First Drive Audi E-tron

Our first look at the new E-tron was at the IAA 2009 a few months ago. At that event the electric vehicle was displayed as a static concept to be produced in the far future. We were rather surprised that the guys at Automobile took it for a spin.

The resemblence with the R8 is easily noticeable. However, E-tron is smaller than the German supercar, but still has a large wheelbase of 102 inch. The cabin inside the vehicle isn’t particularly spacious. Reason? The battery pack takes more space than the R8’s V10 engine, transaxle and fuel tank combined. The energy capacity of the vehicle is 53kWh, of which only 80 percent is used to extend battery life.

Automobile stated the following about the first drive:

Getting in is a challenge not only because of the concealed door handles but also due to the narrow door aperture and the restricted adjustment of the space-age bucket seat. The airy cockpit has a jet-fighter touch, with hard-to-decipher LED monitors instead of rearview mirrors; a dished, flat-bottom steering wheel; and various iPhone-style touch pads instead of push buttons. Hit the start button, and the gear lever rises from its flush sleeping position like the head of an angry cobra. I select D, but nothing happens. To save energy, the E-tron doesn’t crawl, so you don’t have to hold the car with the brake. At the first stab of the accelerator, the Audi takes off like a noiseless red arrow, but the quoted 0-to-62-mph time of 4.8 seconds is at this stage strictly theoretical, since the concept car weighs some 1300 pounds more than the target, and it’s muzzled by a speed limiter. In finished form, the E-tron will accelerate with no holds barred from 0 to 85 mph, at which point the system starts to ease off because of the rapidly increasing aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance. The top speed will be capped at 125 mph.

Driving an electric vehicle, you gaze at alien instruments, such as the neon-green power-reserve meter and the equally prominent range indicator. You hear unfamiliar sounds, like the gushing coolant flow that keeps the batteries healthy, the distant hum of the heat pump that also serves as the air-conditioning, the subdued whine of the regenerative brakes, and the much more intense mix of wind and road noise. What one doesn’t notice at relatively low speeds are the E-tron’s 70 percent rear-biased torque split, its 42/58 percent front/rear weight distribution, the torque vectoring that combats excessive understeer and oversteer, or the qualities of the suspension, which uses control arms in the front and rear. The carbon-ceramic disc brakes are squeezed by hydraulically operated calipers up front; the rear ones are electrically activated. The advantages of this arrangement are lower friction losses, lighter weight, and more efficient energy regeneration.

Feather-footed drivers can hope for a range of 155 miles between charges, but if you storm up a mountain flat-out, the low-power warning light will likely come on after only sixty miles. At the conclusion of our two hours of driving and maneuvering, the charge meter still read 40 percent full. With a 220-volt household current, a recharge can take up to eight hours. Tapping a 400-volt network drops that down to two and a half hours.

The Audi E-tron will go on sale in 2011. Audi plans to build 100 units. For 2012, the goal is 1000 vehicles.

[Via Automobile]

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