The Audi A2 will return to market in 2015 with an aluminum body and electric variants but will be more affordable than its predecessor. The original Audi A2, built from 2000 to 2005, had an influence beyond its somewhat limited sales. With an advanced aluminum spaceframe that kept the curb weight below 2000 pounds plus an extremely low coefficient of drag, it achieved about 80 mpg (on the European test cycle) without the benefit of electric or hybrid assist. Design editor Robert Cumberford credits its Kammback profile with inspiring the now-ubiquitous shape of the Toyota Prius. And yet, for all its significance, the A2’s exotic construction priced it out of the small-car segment -– only 175,000 A2s found buyers in six years on the market, and it was never sold in the United States.
With all this in mind, Audi spent the past several years trying to formulate a new A2 that retains the first car’s technological aura at a more realistic price. First, the brand considered deriving it from the subcompact New Small Family, better known as Volkswagen Up!. Next, they looked at the VW Polo platform. After that, a spaceframe architecture like the original A2’s was under discussion. Most recently, the corporate masterminds had settled on MQB, the components set that will spawn the next Golf. But after three years of intensive board meetings, Audi managers realized that they needed to do better than that, especially since BMW is working on the ambitious Project i.
It was only at the beginning of 2011 that research and development chief Michael Dick and chairman Rupert Stadler came up with a satisfactory combination of advanced design and affordability. The second-generation model will still ride on the low-cost MQB chassis, but it will have an aluminum body. This combination holds true to the lightweight, high-tech ethos of the first A2 but will be cheaper than a car that employs a full aluminum platform. It also will be less costly to build than the carbon-fiber-bodied Project i. According to those in the know, the cost difference between a body shell made of aluminum and one made of carbon fiber is in the neighborhood of 3000 euro (about $4100).
“The A2 is a lighthouse car for Audi,” states Dick. “It must ooze innovation out of every pore, demonstrating the brand motto, “Vorsprung durch Technik” [Progress through Technology].”
The biggest part of the technology statement will be the electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The electric version would offer a range exceeding 150 miles and would produce 75 to 110 hp -– “plenty to swim with the flow on the autobahn,” says Dick. The plug-in variant will reportedly be fitted with a choice of gasoline or diesel three-cylinder engines paired with a dual-clutch automatic (the electric vehicle will use a single-speed transmission) and will boast an electric range of 40 to 60 miles.
The new A2 won’t be as feather light as the 1900-pound original but should weigh less than the 2400-pound A1. To meet this target, some panels will be made of composites, the greenhouse will boast thinner glass, and some components — including the battery, alternator, and AC compressor — will need to be downsized. The shape will remain similar to that of the original car but will incorporate styling cues from Audi’s upcoming E-tron line, such as air curtains, wind deflectors and a radically downsized, single-frame grille. To broaden the A2’s appeal, the new car will be wider and roomier, and it will seat five people instead of four. At this point, A2 is only a single-body-style enterprise, but if it does catch on, stretching or shortening the wheelbase should be very easy thanks to the versatility of the MQB components set.
Due to the drawn-out decision-making process, the launch time had to be postponed from 2013 to early 2015, but this is a relatively small price to pay for what promises to be a major advance in compact-car development.