We took a quick look at the all-new Audi R8 in our Geneva Motor Show exotic car photo gallery, but the new supercar is definitely worth a deeper dive. That's because beyond the basic styling and engineering refresh, there's an all-new R8 model: the 455-hp (340-kW) e-tron. On paper, Audi's electric sports car bests Tesla with a claimed 279.6-mile (450-km) range and performance to match. Take a look at the world's latest high-performance EV, along with the new R8 V10 models.
The e-tron cometh
Back in 2009, Audi positioned itself to be among the first green sports car innovators when it revealed the 313-hp e-tron concept car. The car wasn't quite as impressive performance-wise as hyper-hybrids like the Porsche 918 Spyder or McLaren P1, but it debuted months before the 918 and years before the P1. It also used a purely electric powertrain to deliver impressive, if not world-beating, performance, instead of going the route of supplementing a high-horsepower gas engine with electric motor power.
For the next few years, it looked like Tesla was on the verge of getting some serious German competition. Audi followed its 2009 show car with a thoroughly revised 2010 Detroit e-tron concept, and the e-tron designation quickly became Audi shorthand for concept cars with electric motors, most interesting of which was probably the e-tron Spyder from the 2010 Paris Motor Show. That same year, Audi confirmed plans to develop a limited production R8-based e-tron sports car to see the road by late 2012. That launch never happened, and by 2013, word had changed to "Audi scraps the e-tron sports car because of its dissatisfaction with the driving ranges of its research cars."
Audi vowed to apply what it'd learned from its R8 e-tron development program toward its production line. It also worked the e-tron label into reality, both on the race track and in production form as the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid. It was nice that the name got life, but a hybrid hatchback was a far cry from an all-electric R8 performance sports car.
Last year, new reports suggested that Audi was back at it, working on a new R8 e-tron. At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month, it all come to fruition ... in a rather quiet, low-fanfare way. Tucked toward the bottom of a fairly long R8 press release is a short section on the e-tron. Given the years of on again/off again hype, we would have expected an entire press release devoted to it, or at least top billing. Instead it was left fighting for the bottom of the announcement, beating a brief description of the new R8 LMS race car and fuel consumption footnotes while losing out to a description of the new production facility. We right that wrong for our own article by putting the R8 e-tron where it belongs.
Audi has addressed its range reservations with a T-shaped 92-kWh battery pack, a significant bump in onboard juice when compared with the 49-kWh battery of the original R8 e-tron development car. Audi says the new high-voltage battery is based on improved lithium-ion technology developed specifically for use in electric cars. The resulting energy density of 154 Wh/kg makes Audi comfortable estimating the R8 e-tron's range at an impressive 279.6 miles (450 km), well over double the range Audi was looking at during its first R8 e-tron project. If that estimate proves true on the street, the e-tron could leave about 10 mile markers (16 km) between itself and the ice cold Tesla Model S 85D (the highest driving-range Model S trim) resting powerless in the rearview.
The R8 e-tron's performance isn't quite as impressive as the new Model S P85D, but it does top all other Model S trim levels in the quick, spirited acceleration and power departments. With two rear-mounted motors combining for 456 hp (340 kW) and 679 lb-ft (920 Nm), the e-tron bolts to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 3.9 seconds. Audi cuts speed electronically to a Tesla-like 155.3 mph (250 km/h). Torque vectoring adjusts power transmission between the rear wheels as necessary for stability and handling.
Audi also addresses the issue of long charging times with its Combined Charging System (CCS), which uses direct and alternating current to charge the battery in under two hours. The R8 e-tron is based on the new Audi Space Frame and includes a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic trunk structure with corrugated walls designed for superior impact absorption with less weight. The aero-enhanced wheels and body deliver a drag coefficient of 0.28.
In addition to selling the R8 e-tron to a select number of interested buyers, Audi hints at using it to spin off another e-tron derivative. "The findings from the R8 e-tron help in creating a vehicle with a sedan character," it says.
Second-generation R8 V10 and V10 plus
The R8 e-tron is the biggest powertrain news on paper, but right behind that is the disappearance of the V8 option. The new ICE-driven R8 is offered as a 5.2-liter V10 FSI only, in tune options of 540 hp (R8 V10) and 610 hp (R8 V10 plus). The latter accelerates to 62 mph in a lively 3.2 seconds, well before reaching a top-end speed just over 205 mph (330 km/h).
A seven-speed S tronic transmission and newly developed quattro permanent AWD system distribute torque to the wheels. The car uses a rear mechanical differential lock and an electrohydraulic multi-plate clutch on the front axle in place of the Visco clutch on the outgoing R8. This set-up allows it to smoothly and continuously vary torque distribution from 100 percent rear-directed all the way to 100 percent front-directed, depending upon driving conditions.
