Audi e-Tron Concept at Frankfurt Motor Show

By Joe Wiesenfelder  on September 15, 2009

  • Looks like: R8 meets A5, with an extension cord
  • Defining characteristics: Battery-electric with four motors
  • Ridiculous features: Wire-wheel look on a 21st-century car
  • Chance of being mass-produced: Some aspects are sure to emerge

Audi, a purveyor of clean-diesel technology, has given hybrids the slip and tried its hand with a pure battery-electric sports car, the e-Tron Concept . Equipped with an electric motor for each of its four wheels, the e-Tron provides a new approach to all-wheel drive, which Audi has long championed with its Quattro system. The company says the lithium-ion battery pack provides a range of 154 miles in combined city/highway driving.

The motors, which are affixed to axle half-shafts — two in front, two in back, produce a maximum of 313 horsepower and 3,319 pounds-feet of torque (yeah, we had to read that a few times ourselves). The zero-to-62 mph time is a claimed 4.8 seconds. As a backup to the regenerative braking that's common among hybrids and electrics, Audi uses a single hydraulic brake on the front axle and two electrohydraulic components on the rear.

Audi says the car is built of aluminum and composite material, so even with a large battery pack behind the seats, the curb weight is just 3,527 pounds — which is lighter than a base R8 coupe or A4 sedan. As for the styling, we see R8 from the front and A5 coupe in profile. Audi says the air intakes below the headlights and along the flanks are functional ... sometimes. When cooling air is needed, louvers open. When closed, they improve aerodynamics. On such a high-tech car, the 19-inch alloy wheels are odd: Their many thin spokes recall old-time wire wheels, complete with a center cap that emulates a knock-off.

Thermal and electrical management are Audi's focus over battery chemistry and the like. The battery and drive system are water-cooled and water-heated through use of an integrated system that includes a heat pump for cabin heat. Using the European-standard 230 volts, a depleted battery can be charged within six to eight hours.

The cabin is as high-tech as you'd expect from an electric concept. Although Audi made the center console small, we wonder why they didn't do away with it altogether. There's no transmission or driveshaft to necessitate it. High-tech goodies that might appear in some form on future products include a scroll-pad style Multi-Media Interface controller and LED headlights that adjust their height and width in response to rain, fog and oncoming headlights. The e-Tron is also a test bed for "car-to-x" technology, whereby a car communicates with its environment — traffic signals, traffic flow — a phenomenon that has been a few years away for 20-some years. You're much more likely to see an electric Audi first.

Audi 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show Concept Cars

Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a launch veteran, leads the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE.  Email Joe