Audi R8 e-tron: First Drive Of Audi's Electric Supercar

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We'll start with the bad news: No, Audi definitely won't be producing any more examples of its R8 e-tron electric supercar.

And even if it did, it'd be well beyond the reach of mere mortals--rumor has it that each of the ten e-trons currently in existence have set Audi back around $1.3 million.

All of which is a great pity, because our track-based first drive of the R8 e-tron at Berlin's Tempelhof airfield shows that Audi really does understand electric cars--even if it's less keen on the economics of producing them.

Thorough engineering

The R8 e-tron looks very much like the regular gasoline R8s on which it's based, but under the skin the cars are wildly different.

Naturally, the power source is far removed from the V-8 and V-10s normally found in R8 models. It's actually the least powerful R8 yet, its two 140 kW electric motors equating to a 374-horsepower maximum.

More telling is the e-tron's 605 lb-ft torque figure--around a third greater than a Tesla Model S Performance, with its 443 lb-ft output.

To accommodate the 48.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, the R8's chassis has been substantially redesigned. The T-shaped pack sits along the car's center tunnel and then upright behind the passenger compartment, the electric drivetrain sitting aft of this and powering the rear wheels alone.

Light weight and aerodynamics were high priorities. Much of the bodywork is now carbon fiber, shedding 50 lbs from the body-in-white.

Audi R8 e-tron, technical details

Audi R8 e-tron, technical details

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Unique glass-fiber reinforced plastic springs--more durable than their steel equivalents, apparently--save 40 percent compared to steel, and titanium rear wheel hubs also save weight. The car's total weight is just over 3,900 lbs.

H-rated tires--good for the car's lower top speed (described below) reduce rolling resistance yet offer plenty of grip, and save 4.4 lbs per corner.

The wheels are clever too--carbon fiber flaps mounted between the spokes close with centrifugal force at 30 mph, reducing the car's coefficient of drag by 0.02, for a total 0.27.

And on the "gee, look at that!" side, there's Audi's pioneering organic LED (OLED) rear-view mirror--weird at first, but very cool.

The numbers

To continue the Model S comparisons (as a suitable performance benchmark) 62 mph arrives in 4.2 seconds to the Tesla's 4.4, and top speed is limited to 124 mph, just shy of the 130-odd achievable in the Model S Performance.

Overall range is a so-so 133 miles, limited by how much battery Audi could cram in to the R8's frame. It's also one of Audi's numerous reasons for not making the car--they're simply not happy with 133 miles.

Incidentally, that top speed and the range are closely related. Audi told us that the e-tron uses 90 kilowatts of power at about 135 mph, which would drain the battery in 20-30 minutes. The 124 mph top speed at least ensures more than half an hour of Autobahn-style driving...

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