Deep Dive: An All-New, Ultra-Compact Audi City Car

Audi to rival Smart? Yep, and it could have a Ducati engine.

Ever since Audi discontinued its bulbous, 151-inch-long, subcompact A2 in 2005, another so-called city car has been on the automaker's to-do list. Failed attempts including the Urban Concept bubble car and the A1 e-tron with a rotary range extender haven't deterred Audi, which had a cloak-and-dagger operation mock up a subcompact last year just so Volkswagen Group's product strategy commission could squash it, allegedly criticizing it for being little more than a VW Up! adorned with Audi glam.

Disappointed but not disheartened, Audi management moved right ahead with yet another ultra-compact show car, now scheduled to debut in Paris in 2016. With a bit of luck, the public will like the looks of the sporty yet functional rival to the Fiat 500, MINI Cooper, and smart fortwo. If the masses like the Audi city car, which should be available both as a two- and four-door, then the question becomes this: "How can it get built?"

Audi had originally planned to equip at least the sportiest version of its ultra-compact with a 200-hp, 1.2-liter two-cylinder longitudinal V-twin engine from the Ducati 1199 Panigale superbike, and Ducati in turn would get to strip down the city car and turn it into a "naked" two-seat roadster, not unlike the KTM X-Bow. Unfortunately, the man pushing that program forward, Ferdinand Piech, just left the building, and nobody knows whether or not that plan will continue.

More likely now is that Audi will get together with its Volkswagen, Seat, and Skoda brethren to fund a new architecture based on MQB rather than be stuck with the very basic NSF (New Small Family) components set that underpins the VW Up! One vehicle that could also benefit from a new architecture based on MQB is Skoda's projected City Streak EV, which in turn could yield an all-electric version of Audi's city car and help offset the premium automaker's carbon footprint. It would also give Audi an answer to competitors such as the BMW i3, Fiat 500e, Smart EV, and the forthcoming Mini Active e.

If an all-electric version did come around, either a 60-kW or 90-kW motor would drive the city car's front wheels, range in both cases would exceed 125 miles, and the battery packs would be stored under the front seats and between the rear wheels. Product planners are also looking at a pair of three-cylinder engines: a 110-hp gasoline engine and a 100-hp diesel engine.

Those are far more boring options than we would've seen from original tie-up with Ducati, so let's see whether the post-Piech management keeps the project alive and signs off on it in the not-too-distant future. Even if it gets the go-ahead, don't expect to see a production-ready Audi city car much before 2020.