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Frankfurt Motor Show

Audi's E-tron Quattro aims for the Tesla Model X with 503bhp and video mirrors

Plenty of show car sheen, but Audi says the production version of its electric crossover will change little from this E-tron concept

Published: 15 Sep 2015

Video mirrors? Check. Implausible electric drivetrain? Check. Coupe-crossover bodywork? Check. Humungous shiny alloys? Check.

Yep, it's got all the usual gloss of a concept car, and these things tend to get rapidly buried by history and dull reality. But not this time. Audi promises this E-tron Quattro concept is a deadly serious preview of a production car for 2018.

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Its electric drivetrain is an absolute stonker. It has two electric motors, one for each end. With a combined 503bhp of electric power, Audi claims 4.6 seconds for 0-62mph, and a top speed of 131mph (electric motors get inefficient at very high speeds). If you can refrain from using it that hard, the gentle-foot electric range is 500km, or 310 miles. And with 480-volt rapid charging, a 30-minute zap would see the E-tron set for 250 miles.

Audi's development chief Ulrich Hackenberg insisted to Top Gear that this is all realistic. In contrast to Porsche's electric Mission E concept (which sucks 800v), the Audi uses 480-volt charging because that's what's becoming available. "We want to be on the market in 2018. By that time there will be 400 charge points on the German Autobahn network at that voltage. We are following the main infrastructure."

That number is bigger than Tesla's planned supercharger network. The two sorts of charger are incompatible. In general, Hackenberg says he's not scared of Tesla, nor its upcoming Model X crossover. "Our customers are asking for this car. Tesla has prepared the market. It's always good to have competition."

I ask him why Audi's first purpose-built electric car is a crossover, when a low-set saloon or coupe would have been lighter and more efficient.

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"For us technicians, a super-slippery sports car type would have been easier. But the marketing people said no. SUVs are important in all markets. An SUV would be a guaranteed success. But an SUV is harder because it has more drag and weight and needs a bigger battery."

The concept's battery capacity is 95kWh, similar to the biggest that Tesla offers. The battery pack is a flat rectangle under the whole cabin floor. Hackenberg says the pack is designed to be filled with Tesla-type cylindrical cells, or the flat cells the A3 E-tron uses, or pouch cells – whichever are better or cheaper at the time. The car doesn't need 480v charging; it can use normal chargers, but filling such a vast battery would be painfully slow.

To help lower its drag, the E-tron concept has active bonnet louvres to let cooling air through the body only when needed. There's also active aero for the rear spoiler and diffuser.

The Cd is just 0.25, not far off the ultra-slippery new A4. Lipstick-camera mirrors pop out from the front wings, and Hackenberg says it's likely they will make production, because they were in fitted to the VW XL1. "If they don't make it, we can put wood trim in place of their screens in the doors…"

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All the driver's display screens are curved OLED jobs. OLEDs are also used for the headlights for the first time. The whole thing is jammed with driver aids, aiming it towards what Audi calls 'piloted driving'.

In fact, the launch event was buzzword bingo babylon: Audi executives used the phrases 'big data', 'self-learning', 'cloud connect' and 'swarm intelligence'.

Oh and sorry, we were kidding about the vast shiny wheels. Not for production. But the rest of it? Hackenberg says so.

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