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?

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - OL­LIE KEW

“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

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