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Audi

Opinion: Why the Audi PB18 E-tron heralds the mainstream EV supercar

Audi

The Audi R8 is this era’s original Honda NSX. It is the mainstream paint (and build) by numbers supercar, with total production from its 2006 debut to date at around 30,000 units. It does everything that is required for a price that, by supercar standards, is a bargain, with few frills and all the bombproof integrity those four rings atop its snout suggest.

The thing is, this era is fast becoming the last era, with upstart manufacturers like NIO and Rimac cropping up. They’re showing us what’s possible with new and alternative electric-centric technologies, and upsetting the supercar status quo.

The biggest paradigm shift in the history of motoring is underway, and now, with the debut of the PB18 concept at Pebble Beach, Audi is bang on it, too. Its preview shows how an EV-powered future could revolutionise one of the most exotic cars on the road.

Audi

In contrast to the archetypal supercar silhouette that is the R8, the PB18 concept is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It sports a shooting-brake style body atop muscular haunches, and a changeable driving position. You can go from centre to the side as per your whim.

While the moving driver’s seat smacks more of concept car gimmick, the freedom an electric powertrain affords the design department, displayed by the PB18’s supercar shooting-brake style, is something we hope to see more of in the future.

There are performance benefits to be enjoyed beyond the obvious torque and mega acceleration, too. Rimac has for years been demonstrating the limitless torque-vectoring possibilities afforded by having individual power (and braking) units on each wheel. Instant torque, combined with a lower-than-ever centre of gravity and unlimited control over power distribution, is sure to make for some truly scintillating driving dynamics, without a whiff of 98 RON to be found.

Audi is optimistic for what electric power could mean for the driving enthusiast. This is evident from the fact that the ultra-futuristic PB18, with its full EV powertrain, comes with zero autonomous capability to take over management of that 671hp, 612Ib ft powertrain for you.

Also, the whole purpose of that movable cockpit is so that the driver can be front and centre when it comes down to the business of going for a drive.

The R8 is a wonderful thing as it is. That V10, along with so many other high-performance internal combustion engines at the moment, is evidence of how far we’ve come as creators and proprietors of exciting cars. It’s one of many cars at the moment that feel like an absolute refinement of the old-school exotic car formula.

It begs the question of whether it can possibly get any better. Even Audi has suggested the R8 won’t get a direct replacement. Whether that means Audi’s flagship is to be no more at all, or if what is to come next differs such that it isn’t really a replacement, remains to be seen.

These are transitional moments in the history of the motor car . How we let burgeoning technologies change and evolve what we already love will decide how we enjoy cars for years to come. Given that change is inevitable, concepts like the PB18, which explore the outer fringes of what the next-next R8 could look like, are absolutely essential.

From what we’ve seen so far from Audi here, along with Porsche and those market disruptors like Tesla, NIO and Rimac, the future of the performance car is still exciting. If a fair bit quieter.

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Audi TT Quattro Sport

Driving four modern classics that made Audi great

Audi TT Quattro Sport

Audi made some of Europe’s most glamorous cars in the 1930s, but faltered in the post-war years and merged with Volkswagen in 1964. The models that followed were, in some cases, little more than rebadged VWs, and Audi had a middle-of-the road image, lacking the sporting pedigree of BMW or upmarket kudos of Mercedes-Benz.

What a difference a few decades makes. Today, Audi is one of motoring’s most-wanted brands, its cars both exceedingly popular and emphatically premium. So, what’s changed? There’s been some clever brand-building, for sure, but the roots of Audi’s renaissance lie in its products.

We cherry-picked four modern classic Audis from the company’s fantastic heritage fleet: the TT Quattro Sport, R8 LMX, Cabriolet and A1 Quattro. Each one is a significant part of the recent Audi story, yet all are decidedly different. Here’s why they matter.

Audi TT Quattro Sport

Audi TT Quattro Sport

“Fire up the… oh, hang on.” This isn’t that red Quattro, but it’s very nearly as cool. The limited-edition Quattro Sport was the last hurrah for the Mk1 TT. Now a sought-after cult classic, just 800 were sold in the UK.

This first TT is still a fabulous piece of design: a rare example of a production car looking better than the concept. Launched in 2005, the Quattro Sport has an S Line bodykit, contrasting black roof, black tailpipes, bespoke 18-inch alloys and red brake calipers. Inside, Alcantara swathes the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, hard-shell Recaros were optional and the – virtually useless – rear seats were binned, replaced by a strut brace and luggage net. Total weight saving is 49kg.

