Audi's R8 already uses a considerable amount of aluminum as a means to shed weight, but it appears the mid-engine, all-wheel-drive supercar may spawn a variant -- code named NF -- that is even lighter.
In a presentation during a technology demonstration at its lightweight research and production plant in Neckersulm, Germany, senior Audi product developers teased an upcoming R8 supercar variant codenamed “NF” that will make further use of lightweight composites.
Before we go any further, the photos you see here are not the NF. Audi showed journalists a computer rendering of the passenger cell of the NF during a presentation on the progression of carbon-fiber and other lightweight materials in Audi vehicles. The white R8 5.2 V-10 you see depicted is a lightweight prototype we believe is related to the NF project. Audi would not allow cameras into the presentations, instead handing out the approved photos you see here.
The vehicle identified as R8 NF was featured on a timeline describing the proliferation of carbon-fiber in vehicles such as the R8 and highlighted the carbon-fiber engine cover on the R8 Spyder, the roof of the R8-based E-Tron and the various pieces found on the limited-run R8 GT, amongst others. Denoted at the 2014 mark was the NF, or more specifically, the passenger section. The image, taken in context, implied that the NF would feature a new carbon-fiber rear bulkhead between the seat backs and the engine compartment and showed the carbon-fiber piece extending into the lower B-pillars. Audi would not elaborate on the image.
Later during a tour of the Audi Lightweight Design Center at Neckersulm, however, the company showed off the white R8 prototype you see here. This car has had multiple pieces of the bodywork replaced with carbon-fiber including the bumpers and the decklid. More significantly, Audi had also replaced the roof and floor pans with carbon-fiber. All told, Audi says, the prototype is 20-percent lighter than an aluminum-bodied R8. Audi engineers then unveiled a crash-tested prototype R8 similar to the white car that also featured carbon-fiber roof rails, an important structural member.
The photo of the video screen shows the crash test results, which reveals that the carbon-fiber floor pan survived the head-on front crash test without incident. Audi also used the same car in both a side-impact crash test with a pole and a roof-crush test, during which the carbon-fiber roof rails intruded minimally into the passenger cabin. The carbon-fiber floor didn’t fare as well in the side-impact test, buckling underneath the seat but with almost no intrusion into the passenger cabin. Audi claims that the intrusion from all three tests was so small that the car meets current crash testing requirements. Audi did not provide pictures of the crash-test car.
The company had another spoiler up its sleeve as well. Later in the demonstration, the company elaborated on the research it has done on the use of carbon-fiber as s structural element. The wavy, corrugated piece of carbon-fiber you see in the pictures was used in a drop test to assess its ability to absorb crash energy. Engineers then showed a simulation in which the corrugated piece was used behind the passenger compartment of a coupe (which looked an awful lot like an R8) for energy absorption during a rear-end crash. This leads us to believe that the company is researching the possibility of replacing traditional metal crumple zones with carbon-fiber in the future to further reduce weight.
We’ll have more for you on Audi’s research into lightweight materials and construction techniques later this weekend as the event continues.