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).
2014 Audi RS7 Sportback
Embracing the style of speed with a 560-hp, all-wheel-drive art gallery.
By Michael Jordan
We're deep in the throng on the Audi stand at the 2013 Detroit auto show, and the swaying crowd keeps us from seeing what is being presented within the pool of hot white light just a few yards away. Someone holds up a compact camera overhead to record the event from a clearer viewpoint, and then another arm lifts up a smartphone, and then another camera goes up and another phone, until all you can see is a thicket of flickering electronic screens held above the heads of the crowd, all lit with the electronic image of the 2014 Audi RS7 Sportback.
Who would have thought that an Audi could command such attention? Who would have thought that there could be any cultural traction in the phrase "extreme Audi?" And yet everyone in this crowd strains forward to lay hands on the RS7 -- men in self-important suits, women in spindly shoes, and even the towering Audi show-stand models.
As it turns out, the RS7's secret is style, not speed.
As you'd expect of a car based on the lovely A7, the RS7's shape expresses the aerodynamic simplicity that always has been Audi's signature, but you must also admit that the now-customary embellishments of the full-frame grille and LED running lights add useful drama. Meanwhile, the RS7 comes in ten colors, including two shades of high-fashion gray -- Nardo gray and matte-finish Daytona gray. Two trim packages are available, one in matte aluminum and the other in carbon fiber. The six-piston brake calipers for the racing-style, two-piece, 15.4-inch front rotors can be had in black or red. And the standard polished 20-inch wheels can be replaced by optional 21-inch wheels in three different designs.
The style message continues within the cabin. The instruments have black faces with white scales and red needles. The trim is done with carbon-fiber inlays, and four other materials are available as options. The high-bolstered sport seats are trimmed in faux suede and carry a seating surface of quilted leather (honeycomb-quilted Valcona leather in either silver or black is optional).
Fortunately, the 2014 Audi RS7 Sportback is a car to drive as well as a work of art to simply enjoy in your garage, and this would be the kind of driving that encompasses acceleration from a standstill to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 155 mph in standard trim and 190 mph in ultrafast specification (would you have it any other way?).
Yet the message behind such performance is drivability, not abstract numbers. When Ferdinand Piech came to Audi from Porsche in the early 1970s, he had the good fortune to be welcomed by a front-wheel-drive sedan with serious dynamic challenges due to an in-line engine cantilevered over the front wheels. As a result, he has always been willing to embrace new technologies in order to counter the challenges of bad physics.
The Audi RS7 reaps the benefits in the form of all-wheel drive (a torque split of 40/60 percent front/rear plus torque vectoring from side to side, all in an effort to replicate rear-wheel-drive dynamics). You can choose the standard air suspension (it feels a little short on wheel travel in other Audis we've driven) or an optional system with steel springs and three-stage dampers (great at speed and acceptable the rest of the time, we think). As always, you can electronically configure the suspension, the steering effort, the transmission shift schedule, and the throttle action to your preference.
A car that aspires to greatness must be energized by a great engine. Audi's twin-turbo 4.0-liter TFSI V-8 certainly puts up great numbers in the RS7 -- 560 hp at 5700 rpm and 516 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm. Yet fuel economy is also part of the plan, since four cylinders can be deactivated when the engine is running between 960 rpm and 3500 rpm and torque demand is between 25 percent and 40 percent of maximum. Thanks to vibration-canceling engine mounts and noise-canceling audio speakers, the only thing you'll notice is a five percent improvement in fuel efficiency. And did we mention the eight-speed automatic transmission?
The 2014 Audi RS7 will be measured against the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG and the forthcoming BMW M6 Gran Coupe. The competition has motorsport-bred engines, but the style message is garbled, as the Mercedes looks glum beneath its frosting of overwrought flourishes, while the BMW threatens to sink through the floor with its sheer heaviness. And when the journey is long, the weather is bad, and the pavement is slick, we think there will be plenty of people willing to pay an estimated $110,000 (without all the cool options) for the privilege of taking the test in an RS7 Sportback. After all, real roads go across the country, not just around the back of the grandstands at a racetrack.