There’s more power, too: the familiar 1.8-litre turbocharged engine gains 15hp for a 240hp total. Driving all four wheels via a six-speed manual ’box, it hits 62mph in a swift 5.9 seconds – 0.3sec quicker than the flagship TT 3.2 V6. Stiffer S line supension and a relocated battery (now in the boot) sharpen up the chassis.

On the road, the Quattro Sport is agile and engaging, with lively steering, a snappy gearshift and confidence-inspiring brakes. It feels more akin to one of today’s 4WD hot hatches than a traditional rear-drive sports car, offering formidable point-and-squirt pace.

Ultimately, a Porsche Cayman delivers a purer driving experience, but the Audi is rarer and feels more exotic. Be quick, though: the Quattro Sport is the most desirable Mk1 TT and values are on the up. Expect to pay £5,500 for a high-miler, rising to around £13,000 for the best of the breed.

Audi R8 LMX

The 2006 R8 was Audi’s answer to the Porsche 911 and, in 550hp V10 guise, arguably Ingolstadt’s first supercar. This R8 is one of the crown jewels of Audi UK’s heritage fleet: a 570hp R8 LMX – number 23 of 99 made.

Like the TT Quattro Sport, the 2015 LMX is a run-out special edition. Costing a hefty £160,025 when new, it came with every virtually option available, including carbon-ceramic brakes, Bang and Olufsen audio and quilted Alcantara headlining. Most were painted Ara Blue, with a front splitter and fixed rear wing in bare carbon fibre.

The LMX also boasted ground-breaking new laser headlights – the first production car to offer this technology as standard. They deliver searing white light and a 600-metre range on high beam: around twice that of LED lamps. A camera system dips the lights automatically when it detects oncoming cars.

Our test-drive was conducted in glorious sunshine, so the LMX’s lasers were somewhat redundant. Fortunately, I made full use of its snarling, naturally-aspirated V10. Revving to 8,500rpm, this remains one of the great modern engines: fantastically responsive and brutally rapid (0-62mph in 3.4sec and 198mph). My only wish was for an open-gate manual gearbox, instead of the paddleshift auto fitted here.

The R8 has already joined the super-sports establishment, and the achingly desirable LMX is the original car at its zenith. Finding one will be a challenge, but the good news is that V8-engined R8s now start from £35,000. That’s a seriously special car for the price of an optioned-up Golf R. Tempted?

Audi Cabriolet

Discussing the Audi Cabriolet without mentioning Princess Diana is like talking about the Reliant Scimitar without mentioning Princess Anne. It simply can’t be done.

Diana’s decision to drive a German car was controversial at the time (what was wrong with a Rover 800?), but it gave the Cabriolet a huge boost. In 1994, sales nearly doubled after Diana was repeatedly photographed by the paparazzi, sometimes with the roof down and the young princes in the back. Inadvertently, she thrust Audi into public consciousness, and helped build the aspirational, upmarket brand we know today.

Many of the cars on Audi’s 50-strong heritage fleet are scarcely run-in, but this 1995 Cabriolet has 152,000 miles under its wheels. Thankfully, it still feels utterly rock-solid: clichéd ‘Teutonic build quality’ present and correct – even if Milton Keynes’ many roundabouts reveal some chassis-flex when cornering.

Indeed, despite its 150hp 2.6-litre V6, the Audi doesn’t like to be rushed. Throttle response is wooly, the steering feels vague and 0-62mph takes a leisurely 10.2 seconds. Better to retract the electric hood, recline the supportive seat and bask in the admiration of onlookers. Two decades on, this is still a great-looking car.

More than simply a footnote in Audi history, the Cabriolet hasn’t yet graduated to classic status – and that means they’re still very affordable. A good one will cost £2,500, while even the best examples are less than £5,000.

Audi A1 Quattro

Audi A1 Quattro

Coolest alloy wheels ever? The rally-style turbines on the 2012 A1 Quattro are certainly in with a shout. This one-of-333 supermini also packs a 256hp punch, with a manual gearbox and, naturally, Quattro four-wheel drive. Even the 231hp S1, launched in 2015, can’t top that.

The A1 Quattro has its steering wheel on the wrong side and cost a wallet-wilting £41,020 when new. No wonder Audi only sold 19 in the UK. Today, however, such rarity is key to the car’s appeal; only the cognoscenti realise what it is. It’s also the reason that A1 Quattros simply haven’t depreciated. Assuming you can find one, expect to pay near-as-dammit list price.

