Exclusive drive: Audi R8 e-tron

Exclusive drive: Audi R8 e-tron

Potential punters of this £850,000 plus all-electric supercar will be disappointed that they cannot walk into a local Audi dealership, count out the deposit and be a proud owner of one of the most rapid battery-powered machines on the market. That's because the R8 e-tron will not go into production but, despite this, the German marque invited a select few to a closed airport in Berlin to try out their innovation, which pushes the boundaries of electric propulsion...

What is it?

Some will recognise the familiar body shape but this can't be seen as simply an R8 with an electric motor and an enormous battery pack. Audi engineers have rebuilt the machine from the ground up and that means liberal use of carbon fibre throughout the driver's cell and chassis, lightweight aluminium used in the underpinnings and even the replacement of the rear window with a carbon fibre screen. Extreme weight saving has been the name of the game, shedding any excess pounds to balance out the colossal weight of the massive battery pack and electric motor.
What's under the bonnet?

Replacing the normal 4.2-litre V8 or the more potent 5.2-litre V10 of the standard R8 is a mammoth 48.6 kWh battery cell which is mated to two electric motors that develop 280 kW (380bhp) and an astonishing 820 Nm torque. The abundant use of carbon fibre means that performance remains fiery; the e-tron accelerating to 62mph from a stand still in just 4.2 seconds – that's two tenths of a second faster than the 4.2-litre V8 version.

What's the spec like?

This car isn't for sale so specification opportunities are slim. Saying that, the interior is as plush, if not slightly more special than the standard R8. Carbon fibre grab handles inside the doors look exquisite while the 'power dial' that sits in place of a standard rev needle adds an element of Star Trek to the whole thing. Thanks to the lack of rear windscreen glass, the German marque has had to come up with a clever solution to the standard rear-view mirror. In its place sits a crystal clear AMOLED display that projects the view sent from a rear-facing camera. Very cool.

Any rivals?

It came as quite a shock when Audi said they weren't going to put their flagship, all-electric supercar into production, especially as Porsche has revealed its plug-in hybrid 918, McLaren has the P1 and Ferrari utilises battery power in the LaFerrari. It means customers looking for alternatively powered performance cars must gravitate towards these brands or, if they are dead set on all-electric propulsion, will have to make do with the comparatively underpowered Tesla Model X or a second-hand Tesla Roadster.

Audi R8 e-tron
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Exclusive drive: Audi R8 e-tron

What's it like to drive?

Utterly breath-taking and slightly nerve-wracking given the R8 e-tron's enormous price tag. Acceleration is punchy and all that torque is transferred directly and instantly to the Tarmac upon depressing the right pedal. Ground is covered extremely quickly yet it is just as rapidly scrubbed off thanks to a blend of both electric and mechanical brakes (the electric brakes helping recharge the batteries, the mechanicals kicking in under heavy braking). Steering is perfectly weighted with plenty of feedback allowing for minute adjustments while cornering, which thanks to a clever torque vectoring system, are barely needed as the R8 e-tron practically steers itself. The noise is slightly surreal, a sort of futuristic cacophony that rises and falls with throttle inputs, making the whole experience even more out-of-this-world and special. We have no idea what it is like to drive on normal roads as we were only gifted a short track session but we'd imagine it could live happily on the smoother surfaces of Europe.

The AOL Cars verdict

This is an absolutely magnificent piece of engineering that offers an insight into the future of electric supercars. Unfortunately the technology that makes this R8 lighter, stiffer and more technically advanced than its petrol-powered brother is extremely expensive, putting it out of reach of even the most well-heeled customers. Plus, Audi engineers say that when the R8 e-tron is driven flat out, it will deplete its batteries in around 30 minutes. It is no wonder the head of technical development at the German marque, Wolfgang Dürheimer, revealed that plug-in hybrids and range-extending powertrains would provide the base of Audi's future vehicles.

The Knowledge

Price: £850,000+
Engine: 2x electric motors, 48.6 kWh battery pack
Power: 280kW (380bhp), 820Nm
Max speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Range: 133 miles
Emissions: 0 g/km CO2
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