DRIVEN: First Drive: Audi Urban Concept

By - September 13, 2011
The Audi Urban Concept blends soapbox, bubble car, quad, go-kart and electric runabout into a new cult car for environment-conscious urbanites. We hit the road - a cordoned-off parking structure, to tell the truth - in this plug-in egg on wheels which will soon be okayed for low-volume production.
Audi Urban Concept Front View
Isn't she cute? Add a few yards of black sticky tape, and the golden yellow eye-catcher would pass as a kind of reinvented German Waspa, a two-seat scooterette with four open wheels, jewel suspension and a striking low-drag integral safety helmet design. But this thing will fly even without insect-inspired cosmetics. Better still, this thing is for real. And this thing will - together with its more streamlined counterpart on display at the Frankfurt Show - steal some of the thunder generated by the BMW i family.
For a change, even the official press kit leaves little doubt about the show car's true intentions: "The Urban Concept rounds off...Audi's range of future electric vehicles...It has the potential to set the trend for an all-new type of mobility." Well spoken. And a very good reason to check out whether this is an over-styled and under-powered wannabe or a serious attempt to rewrite the zero-emission city car rulebook.
The yellow vehicle pictured here is dubbed Engineering Experience Module. It looks less flashy in detail than the fully finished electro-white crowd-stopper, it uses a conventional spring-strut suspension instead of the show car's more elaborate pushrod design, and its interior is a barren black cubicle conceived for function, not form. In addition, its aluminum and carbon-fiber tub is stronger, stiffer and heavier than that of the more refined stage II version, and the drivetrain doubles the power output to demonstrate the dynamic potential of the brand-new chassis. Although the proportions and the packaging have been developed from scratch by the design team under Stefan Sielaff, the model that was once called Audi neo (until they found out that someone else already owns the copyright) does share certain elements with the VW XL1 fuel miser introduced earlier this year at the Quatar show. Among them are the front suspension, the nearly identical rear suspension (but without steering rods), the brakes codeveloped with Continental, the alloy wheels and parts of the driven rear axle.
Thomas Kraeuter, Audi's specialist for the development and the assembly of concept cars, makes getting in and out look conspicuously easy:
Act One - push the cabin roof back, grab the chrome handle that runs along the upper windscreen frame with your right hand, and place your right foot in the cut-out in the cushion of the driver seat.
Act Two - shift your body weight from the pavement to the car, let the torso glide into the seat, pull the left leg in and thread it past the steering-wheel into the pedal box.
Act Three - buckle up, pull the cabin roof forward and tie it down electrically by pushing a button in the side panel. Alternatively, the canopy can be fixed in a half-open ventilation position which ain't bad considering the absence of a/c and opening windows.
Snakeman Kacher needs an extra coordination effort to spiral his 6'7" self behind the two-spoke sports wheel which pulls out (by a generous 5.5 inches) to make room for long legs and the stomach. The two thinly upholstered seats are firmly attached to the floor and the rear firewall. The occasional pillion would need to crouch behind the driver in an oddly off-set and slightly claustrophobic niche. Since both the steering-wheel and the pedals are fully adjustable by a clever lever & linkage system, finding a comfortable driving position is the easiest trick in the book. The cockpit of the yellow specimen is an object lesson in functional minimalism. All it contains are a push-button P/R/N/D gear-selector panel, two TT-derived air vents, a hazard button and a small digital instrument display panel depicting speed, distance traveled, range, battery charge status and recuperation activity. There is not a lot happening in the latter department since any serious deceleration effort on part of the rear wheels is almost automatically neutralized by ESP interference.
Let's go. I hit D, put the hoof down, and we're off. Not like greased lightning, but briskly enough to brake hard for the next armco, the next 90deg kink, the next climb or descent to the next level of this vast parking complex. By the end of the day, we clocked 9.6 clicks, which ain't bad for roaming such a strangely slippery and articulated habitat. It takes about ten seconds to get used to driving the Waspa. The accelerator response is linear and prompt, the four disc brakes strike a perfect balance between input and effect, the skinny 125/80 R16 all-season tires don't offer enough grip to deter the slightly tail-happy handling, and the surprisingly well tuned suspension is neither overly firm nor discouragingly wayThe Audi Urban Concept blends soapbox, bubble car, quad, go-kart and electric runabout into a new cult car for environment-conscious urbanites. We hit the road - a cordoned-off parking structure, to tell the truth - in this plug-in egg on wheels which will soon be okayed for low-volume production.