"With the new Audi R8, our engineers are bringing accumulated racing expertise from the race track onto the road," explains Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi board member for technical development. "No other model of ours evokes more dynamic emotion, none is closer to a race car. The new R8 V10 plus is the most powerful and fastest series-production Audi of all time."
As far as fuel consumption goes, Audi estimates combined numbers of 19 and 19.9 US mpg (12.4 and 11.8 l/100 km) for the R8 V10 plus and R8 V10, respectively, with emissions estimated at 289 and 275 g/km (465.1 and 442.6 g/mi). Those numbers are helped out by a cylinder deactivation system, indirect injection, new start-stop and open-clutch coasting mode.
As you probably noticed in the photos, the new R8 is still recognizable as an R8 thanks to its wide, low stance; rolling curves; cabin-forward, mid-engine profile; and contrast side blades. The side blades have been toned down over the first-gen R8, and instead of rising all the way to meet the upper door frame, they are split, with the lower half being contained within the sculpted flanks and the upper half framed with the window. It seems that Ingolstadt designers found a compromise for the polarized factions that either hated the side blades or found them an irreplaceable part of the R8's identity.
The car's face can be characterized in much the "same but different" way. The new design keeps the big, bold intakes below the headlamps, but Audi has nipped and tucked the face into a tauter, more angular design with sharp, trapezoidal LED headlamps, a hexagonal honeycomb grille and vertical fins over the top of the mesh intakes. Audi's laser high beams are available as an option. The bulbous hood gets a tad extra definition courtesy of the more sharply defined fenders.
Out back, there's a bit less of a trunk lid, sending the roofline dropping closer to the rear fascia. As in the outgoing R8, the rear fascia is angled forward and includes vents just below the taillamps. The vents change over from a horizontal slat design to a honeycomb mesh, matching those up front, albeit without the fins. The tailpipes have been stretched out into trapezoids. The R8 has an electrically activated rear spoiler, while the R8 V10 plus has a fixed CFRP wing.
The e-tron shares some of those major changes, such as the split side blades and reshaped headlamps, but it has some visual diversions that separate it from the V10 models. It maintains a more familiar set of slatted front intakes and rear vents. It also has a unique grill and wheel design and a heavily vented hood.
Below the R8's new aluminum skin lies a reformulated aluminum-carbon fiber Audi Space Frame, helping the new R8 weigh in at up to 110 pounds (50 kg) lighter than its predecessor. The R8 V10 plus has a listed dry weight of 3,205.5 lb (1,454 kg). The new R8 measures 14.5 x 6.4 x 4.1 feet (4.42 x 1.94 x 1.24 m) and rides on a wheelbase measuring 8.7 feet (2.65 m). That's very close to the first-gen R8's 14.6 x 6.25 x 4.1-ft dimensions, 8.7-ft wheelbase.
The R8's 19-in or 20-in wheels are all cushioned by aluminum double wishbones, and Audi offers adaptively controlled magnetic ride shock absorbers as an option. The driver controls ride and road feel by way of the dynamic handling system, which adjusts settings for the engine, steering, transmission, quattro AWD and other systems and components according to four modes: comfort, auto, dynamic and individual. The V10 plus also includes a push-button performance mode, which tailors driving dynamics to dry, wet or snowy conditions, selectable via a rotary dial. The performance mode is available optionally on the standard R8 V10.
Inside, the new R8 is part race car, part high-tech, digital-age machine. The race car influence comes in the form of a performance-focused, driver-centric design that puts full control into the driver's hands without the need for those hands to stray from the steering wheel. Tech-wise, the R8 features Audi's 12.3-in virtual cockpit taking the role of both the instrument panel and MMI infotainment display on the outgoing R8. The virtual cockpit delivers specific information based on drive mode and driver preferences, including navigation mapping, traditional gauges and infotainment. Operation is handled via steering wheel or center console controls. Occupants can expand infotainment by connecting a smartphone or tablet via the integrated LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.
New Böllinger Höfe plant
Audi will begin sales of the new R8 in the summer of 2015. The R8 V10 will start at €165,000 (approx. US$181,000), while the V10 plus will base in at €187,400 (US$205,600). Audi did not release pricing information for the R8 e-tron, saying simply that the car will be available later this year upon customer request. R8 production will take place at the new 323,000-sq ft (30,000-sq m) Böllinger Höfe manufacturing facility of quattro GmbH, Audi's high-performance arm.
R8 LMS race car
Audi's motorsport and R8 production car development teams have been working closely together in readying both the R8 road car and all-new R8 LMS race car, which also made an appearance at the Geneva Motor Show and will make its racing debut at the VLN Endurance Championship Nürburgring this weekend.
The R8 LMS GT3 car shares about 50 percent of its parts with the production R8, including a virtually identical V10 engine tuned to 585 hp. Audi plans to spend this year putting it through the paces before starting sales to customer teams next year.