The Audi e-tron show car introduced in Detroit is powered by a couple of electric motors. But this blue beauty does not portend electric propulstion. If this car does go into production, it will most likely be fitted with a turbocharged five-cylinder, and it will be one of an exciting family of mid-engine cars.
What’s Mimo? It’s not a new cartoon hero; instead, Mimo is an abbreviation for Mittelmotor, German for mid-engine. Mention Mimo, and you’re sure to get the attention of the strategists and engineers based in Wolfsburg (Volkswagen), Weissach (Porsche), and Ingolstadt (Audi). That’s because Mimo denotes one of the hottest future projects under development at the VW group. An early precursor is Audi’s e-tron sports-car concept that was unveiled at the January 2010 Detroit auto show.
Separating e-tron fact from fiction
To set it apart from the red, R8-based e-tron (seen at the 2009 Frankfurt Show), we took the liberty to add a clarifying R5 suffix to the ice-blue Detroit e-tron. R5 seems a more appropriate designation than R4, because for this car the inline five has the inside track over a four-cylinder, which is reserved for the TT. What about the concept car’s electric motors? They were chosen primarily for political reasons. You see, Audi wanted to show the world its e-competence, with a range of vehicles, from the small A1 e-tron (displayed in Geneva), to the R5 e-tron, to the R8 e-tron. In reality, however, only the R8 e-tron is headed for production (next year, in very low volumes). Neither the electric A1 nor the plug-in R5 are anything but show pieces at this point. Instead of an electric A1, Audi is preparing a battery-powered version of the A2 (the minicar derived from the VW SpaceUp!). And instead of the R5 e-tron, a compact, gasoline-powered, mid-engine, two-seat sports car is being considered as part of the Mimo fami
The Detroit car
The concept car’s striking body is actually quite a bit smaller than an Audi TT. Measuring 155 inches in length, 70 inches in width and 4 feet in height, the coupe sits on a 95-inch wheelbase. The shape of the R5 e-tron, the work of Wolfgang Egger and Stefan Sielaff, may be a good indication of the real thing, but the technology underneath the pretty skin can at best be called provisional. I hit the starter button, and despite the two electric motors’ combined 204 hp and the car’s advertised 5.9-second 0-to-62-mph capability, nothing happens when I press the accelerator. Finally, a subdued whine indicates progress-in moderation. As its turns out, the maximum speed of this one-off is limited to 9 mph. Obviously, at this stage the R5 is still show car, not sports car.
Why Porsche will carry the ball
According to our spies, the real Mimo matrix is codenamed 9X1 and will be masterminded by Porsche. Predictably, you won’t find anybody at Audi HQ who will admit this, because Ferdinand Piech himself has instructed Audi and Porsche to come up with two competing mid-engine components sets complete with design proposals and calculation papers, to be submitted by the end of the year. The best ideas will be pooled in a program that is bound to be masterminded by Porsche. After all, if Porsche is not allowed to develop the next-generation sports cars, VW might as well have not even bought the company in the first place. The 9X1 moniker suggests that the Weissach group intends to get this project under way as quickly as possible. The presently favored way to do this is by integrating Mimo into the highly flexible architecture under development for the next 911 (codename 991, due out in 2011) and the
Boxster/Cayman replacement (codename 981, due in 2012).
More than just sports cars
From what we know today, the Mimo project will be tailored to meet the needs of VW, Audi, and Porsche. At VW, it will pick up the pieces of the stillborn Blue Sport roadster. At Audi, it will kick off the R5. At Porsche, it will help recreate a modern-day 356, which would be positioned below the Boxster.
Audi would get a coupe and a spyder version powered by the 350bhp TTRS engine. VW would stick to the roadster equipped with a 1.8-liter TFSI unit good for between 160 and 210bhp. Porsche could offer a spyder, a coupe, and perhaps even a speedster. The engine of choice is in this case a brand-new turbocharged 2.0 to 2.7-liter flat four rated at 230 to 300 hp. The same powerplant over time also would be offered in the Boxster, Cayman and in a new, entry-level lightweight 911 SC.
And the 9X1 is much more than a compact sports car platform. It can serve a wide variety of products, starting with a four-cylinder runabout and stretching all the way to a V-10 quasi-supercar. How? By creating a vehicle structure that is flexible in all three dimensions, not unlike Aston-Martin’s VH integrated layout.
Going further, Porsche breaks the modularity down to include all high-value components. For instance, it can have different suspensions ranging from straightforward to highly complex, a variety of brakes be they steel or carbon ceramic, manual or dual-clutch transmissions, four-, five-, six-, eight-, and ten- cylinder engines of in-line, horizontally opposed, or V-configuration. Shared by all derivatives are the electronic architecture, the center platform section including the sills and front firewall, the safety cell including fuel tank and airbags, the steering, and the basic cockpit architecture. In addition, 9X1 works in combination with a wide variety of materials, from all-steel, to aluminum spaceframe, to carbon-fiber tub with subframes. The secret is a number of common fixed points such as suspension mountings and drivetrain attachments.
We don’t know yet whether VW will let Porsche go ahead with 9X1. But having spoken to numerous insiders from all three brands, we are confident that the vehicle concept that lurks behind the R5 e-tron will materialize — as early as 2013 if the Porsche crew gets the nod, as late as 2016/17 if a group-compatible solution must go through all courts. In any case, our brief drive in the pre-pre-production car does confirm that a compact mid-engine Audi/Porsche/VW is well worth waiting for.