Isn't she cute? Add a few yards of black sticky tape, and the golden yellow eye-catcher would pass as a kind of reinvented German Waspa, a two-seat scooterette with four open wheels, jewel suspension and a striking low-drag integral safety helmet design. But this thing will fly even without insect-inspired cosmetics. Better still, this thing is for real. And this thing will - together with its more streamlined counterpart on display at the Frankfurt Show - steal some of the thunder generated by the BMW i family.
For a change, even the official press kit leaves little doubt about the show car's true intentions: "The Urban Concept rounds off...Audi's range of future electric vehicles...It has the potential to set the trend for an all-new type of mobility." Well spoken. And a very good reason to check out whether this is an over-styled and under-powered wannabe or a serious attempt to rewrite the zero-emission city car rulebook.
The yellow vehicle pictured here is dubbed Engineering Experience Module. It looks less flashy in detail than the fully finished electro-white crowd-stopper, it uses a conventional spring-strut suspension instead of the show car's more elaborate pushrod design, and its interior is a barren black cubicle conceived for function, not form. In addition, its aluminum and carbon-fiber tub is stronger, stiffer and heavier than that of the more refined stage II version, and the drivetrain doubles the power output to demonstrate the dynamic potential of the brand-new chassis. Although the proportions and the packaging have been developed from scratch by the design team under Stefan Sielaff, the model that was once called Audi neo (until they found out that someone else already owns the copyright) does share certain elements with the VW XL1 fuel miser introduced earlier this year at the Quatar show. Among them are the front suspension, the nearly identical rear suspension (but without steering rods), the brakes codeveloped with Continental, the alloy wheels and parts of the driven rear axle.
Thomas Kraeuter, Audi's specialist for the development and the assembly of concept cars, makes getting in and out look conspicuously easy:
Act One - push the cabin roof back, grab the chrome handle that runs along the upper windscreen frame with your right hand, and place your right foot in the cut-out in the cushion of the driver seat.
Act Two - shift your body weight from the pavement to the car, let the torso glide into the seat, pull the left leg in and thread it past the steering-wheel into the pedal box.
Act Three - buckle up, pull the cabin roof forward and tie it down electrically by pushing a button in the side panel. Alternatively, the canopy can be fixed in a half-open ventilation position which ain't bad considering the absence of a/c and opening windows.
Audi Urban Concept Front End
Audi Urban Concept Driver Seat
Snakeman Kacher needs an extra coordination effort to spiral his 6'7" self behind the two-spoke sports wheel which pulls out (by a generous 5.5 inches) to make room for long legs and the stomach. The two thinly upholstered seats are firmly attached to the floor and the rear firewall. The occasional pillion would need to crouch behind the driver in an oddly off-set and slightly claustrophobic niche. Since both the steering-wheel and the pedals are fully adjustable by a clever lever & linkage system, finding a comfortable driving position is the easiest trick in the book. The cockpit of the yellow specimen is an object lesson in functional minimalism. All it contains are a push-button P/R/N/D gear-selector panel, two TT-derived air vents, a hazard button and a small digital instrument display panel depicting speed, distance traveled, range, battery charge status and recuperation activity. There is not a lot happening in the latter department since any serious deceleration effort on part of the rear wheels is almost automatically neutralized by ESP interference.
Audi Urban Concept Left Side View
Let's go. I hit D, put the hoof down, and we're off. Not like greased lightning, but briskly enough to brake hard for the next armco, the next 90deg kink, the next climb or descent to the next level of this vast parking complex. By the end of the day, we clocked 9.6 clicks, which ain't bad for roaming such a strangely slippery and articulated habitat. It takes about ten seconds to get used to driving the Waspa. The accelerator response is linear and prompt, the four disc brakes strike a perfect balance between input and effect, the skinny 125/80 R16 all-season tires don't offer enough grip to deter the slightly tail-happy handling, and the surprisingly well tuned suspension is neither overly firm nor discouragingly wayward. The only item which requires extra attention is the unassisted rack-and-pinion steering which is super quick at 1.5 turns from lock to lock. Through the fast sections of the empty and unobstructed upper deck, this instant-turn-in calibration is so much fun that I am secretly timing each run, trying to gain a tenth here and there. But through tight corners and in the wake of rapid changes of direction, the box hardens and loads up in a way that suggests the need for some more fine tuning. Visibility is good except to the rear where one big panoramic blind spot threatens. How come? Because the Urban Concept has a small lidded cargo compartment where other vehicles have a rear window.
