Bugatti has the Veyron. Lamborghini has the Aventador. Bentley recently unveiled the Continental GT3. Porsche will soon release the 918 Spyder. And what does Audi have? The Volkswagen Group's fifth premium marque was supposed to have the R8 E-tron, but that car is either half dead or barely alive, depending on the source. An ailing halo car is not what Audi's new R&D chief, Wolfgang Duerheimer, expected when he recently moved over from Bentley. Instead, the former BMW and Porsche top manager is pushing for a new, even more ambitious sports car project known as the R20.
Although the chairman of the board, Rupert Stadler, has not yet abandoned the zero-emissions R8 E-tron, Duerheimer seems to favor a street-legal Le Mans racer as the most suitable way to burnish the brand's reputation. At first glance, this approach may appear overly ambitious, but the development of such a car is not rocket science. What helps is that all current Le Mans prototypes are in essence two-seaters with the passenger's seat removed, so the packaging is already there. Although one could easily fuse the hard-core engineering concept with a relatively conventional supercar body style, Audi's high-performance squad decided to model the road car after the race car.
The trouble is that, for obvious reasons, the fastest Le Mans entries look more or less the same. The plus side is that LMP cars look really cool, and Audi plans to equip the R20 with a full-length stabilizer fin like the one on the R18 Le Mans racer. More distinctly Audi features are said to include a downsized single-frame grille, stacked LED headlights, an adjustable tail spoiler (which may double as an air brake), and a relatively narrow canopy-style cockpit accessed through gull-wing doors. An important engineering element is the active aerodynamics system, which can distribute downforce between the front and rear axles for optimum stability in the critical 100-to-200-mph range. The proportions are those of a pure race car: long, wide, low, and very butch. This supercar will be a wild animal, a driving machine conceived by experts for real pros.
The interior of the R20 will be as extreme and purposeful as the exterior. Expect a dynamic mode selector, a multifunctional black-panel display instead of a conventional gauge cluster, active-contour seats with integrated four-point belts, a multisegment high-intensity windshield wiper, and a camera-based surround-view package.
Insiders expect Audi to opt for the diesel-hybrid powertrain with the race-proven turbo V-6. The engine's power output should be in the area of 550 hp. Add to this a lightweight body and two 75-hp motors that drive the front wheels (Audi's E-Quattro), and you have ingredients that result in a compelling power-to-weight ratio and excellent performance figures. The E-Quattro layout not only yields an extra 150 hp, it also adds torque vectoring, some zero-emissions capability, excellent traction, an on-demand boost effect, and a beefed-up torque curve. Furthermore, the hybrid technology makes provisions for multiple levels of brake-energy recuperation, which aids engine braking. At this point, there are no acceleration, top speed, or consumption figures available.
With Audi on pace to reach (or beat) its goal of selling 1.5 million vehicles worldwide by 2015, the R20 will likely be unveiled at the Pebble Beach event that year to celebrate the achievement. Production would commence in the spring of 2016 and will be restricted, but at this point it is not clear to how many. It may be as few as 100 or as many as 250 units.
The R20 is a costly enterprise, and it is not risk-free, but Audi is rich enough to reinvest in the brand. This is exactly what the new supercar does. It embodies key values like lightweight architecture, superior efficiency, and outstanding dynamics. In a nutshell, it reconfirms Audi's commitment of Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology).