Audi PB18 e-tron
Two generations of R8 e-tron sank withoutwit trace. Can this 750bhp shooting brake become Audi’s plug-in supercar phoenix?
“If at first you don’t succeed, stop thinking logically and draw something so white-hot radical it burns a hole straight through the middle of the drawing board and lands, still smouldering, on the floor.” It’s not official, but we can assume that’s the brief at Audi’s ‘Design Loft’ in Malibu, California, which has dreamt up this electric hyper-estate inspired by Audi’s dominant decade in Le Mans racing. This 23rd-century rollerskate is the Audi PB18 e-tron.
Ignore the underwhelming name with initials referring to the car’s unveiling at the Pebble Beach festival of brightly dyed corduroy and champagne pricier than liquid platinum. Concentrate instead on details like a low, mid-mounted 95kWh solidstate battery, capable of accepting a 310-mile charge in 15 minutes, thanks to 800-volt charging. Or, if you’re less stung by range anxiety, a claimed 0–62mph sprint of two seconds flat. That comes courtesy of three electric motors: one shared between the front wheels, and one each for the rears, developing a combined 661bhp, but capable of short ‘overboost’ spurts up to 753bhp. So far, so ‘generic electric supercar concept study’.
What makes the PB18 different is its love for you. Yes, you. The driver. Audi wants you to enjoy yourself. This is the first battery-powered hyperpod we can remember which doesn’t twin its bowel-bothering urgency with visions of a self-driving, computer-controlled utopia. There’s none of that ‘you enjoy the twisties, then let the microchips take over for the commute’ rhetoric. In fact, Audi says the skunkworks codename for the PB18 was Level Zero, to ram home the fact it couldn’t be further in philosophy from the Level 4/ Level 5 grades of self-driving autonomy it’s currently scrambling to offer in flagship models.
Should’ve stuck with Level Zero, Loft-scribblers. It’s better than PB18. Unless you fetishise accurate private numberplates.
So, there are no self-driving guardian angels on board. But you can alter how you experience the ultimate in Vorsprung durch Elektrisch – as long as you’re happy to trust a machine with no mechanical connection whatsoever between its brake pedal and the carbon discs, nor its steering wheel and those 22-inch front tyres. Thanks to the wonders of drive-by-wire, Audi’s designed the entire cockpit of the PB18 to slide from stage left to dead centre. Bucket seat, pedals, steering wheel and OLED head-up display – which overlays the ideal racing line on circuit into your field of view, or satnav directions on the way home into your eyeline – all shuffle as one. Get the full singleseater racecar experience, or ride side-saddle with space for a passenger via a flip-down jump seat.
Audi might have hit on something with the ultra-flexible cabin idea. Despite being Aventadorsized, this is a practical supercar. The shooting brake tail – home to an extending rear wing and drooping diffuser which morphs closer to the road to generate more downforce – allows for a 470-litre boot, not far off what an A4 wagon musters.
There’s a Professor Brian Cox brain’s-worth of physics going on too: magnetic conductive charging, corner-hungry torque-vectoring, laser headlights and so many lightweight construction elements the car only weighs 1,550kg 550kg – Lotus-like for a full EV. Yet beneath eath it all, it’s intended to be a selfish, skill-rewarding driverthriller. And (unlike the R8 e-tron) it deserves to become science-fact. Third time lucky...
Sliding cockpit concept not yet ready for right-hand drive. TG readies spanners
Face treatment clearly inspired by Iron Man. And Willem Dafoe
Audi’s been producing e-tron concepts since ’09. The first-gen R8 e-tron was quickly canned in 2013 due to disappointing range. The MkII R8 launched with a 456bhp ’leccy version, but fewer than 100 of the $1m special-order EVs were ever built
Shock Audi product placement in Star Wars dogfight confirmed