including the R-8 upon which the chassis and body of the e-tron are based. These technologies include interactive and camera-assisted LED lighting that reacts to the elements, adjusting lighting for fog, rain, and other conditions. Automatically opening radiator flaps open and close as needed to facilitate the liquid cooling of the motors and battery pack in a way similar to the cooling system on an ICE.

The e-tron's overall stance is only 74.8 inches wide, 167.72 inches long, and 48.43 inches high (1.9m x 4.26m x 1.23m). It's wheelbase is 102.36 inches (2.6m) with most of the weight distributed towards the rear and with cabin pushed forward. During normal driving, most of the power (about 70%) is on the rear wheels, with the Quattro shifting power as needed according to the conditions of the road and driving style.

What we like

The Design. The R-8 is a great-looking sports car and is very popular amongst enthusiasts. Taking that platform and conforming it to a new driving technology, Audi has created a beautifully designed sports car that denudes both the height of technology as well as the raw power of the supercar.

Raw Power. Speaking of raw power, with 313 horsepower and that huge amount of torque, the e-tron definitely sports some real strength on the road. With the Quattro Drive underneath, the car has got to be one of the best-handling sports cars to ever hit the road.

Quattro Drive. This innovative technology is something that Audi has worked on for years and that has been featured in many of its internal combustion models. Taking it to the next level, where it frankly belongs, Quattro is now in a true electric sports car. This is likely the wave of the future for electric drive, as it gives better on-road handling and safety, distributes the workload to multiple (and possibly redundant) motors, and increases the life span of each motor while also lowering the battery draw overall.

What we don't

Sticker Shock. At an estimated $160,000, the e-tron is not cheap. Of course, it's aimed for the top-end sports car market, at a higher level than even the Roadster. It's situated both inside and out to be a very top-notch sportster.

The Limited Production Run. Audi has announced that they will only be producing 1,000 of these cars which will be introduced as a 2012 model, hitting showrooms in late 2011. It's likely that the majority of those models will be sold before the car is ever even off the line.

Conclusions

This car is, in this man's opinion, a showcase of the future of automotive tech as we know it. Not long from now, all electrically-driven cars, be they battery, fuel-cell, or plug-in hybrids, will likely sport the kind of technology that the e-tron exemplifies.

The e-tron is beautiful, fast, and very technologically advanced for a near-production vehicle.

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