BMW’s classiest tuners work their thoughtful magic on the ultimate diesel X3
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Computer game makes the leap into real life, then? More than that. This is the first real world Vision Gran Turismo car that shares an exact mechanical package with the car in the game. So, in theory, it should be the same to drive. That package, in case you missed our news story, involves three electric motors (one on the front axle, two on the rear), each developing 272bhp, for a combined 815bhp. The chassis is a super-strong steel spaceframe and thanks to some suitably hefty battery packs, the whole thing weighs in at 1,450kg. It’s padded out with various motorsport bits (DTM ceramic brakes and steering wheel, fat 305-width slick tyres, other bits from the R8 GT3 programme) that lend it an air of credibility and make you wonder how much of a future tech test bed it might be. Is it a future tech test bed? Audi says not, but when I assume the batteries and electric motors are from the Formula E racer, Christian Koch, the VGT’s Technical Project manager puts me in my place. “All I can tell you is that they’re from our development programme, not our Formula E car”. Which is a way of saying it’s future tech from either the road or race programs that they don’t want to fully disclose. Anyway, a power-to-weight ratio of 562bhp/tonne puts this in the McLaren 720S league, and Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 2.5secs. It’s had a long gestation, this VGT – Audi’s been working on it for over four years, and I suspect the timing of this release has been done to tee up the unveiling of Audi’s first electric production car, the e-tron quattro, towards the end of August. Strategic thinking. And it’s going to tie in with the Formula E races isn’t it? Yep, more strategic thinking. It’ll be seen at each Formula E race this year, doing demo laps, the first appearance being in Rome this coming weekend. But of course it hasn’t had to obey any race regulations (other than the fact it’s had to be fitted with a roll cage designed and manufactured by the same firm we can blame for F1’s halo), which means the designers could go wild. Only they didn’t… No, instead Audi gave it a more familiar design language – the rear windows are pretty much exactly the same as the RS5’s, for instance – but exterior designer Andreas Krüger was also heavily influenced by the 1989 Audi 80 IMSA GTO car. As far as I’m concerned that’s the single greatest, wildest Audi ever conceived, so I can forgive any other transgressions when there are clearly familiar themes to the livery and haunches. He did his work first and then the engineers worked on propping up his bodywork with a chassis and drivetrain. Then, once they decided they were actually going to build it in anything more than quarter scale, another level of resource was thrown at the project. Aerodynamicists got involved, and so the rear wing grew in size to help balance out the downforce front to rear and work with the 49:51 weight distribution.
Can you detect the downforce working? Not really. It’s important to remember that this is a one off and hasn’t had the full motorsport treatment, so the final package is still more designer-led. And the cabin isn’t the same as the one in the game. That’s a lot more… finished. Getting in is very race car – the doors are thin carbon and can only be closed properly from outside, the sill is massively wide, the dash covered in felt flocking and the windscreen a long way off and providing only a modest view out. The steering wheel is tiny and filled with toggles and buttons that – apparently – have no relevance to me. The ignition flicks on, then a separate switch activates the power steering (cue much whining), and then down on the floor by my hips there’s a prosaic push button PRND layout. Press D, you engage the single-speed transmission and off you go. Is it fast? Yes, although I’m not convinced it was delivering the full ticket 815bhp. Audi’s Neuberg test track near Ingolstadt suits it well – lots of slow corners for the e-motors to deliver instant shove out of – and sure enough it does get a zap on in the first few yards of straight line travel. But as we’ve found with other electric cars such as the Tesla Model S, once up to 90, 100mph, the acceleration tails off. This feels about as rapid as a P100D, but no more than that. But any more acceleration could have been troubling. It takes time to get heat into the ceramic brakes, and time is one thing I don’t have much of. Three laps of fast running is my lot, before we have to slow down to cool the system. By the end of that time the brakes are only just beginning to get some bite and power. On the first lap stopping power had been less than acceleration poke… How’s the handling? More impressive. The steering is accurate and the fat 305-width slicks (same size all round) have good bite into corners. GT3 racer Rahel Frey who had the misfortune of being my passenger said the tendency is to understeer when you get to the grip limits. I’ll take her word for it. The sensation you get from driving is of a good bolt of acceleration pinning you back, some concerning brake performance when you try to stop and then your confidence restored on turn in. The man driving the car before me was a chap called before Kazunori Yamauchi. Yes, him. The man who created Gran Turismo. Afterwards we had a chat – he’d driven it a month earlier and said the advances made since were significant, that it now feels more precise and has much better stability. Does it drive the same in the game? Is exactly what I asked him. Yes, apparently, although I suspect a bit more in-game engineering has been done to tune the noise, handling, power delivery and so on. Anyone out there give me some feedback on how the digital car drives? As far as the real car goes, it actually sounds best when you’re outside, as you get the electric whine blended with the noise of ripped air. That rear spoiler does create a large amount of disturbance. And that, you get the feeling, is the aim of the whole car – to get people out there used to the idea of an all-electric Audi. Job done. Images: Rowan Horncastle