Saturday 24 February 2018

The future is electric – and so is the R8 on speed

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Let me get the formal stuff out of the way first – for the sensible ones among you. Then let me tell the rest of you about my time at the wheel of an electric supercar I drove with a little bit of abandon.

Here goes: Audi will bring in a plug-in hybrid version of its A3 Sportback in September next year.

It will be able to cover as many as 940km on a mixture of propulsions from its 1.4-litre TFSi petrol engine, battery bank/electric motor and pure electric driving.

Between the lot there will be 204bhp at your disposal and you should be able to charge it in around two hours. It looks like a modern A3 but its emissions are a claimed 35g/km.

Look, I could blitz you with details and technicalities. They are all worthy and all that, but essentially we'll see an Audi plug-in hybrid next year, okay?

I'd much rather tell you about the Audi R8 e-tron, if you don't mind. This is all-electric and rear-wheel drive – that's right, no quattro – and it is a true supercar. It looks like an R8 but in truth only nine of the thousands of the R8's components are retained. Audi has gone to extraordinary lengths to make it as light as possible with around one-quarter of it in carbon fibre. We are talking 'future, future' here. The body only weighs 199kg but all those batteries etc mean we end up with a 1,780kg package.

So many cutting-edge developments, feedback on battery performance, electronics, power, weight saving, charging. And so much of it will percolate into the Audis and Volkswagens and Skodas and SEATs of tomorrow.

But you know what? For a short while the other morning, on a sunlit track, I didn't care about all that social responsibility stuff. I just wanted to drive this – only 10 prototypes have been made. I saw it as a chance to sample something quite rare.

You have a massive battery pack effectively dividing the interior and two motors (190bhp each) individually driving a rear wheel. Yes, that's 380bhp. Power and torque are instant, which explains why you can whoosh to 100kmh in 4.2 seconds.

Here was a meeting of futuristic technology and age-old human desire to drive and brake hard, shove it into corners, let her drift a little there just to hear the tyres squeal a little more. In other words: how to be a little bold in a supercar.

The braking system is quite involved. Essentially there are two systems – regenerative at the rear, which is computer controlled to match the hydraulics at the front. In all the driving, I never noticed any of the changes we were told were unfolding as we buzzed around.

And I sure used the brakes. And the car sure took as much of the energy from the braking and pumped it back into the system.

DRIFT

Once out of eco mode we got to feel the benefit of what they call torque vectoring. Essentially, the two rear wheels are managed in such a way that, on corners, the inside one is held back a little so the car turns in or pivots much better.

Then, as we came out of the corner, the outside wheel got extra power to keep us fast and balanced.

When we switched to Sport on ESP, I could manage a little bit of drift so beloved of racing drivers. Such fun with that chassis, tuned to respond instantly to everything on the millisecond.

And then it was all over, as if the lights went out. Which is not a bad time to dream, I suppose, that one day I will drive a full-production vehicle like this.

Whatever about the cost of it, charging times and the range limit (216km if you go easy, a lot less if you drive as I did), there's no doubt it is a benchmark on the, albeit long, road to a different way of getting around.

But, believe me, it will be a long time before you have this much fun on the road.

Irish Independent

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