In terms of oily bits, the uber-A1 is essentially an S3, with a 2.0-litre TFSI engine that delivers 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and 152mph flat-out. Audi ditched the A1’s torsion beam rear suspension for the S3’s four-link axle, making substantial modifications to the floorpan and fitting a new, saddle-style fuel tank. Standard equipment was comprehensive, including leather trim, sat nav and a Bose audio system.

Unsurprisingly, the A1 is fiercely quick across-country. A neutral and forgiving chassis, combined with limpet-like grip and Quattro traction, means you can take huge liberties with cornering speeds. The engine is obviously turbocharged (it doesn’t fully wake up until nigh-on 4,000rpm), but there’s much fun to be had in riding that wave of boost. Shame the suspension is too stiff for broken British B-roads.

For most, the S1 is a far better option: cheaper, more comfortable and almost as quick. But the A1 Quattro showed Audi could do limited-run, hardcore hot hatches just as well as parent-company Volkswagen. It’s not a rational purchase, but the most interesting cars rarely are.

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2016 Audi R8 Spyder review: open-air V10 thunder

2016 Audi R8 Spyder review: open-air V10 thunder

2016 Audi R8 Spyder review: open-air V10 thunder

Soft-top supercars aren’t for everyone. Floppier and slower than their coupe counterparts, some petrolheads value crucial tenths of a second on the 0-62mph run over the ability to enjoy the sun without a roof blocking its rays.

But for those of us who want to make the most of a barking V10, Audi has launched a soft-top ‘Spyder’ version of its R8 supercar. And we’ve been to Spain to try it out.

Revealed at New York

First revealed at this year’s New York Auto Show in March, we’ve finally got behind the wheel of the R8 Spyder before deliveries start in December. Essentially the same as the coupe, Audi has resisted the urge to fit a retractable hard-top to the open R8.

Why does it use a soft-top?

Using a fabric roof rather than a clever retractable hard-top might seem a strange move for a car that costs close to £130,000. But it’s all about those crucial kilos – the R8 Spyder weighs 1,612kg. While you’d certainly feel it running over your toe, it’s only 17kg more than the coupe. That’s the equivalent of carrying a four-year-old passenger.

Hit me with some figures

Hit me with some figures

So the stats: that wonderful naturally-aspirated 5.2-litre V10 produces 540hp and will propel the R8 Spyder to 62mph in 3.6 seconds. That’s a tenth of a second slower than the coupe. Meanwhile, it maxes out at 197mph (2mph slower than the hard-top).

It’s a bit slower then?

Yes, it’s marginally slower than the coupe on paper. But in reality? You’re really not going to notice the difference. At any revs, mash the accelerator and the R8 Spyder surges forward as you’re pushed back into your seat. Push it more and you start to worry that your insides are being left behind. It’s fast.

Does it sound good?

An advantage of chopping the roof off is being able to hear that naturally-aspirated V10 do its business. The sound is incredible: a satisfying ‘bwaaaaarrrrppp’ as you work through the gears (using the steering wheel paddles is equally satisfying). Lift off, with the ‘Dynamic’ Drive Select mode, er, selected, and the exhaust in sporty mode, and it’ll make pops and bangs and cracks. It’s brilliant, but could scare elderly people and children.

Can I still hear the radio?

Can I still hear the radio?

Our test car was fitted with the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system, which uses speakers in the headrests to make sure you can always hear your favourite tunes. It sounds brilliant, even above the noise of the engine popping and banging.

Tell me about the four-wheel-drive system

The R8 uses Audi’s Quattro four-wheel-drive system, with power going to all four wheels via a seven-speed S tronic paddleshift gearbox. Drivers can toggle between modes in the Drive Select menu.

How good is it at stopping?

As standard, the R8 Spyder comes with 365mm brake discs on the front and 356mm on the rear. The stopping power’s more than adequate, despite the weight (and performance) of the R8. If you’re planning to take it on track days, you can opt for carbon ceramics.

Will it drift?

Will it drift?

If you wish, you can opt for 100% of the R8’s power to go to the rear wheels. While we’ve got no doubt some spirited driving on track could get the back end out, in real-life driving conditions it feels very planted. Which is a good thing, most of the time.

Is it practical?

With just two seats, the Audi R8 doesn’t even pretend to be a practical family car. But if there’s just two of you, the cabin is easily comfortable for a pleasant European road trip. You’ll have to pack light to fit your luggage in the boot, mind: there’s just 112-litres of space in there.

It’s really easy to drive

The lovely thing about the Audi R8 Spyder is, despite its immense capabilities, it’s not at all intimidating to drive. We had the pleasure of threading it through Barcelona’s rush-hour traffic, and it felt just as happy as a TT or even an A4. Even a supercar virgin could drive this every day.

