First Look: Audi e-tron Spyder Concept

At first glance, the Audi e-tron Spyder unveiled in Paris might appear to be just a topless version of the e-tron Coupe shown in Detroit. The most significant difference concerns the drivetrain. Whereas the e-tron Coupe was a pure EV, with an electric motor driving the rear wheels, this latest e-tron concept is a plug-in hybrid that sends power to all four corners in a system that Audi calls e-quattro.

In the Spyder, two electric motors rated at 44 hp each propel the front wheels, and a longitudinally mounted, 300-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 TDI primarily drives the rear wheels, although the overall torque split is roughly 25:75. The transmission is a seven-speed S-Tronic. The two propulsion systems can combine to produce a maximum torque output of 738 pound-feet (same as the 6.0-liter diesel in the Q7 TDI), for brief periods when the accelerator is floored and the driver hits the star button on the steering wheel.

The system relies on torque vectoring rather than electronic traction control to control wheelspin. The engineers calculate the 0-to-62 mph run at 4.4 seconds, and a top speed that would need to be electronically limited to 156 mph. Alternately, one can hit the ZEV button, and the 9.1-kWh battery will whir you along noiselessly for up thirty miles, at a maximum velocity of 37 mph. This e-quattro system is planned for the next generation of hybrid Audis, although in front-engine applications the electric motors will power the rear wheels.

For the conventional engine, why did Audi opt for the diesel and not for a small gasoline direct-injected turbo? “Because for us, diesel equals sportiness and high-performance as well as economy and environment-friendliness,” explains Michael Dick, board member in charge of research and development. “We won Le Mans with a diesel, we are selling an increasing number of TDI-powered TTs [in Europe], and we proved with the R8 V12 TDI concept that even a diesel-engine supercar does have its charm.”

The e-tron Spyder boasts an aluminum spaceframe structure, like the R8, with most body panels and all visible aero aids are made of carbon fiber. But that materials mix would be much too expensive for the production version being conceived by Porsche for Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, (and possibly also Seat). The design on the other hand stands a good chance of making it through all the committees, although the real R5 would probably need a slightly longer wheelbase (it’s 96 inches here), a more effective mid-air intake, and of course a more practical greenhouse complemented by a four-seasons roof. As an attention-grabber, the open-top e-tron hits bulls-eye thanks to its bold stance, the spot-on proportions, and many innovative details.

Stefan Sielaff, head of the Audi brand design department, is the creative force behind the Paris Show car. “The Spyder wants to please two worlds. It is a very much a driver’s car, and at the same it is a pace setter in terms of fuel economy and emissions. Styling elements derived from racing include the prominent air intakes and outlets, the aerodynamic interplay between front splitter, sills and rear apron, the slim side-view mirrors, and the low-drag wheels. The e-tron proudly displays its TDI engine, which is embedded in a mix of carbon fiber, chrome and leather. To underline the dynamic aspirations, we opted for sharper edges, pronounced creases and more daring cut lines. The greenhouse resembles the visor of a helmet. It may not be particularly practical but it underscores the rawness of the Spyder’s character. The matrix headlamps are also new in that their progressive illumination moves in rhythm with car. For instance, the turn signals are fast swooshes or brackets, and the main beam varies from a vertical crocodile-eye downtown signature light to an aggressive double-eight LED autobahn glare.”

With the exception of the odd squared-off steering wheel, the cockpit is a masterpiece of tasteful and functional minimalism. The head-of-a-cobra gear selector rises from its metal recess as soon as you hit the starter button. The familiar MMI controller is also there, but the number of buttons that surround it has been greatly reduced. “You cannot keep adding functions, buttons, and switches,” explains Sielaff. “That’s why we opted for multi-function touch sliders and for an easier MMI access. There are also no more redundant controls. The instrument panel also features a large TFT screen that provides a choice of different displays.”

The e-tron Spyder provides our best look yet at the upcoming R5. And its plug-in hybrid powertrain, while not a sure thing for the roadster, has been penciled in to the plan. When it does arrive, it will write a whole new chapter on Audi’s book of Quattro.

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