Of the many attempts to many electromobility desirable, few are as successful as Audi’s electric sub-brand, e-tron. Building on Audi’s position as a luxury carmaker, the e-tron program encompasses ultramodern urban mobility concepts to a plug-in hybrid version of the A3 family hatchback. By far the most popular and striking e-tron creations, however, have been those inspired by the mid-engined R8.
Audi has recently said that, for now, the R8 e-tron won’t see production, simply because each one would cost close to one million euros. In a way we’ve been fooled, because since 2009 – when the original e-tron was unveiled – the concepts have seemingly become more and more road-ready, loosing fantastical concept car styling but gaining credibility as an electric alternative to the 4.2-litre V8-engined R8. It seems strange that the progressive BMW i8 will make production yet the relatively conventional-looking R8 e-tron won’t.
The e-tron supercar program will continue into the future, but here’s the story so far.
Audi e-tron Concept, 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show
The original and probably the best, too. The original e-tron launch coincided exactly with the BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics Concept – together they offered a vivid and exciting depiction of the future for premium vehicles. The e-tron Concept developed 313hp from four asynchronous electric motors and had a range of 248 kilometres, but the design was the main talking point.
The e-tron’s aesthetic was much harder than the road-going R8 and featured blue-tinted LED in the headlights and grille. The e-tron didn’t need Audi’s distinguishing aggressive grille, but the concept looked all the better for it. Replacing the wing mirrors with cameras made the concept look astonishingly sleek, too.
Audi e-tron Concept, 2010 Detroit Motor Show
More extensive use of carbon fibre meant that the second e-tron concept weighed just 1,350 kilograms, but the concept only featured half the electric motors of the original concept, delivering 204hp from two motors mounted on the rear axle.
Short and squat, lightning again played a significant role in the overall design, with LEDs that could change appearance depending on weather conditions. The air intakes below the headlights had grown longer, deeper and become agressive, almost a characterture of the original concept.
Audi e-tron Spyder Concept, 2010 Paris Motor Show
The e-tron Spyder was a little more realistic to Audi, using a six-cylinder TDI engine and two front-mounted electric motors for power. Dimensionally, the concept was slightly larger than the e-tron from Detroit but still had a wheelbase shorter than the R8.
Frameless glass featured heavily and the uninterrupted, panoramic glasshouse resembled a helmet visor. Turbine wheels developed the theme of the previous e-tron concepts and in natural light the concept was extremely striking. Impressive, but not half as pretty as the original concept.
2012 R8 e-tron
Things got a little confusing when Audi started dressing up the standard R8 and touting it as the next e-tron - something that we might be able to buy. As a production car, however, the R8 e-tron has been on and off for the past couple of years. As mentioned, right now it’s off, but it did briefly hold the Nurburgring lap record for a series production electric car; odd, seeing as it wasn’t and still isn’t ‘series production’.
Whereas the original e-tron had its own identity, realized through Audi’s desire to convey the image of high technology and an electrified future, the recent R8 e-tron cars offer none of that, parroting the petrol-powered car’s designed almost entirely.
2013 R8 e-tron
375bhp and a kerbweight of less than 1,800 kilograms means that the latest R8 e-tron isn’t slow, it’s just slower than the Mercedes SLS Electric Drive that has literally hundreds of horsepowers more. Range in ideal conditions is around 130 miles.
With the exception of some very attractive aerodynamic wheels, the 2013 R8 e-tron again offers little aesthetic difference from the standard car, which has recently been sharpened up with a succinct and effective facelift. That it has so much in common with the road-going R8 is a shame, as alternative fuel vehicles have an opportunity to shape the future of automotive design entirely. BMW are shaking things up, Audi are choosing not to.
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