But that means it could feel a tiny bit more special

But that means it could feel a tiny bit more special

Yup, it’s a common trait of fast Audis. They’re always incredibly quick, but not quite as special or emotional as rivals from, say, Ferrari. But the latest R8 Spyder does excite us more than its predecessor, and it attracts a huge amount of attention. You’re not going to go unnoticed in one.

And it is a bit wide

At 1,940mm wide, the R8 Spyder is 60mm wider than a 911 Turbo and 36mm wider than its predecessor. On the right roads, cliche alert, it does shrink around you, but you are aware of its width in traffic.

Can I get an R8 Spyder Plus?

Although you can get the regular R8 in ‘Plus’ guise, packing an extra 70hp and hitting 62mph in 3.2 seconds, Audi hasn’t suggested it’ll offer a hotter Spyder model. Frankly, the regular one is fast enough for us.

What are its rivals?

What are its rivals?

The Audi R8 Spyder is squaring up against the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which starts at £135,766 and matches the R8 for power. It hits 62mph half a second quicker, but many will prefer the R8’s image to the almost drab 911.

And there’s the Lamborghini…

There’s also the technically-very-similar Lamborghini Huracan Spyder, which shares the Audi’s platform and engine. That’s got more power, though (610hp) but it’ll cost you a staggering £205,000. We’d take the Audi.

Will it cost a fortune to run?

It goes without saying, if you’re looking at buying a V10 supercar, you’re going to need deep pockets to run it. But comparatively, the R8 does OK on the green front. Cylinder-on-demand tech has helped to reduce CO2 emissions by 10.6% compared to its predecessor, while fuel economy is improved by 13.7%.

Tell me more

Tell me more

Officially, the Audi R8 Spyder will return 24.1mpg and emit 277g/km CO2. That’s thirstier than the 911 Turbo, which returns 30.4mpg, while the £115,485 Jaguar F-Type SVR convertible is good for 25mpg. But, well, who cares?

Should I buy one?

If you’ve got a spare £130,000 to splash on a two-seat soft-top, we’d be heading straight to our nearest Audi dealer. Sure, the Porsche badge might have a little more cachet, but the incredible capability of the R8 Spyder, combined with its usability, means we’d be very happy to give one a home.

Audi R8

Audi R8 V10 Plus review: 2015 first drive

Savage new Audi R8 must take on the Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and McLaren 570S.

Audi R8

Audi likes to refer to the R8 is its ‘hero car’. It’s the range topper that stops people in their tracks, and helps convince them that an Audi is the car for them, even if they end up buying an A3.

This second generation car is genuinely all-new. There’s an aluminium chassis, as before, but this time the alloy is abutted with structural carbon fibre sections that help bring the weight down. Power is from a revised 5.2-litre V10, with either 540hp, or 610hp in the R8 V10 Plus.

The 4.2 V8 of the earlier R8s has gone, but there will be an all-electric version in the future. The R8 e-tron promises a range of up to 280 miles with performance close to that of the V10.

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There’s more than a notional link to Lamborghini’s recent £180,000 Huracan here; the V10 engine is all-but identical. Which means, surely, that with the technology Audi throws at the R8, it has to be at least as good, doesn’t it?

And for a full-blooded supercar, the R8 seems pretty fair value. The V10 is £119,500, the V10 Plus, with its extra power, large fixed rear wing and ceramic brakes, £134,500. Obviously, being an Audi, you still have to pay extra for things that are standard on a £10k Kia, like cruise control or an ashtray. Some things never change.

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Audi R8 V10 Plus: On the road

Forget the performance figures for the moment, and consider this. The R8 is one of the last remaining mid-engined supercars that is neither turbocharged nor supercharged. That’s important, because naturally aspirated cars sound better, and the R8 V10 Plus sounds simply gorgeous.

It’s a benign tourer when you need it, burbling along, the gears shifting smoothly with a delightful variation in sound levels to accompany each change. Then, with the oh-so-necessary sports exhaust system, you can switch into crackle-and-pop mode for extra aural fun.

All of this can take place at sane driving speeds, which is great when you can’t make use of the acceleration to 62mph of 3.2 seconds, or the 205mph top speed. But stick the shift lever into Sport, select Dynamic on the steering wheel button, and all hell breaks loose.

The first time you floor the throttle could even be alarming. There’s a short but perceptible pause, while the transmission decides it needs to shift down two, three, even four gears, then a wall of noise and acceleration as the R8 lunges forward towards the horizon. It’s not quite the civilised approach we were expecting from this Audi.

