The stunning and capable Audi R8 just might be the perfect halo vehicle, and now Audi is set to capitalize on that image-builder with a smaller, more affordable R4. Although the two cars share a mid-engine layout, an effort to keep the starting price near $40,000 means that the R4's mechanicals are decidedly less exotic. A turbocharged four-cylinder making roughly 260 hp replaces the 420-hp V-8, and the aluminum spaceframe is traded for steel. Some rumors even suggest that the R4 could forgo Quattro all-wheel drive for a lighter, rear-wheel-drive configuration.
Audi's R4 project initially faced friction from corporate sibling Porsche, which sought to protect its sports-car turf. However, the latest iteration has been downsized to appease both brands. The shared modular sports car system (MSS) provides a smaller footprint that will spawn a fifth Porsche line as well as a Volkswagen model. All cars feature a steel structure topped with a mix of steel and aluminum body panels, and the suspension is expected to use struts up front and a multilink layout in the rear. Electromechanical steering, brakes, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission are also shared among the family.
Of course, the sheetmetal and the interiors are different for each brand. Currently, Audi is slated to build a coupe only, although the design team has prepared proposals for convertible, targa, and long-roof-hatchback variants. The E-tron concept shown at the 2010 Detroit auto show (and pictured here) is said to be a strong inspiration for the R4's styling. That concept car, powered by two electric motors, also may hint at an alternative powertrain to complement the standard turbo four-cylinder. The small MSS matrix is flexible in terms of drivetrain options, accommodating anything from electric drive and hybrids to gasoline and diesel engines. Audi appears to favor a range-extended electric, known as TwinDrive in Volkswagen-speak.
What: A smaller, affordable, mid-engine sports car in the spirit of the R8.
And The TT? The R4 doesn't necessarily mean death for the TT -- some insiders say the front-engine roadster and coupe could move upmarket. Really?
What: Audi's contribution to the mutant four-door coupe/hatchback segment with requisite plush luxury.
When: Late 2011
Another Four-Door Coupe? Yes, but at least Audi's effort, seen here in concept form, is better looking than some. The production version, which foretells the next-generation A6, debuts in August at the Moscow auto show, of all places.
Audi's powertrain strategy calls for fewer V-6 applications and more use of the company's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Along with finding its way into products like the Q5 and the A6, the 2.0T is also part of a new hybrid system that debuts in the Q5 crossover. The company will also phase in the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic over most of its lineup, replacing the current transmissions in everything but the A3, the TT, the S4, and the S5.
Summer 2010: Turbocharged 2.0-liter with eight-speed automatic for the Q5.
Fall 2010: Audi A8 and A8L hit dealers, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 for the Q7.
Early 2011: R8 Spyder goes on sale, TT receives more powerful 2.0T.
Late 2011: A7 and hybrid models of the A8 and Q5 arrive.
Early 2012: All-new A6 launches, offering both the 2.0T four-cylinder and the 3.0T V-6.