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Audi R8 e-tron: First Drive

 
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Audi R8 e-tron track drive, Berlin Tempelhof Airport

Thanks to the combined efforts of companies like Tesla Motors, Mercedes-Benz and others, the concept of an electric supercar no longer seems as unlikely as it once did.

Audi has now joined that list too, with its striking R8 e-tron electric supercar.

The German automaker invited us to the mighty Tempelhof Airport in Berlin to try the e-tron for ourselves.

And while a spectacular car to drive, a production run limited to ten examples and no chance of any ever going on sale have left us feeling like a kid who's been handed a candy bar but told the candy shop itself will close forever...

Under the skin
For a vehicle wearing the R8 badge, it's remarkable how little of the regular Audi R8 actually remains in the e-tron.

From the top, you no longer get a V8 or V10 gasoline engine, motive power instead supplied by two 140 kW (187 horsepower) electric motors, with a combined torque output of almost 605 pounds-feet. For comparison, an R8 V10 produces "just" 390 lb-ft.

The only original exterior panels that remain are the door skins--everything else is now lightweight carbon-fiber. Overall, the e-tron weighs 3.924 pounds.

Where once there was a glass cover to display the R8's engine is now a carbon-fiber panel hiding the enormous battery pack, and the e-tron's unique alloy wheel design features self-closing carbon flaps to improve aerodynamics. Alongside a few more subtle tweaks, aero drag has been reduced by 0.02 for a drag coefficient of 0.27.

Changes continue out of sight--steel springs are replaced with lighter glass-fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) units (resistant to corrosion, snapping and the effects of road grime and corrosive cleaning products) and the rear wheel hubs are now titanium.

Audi R8 e-tron track drive, Berlin Tempelhof Airport

Audi R8 e-tron track drive, Berlin Tempelhof Airport

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On the track
What does a relatively quiet car with 605 lb-ft of torque feel like to launch? Surreal, amusing and devastatingly quick all at once.

Despite lacking the concept's (and indeed the regular R8's) all-wheel drive, traction is absolute and the e-tron bounds from the line as if fired from a slingshot. With no gearshifts to deal with the 4.2-second 0-62 mph time is endlessly repeatable and acceleration continues unabated to the 80-or-so mph before the first braking point.

Part of the surrealism is down to the car's relative silence, though a distinct and not unpleasant electric hum can be heard under hard acceleration, a noise equally audible outside the car.

The brakes are equally powerful. In gentler driving, retardation is handled entirely by the electric motor's regenerative resistance, yet you'd not know it with plenty of feel through the pedal.

Transition to friction braking is seamless and response is fantastic--aided by the rear brakes' electronically-actuated calipers.

Incidentally, we were told that the car's regenerative braking is so effective that after the R8 e-tron's Nurburgring lap record last year, its rear brakes were so cool you could actually touch them--not recommended with reguar brakes...




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