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The better way is to treat the R8 with a bit more respect, feed the throttle in less dramatically and then enjoy what is a still a very rapid machine. There’s much to play with, control-wise, too, with settings for comfort and dynamic driving modes, plus an extra Performance setting on the V10 Plus. These change the parameters for steering, transmission, exhaust flaps and more.

My major quibble is with the paddle shifts. They are so seductive to use that, even in auto, it’s nice to slip down a gear or two as you approach a roundabout or tight bend. Trouble is, it’s then stuck in manual mode forever more, unless you knock it back to auto. Cheaper Audis do this for you. I much prefer that logic.

Should you choose, you can appear like a Le Mans star and your passenger won’t even notice. Stick the R8 into Sport mode and the automatic transmission quick-shifts up and down the gears with a professional sounding blip of the throttle that makes you look like a pro.

Quattro four-wheel-drive makes the R8 feel very sure-footed on the most rain-drenched roads, and it’s now more sophisticated than ever, with variable torque control to the wheels. There’s electric power steering too, yet this shed-load of electronics does nothing to lessen the driving enjoyment. It’s safe, approachable and very entertaining.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: On the inside

Supercar interiors need a couple of key ingredients. Bespoke fittings and a great deal of drama. Porsche doesn’t crack it with the 911 (no drama) and neither did Mercedes with the SLS (too many parts from the B-Class). The Audi R8 is nearly there, though.

It’s modern, classy and interesting, with a myriad of buttons and controls  – with an extra dose on the special flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s fitted to the V10 Plus. It compares very favourably with the well-worn tradition of the 911, even though this is still very obviously an Audi interior.

The ‘virtual cockpit’ that first saw the light of day in the latest TT is fitted here as standard, and what a delightful piece of technology this is. Scrolling between a variety of liquid-crystal display screens is easy, with a fantabulous map display one of the options placed right in front of the driver.

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The test cars were fitted with the sports seat option, heavily bucketed and very firm, perfect for the racetrack but possibly too unyielding for everyday use.  It’s a surprise that seat adjustment is largely manual rather than electric, although it’s easy and saves much weight and cost.

Another option is the magnetic suspension, an intelligent way to adjust the dampers almost instantaneously, to give a comfortable ride when you want it, but much firmer suspension when you are driving quickly. This technology is well established in Audis and seemingly gives you the best of every world.

At night there are LED headlights and tail-lights, with the option of laser main beams. Think you don’t need lasers for your headlights? You might change your mind once you driven behind these monsters.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Running costs

Supercars with credibility hold their value pretty well, or at least that’s what the industry would have us believe. Audi has some independent predictions that show the new R8 will be a touch better than its rivals, although even then you could end up losing £75,000 on the highly optioned £154k V10 Plus we were driving.

The lower weight, engine revisions – one bank of cylinders will close down in certain circumstances to save fuel – and freewheeling mode, cut the CO2 by 12% and improve economy by one to three mpg. You are still going to find it hard to better 20mpg much of the time, though.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Verdict

Everything adds up. The Audi R8 V10 Plus takes the style of the original then toughens up its stance and attitude. It’s devastatingly fast, reassuringly secure, and as easy to drive as your Audi company car. If you are bored by the Porsche 911, it is the obvious default choice.

And yet. If you are the sort of person who chooses an Illy coffee machine over the ubiquitous Nespresso, or a Maserati Ghibli over an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series, you will look at the competition and, maybe, come up with an alternative. The new McLaren 570S, the Mercedes AMG GT , and even the venerable Aston Martin V12 Vantage all offer thrills in more edgy packages at a similar price. We’d find the decision very hard indeed.

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2016 Audi R8 V10 Plus: Specifications

Engine: 5.2-litre V10

Price: £134,500

Power: 610hp

Torque: 413lb ft (760Nm)

0-62mph: 3.2 seconds

Top speed: 205mph (300km/h)

Fuel economy: 23.0mpg (12.3l/100km)

CO2 emissions: 287g/km

 

Audi R8

New Audi R8 to cost from £119,500 in UK

Audi R8 Audi has announced the new R8 supercar will cost from £119,500 when ordering opens in the UK from May 2015.
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Audi R8 2015

New Audi R8 revealed ahead of 2015 Geneva debut

Audi R8 2015Audi has revealed the first official image of the all-new R8 supercar set to debut at the 2015 Geneva Motor ShowRead more

New 2015 Audi R8

New Audi R8 to debut at 2015 Geneva Motor Show

New 2015 Audi R8Audi will reveal the new R8 supercar at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show – and has uncovered the laser headlights of the new car.  Read more