The Frankfurt Show car is equipped with a remarkably unambitious 20-hp electric motor so that it can be operated without a full driving license by 16 year-olds in certain EU countries like Italy, France and the UK. Our Engineering Experience Module has a more substantial 40bhp between its hind legs where 96Nm of torque are still not quite enough to make the Contis sweat - unless it rains, when it is possible to induce a little bit of attitude. Audi claims that the 1058 pound lightweight runabout can accelerate from 0-40mph in 6.0 seconds. The top speed is in the area of 60mph and the driving range is in excess of 30 miles. These numbers are not yet final, because Audi is at this point using experimental hardware borrowed from the Q5 hybrid, Sanyo R&D and its own e-tron think tank. To recharge the lithium ion energy cells on 230V mains takes about two hours, but if you have access to a 400-volt power line, the same job can be done in less than 20 minutes.
Measuring 126.7" in length, 66" in width and 46.8" in height, the yellow prototype did whet our appetite. Especially in higher-performance form, it makes a compelling alternative to a scooter, a smart and a Mini. Audi seems to agree. To test the water, the Ingolstadt car maker intends to sign off a batch of 999 units sold at 9999 Euro apiece, sources say. The Urban Concept could either be built in-house by the Quattro division, or by an outside specialist supplier. There is no doubt about it: at long last, here comes a new Audi which does not try to impress with the size of its single frame grille or through the intensity of its LED headlights. Instead, this conceptual mold-breaker is potentially more meaningful to the e-tron movement than the plug-in R8. Young, reduced, alternative, affordable and fun to drive, the Urban Concept sends a promising message from a brand which has taken itself too serious for much too long.ward. The only item which requires extra attention is the unassisted rack-and-pinion steering which is super quick at 1.5 turns from lock to lock. Through the fast sections of the empty and unobstructed upper deck, this instant-turn-in calibration is so much fun that I am secretly timing each run, trying to gain a tenth here and there. But through tight corners and in the wake of rapid changes of direction, the box hardens and loads up in a way that suggests the need for some more fine tuning. Visibility is good except to the rear where one big panoramic blind spot threatens. How come? Because the Urban Concept has a small lidded cargo compartment where other vehicles have a rear window.
The Frankfurt Show car is equipped with a remarkably unambitious 20-hp electric motor so that it can be operated without a full driving license by 16 year-olds in certain EU countries like Italy, France and the UK. Our Engineering Experience Module has a more substantial 40bhp between its hind legs where 96Nm of torque are still not quite enough to make the Contis sweat - unless it rains, when it is possible to induce a little bit of attitude. Audi claims that the 1058 pound lightweight runabout can accelerate from 0-40mph in 6.0 seconds. The top speed is in the area of 60mph and the driving range is in excess of 30 miles. These numbers are not yet final, because Audi is at this point using experimental hardware borrowed from the Q5 hybrid, Sanyo R&D and its own e-tron think tank. To recharge the lithium ion energy cells on 230V mains takes about two hours, but if you have access to a 400-volt power line, the same job can be done in less than 20 minutes.
Measuring 126.7" in length, 66" in width and 46.8" in height, the yellow prototype did whet our appetite. Especially in higher-performance form, it makes a compelling alternative to a scooter, a smart and a Mini. Audi seems to agree. To test the water, the Ingolstadt car maker intends to sign off a batch of 999 units sold at 9999 Euro apiece, sources say. The Urban Concept could either be built in-house by the Quattro division, or by an outside specialist supplier. There is no doubt about it: at long last, here comes a new Audi which does not try to impress with the size of its single frame grille or through the intensity of its LED headlights. Instead, this conceptual mold-breaker is potentially more meaningful to the e-tron movement than the plug-in R8. Young, reduced, alternative, affordable and fun to drive, the Urban Concept sends a promising message from a brand which has taken itself too serious for much too long.
Audi Urban Concept Right Side View

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