The fu­ture of the sports car? It’s EV

More than mere eye candy, these con­cepts from Audi and Mercedes pre­view some as­ton­ish­ing all-elec­tric fu­ture flag­ships

CAR (UK) - - Contents - Words Ge­org Kacher

THE AUDI PB18 and Mercedes EQ Sil­ver Ar­row might look like two in­trigu­ing con­cepts, but they’re far more than that. Each is cen­tral to its maker’s elec­tric fu­ture – the PB18 takes in­spi­ra­tion from Audi’s Le Mans-win­ning R18 and could be the way ahead for the R8 su­per­car, while the EQ could well evolve into the halo car of Mercedes’ en­tire elec­tric EQ range. As if Elon didn’t have enough to worry about…

SO WHAT EX­ACTLY IS GO­ING ON HERE? Mercedes’s EQ Sil­ver Ar­row con­cept – re­vealed at Peb­ble Beach – is if noth­ing else a stun­ning one-off eye-catcher to demon­strate the po­ten­tial of the newly founded elec­tric EQ divi­sion. It’s a trib­ute to Mercedes’ most ex­treme his­toric ul­tra-low-drag sin­gle-seater, the W125 that es­tab­lished a 269mph speed record on a Ger­man au­to­bahn in 1938 (see panel, right). While its an­ces­tor was pow­ered by a su­per­charged 5.6-litre V12, the wildest EQ creation yet boasts elec­tric mo­tors good for an ag­gre­gate 738bhp. The 2018 Sil­ver Ar­row sports full-width head- and tail lights and a va­ri­ety of driver aids – it’s not far from be­ing street le­gal.

The Audi PB18 is sev­eral steps closer to re­al­ity. Con­ceived in Audi’s Mal­ibu ‘de­sign loft’ un­der US de­sign direc­tor Gael Buzyn, the strik­ing two-seater re­sem­bles a re­skinned R8 e-tron, a project gunned down twice by man­age­ment (see page 98). The po­ten­tial plug-in ver­sion of Audi’s only true sports car is not a coupe or road­ster but a shoot­ing brake.

IS THE MERCEDES PIE IN THE SKY?

No roof, no place for lug­gage and no crea­ture com­forts are three clear in­di­ca­tions that the Benz is likely to re­main a one-off. It’s the world’s long­est sin­gle-seater, mea­sur­ing 5300mm from tip to toe, and just shy of the MercedesMay­bach limou­sine. The dis­tance be­tween the rear axle and the ped­al­box ex­ceeds the to­tal length of a Smart ForTwo, and it is a mere one me­tre high. The only weather pro­tec­tion for the driver is a low slant-back wind­screen – and the crash hel­met you’d need to wear.

In­te­grated in the trail­ing edge of the road­ster are a finned

THE MERC’S ELEC­TRIC MO­TORS ARE GOOD FOR 738BHP, AND ITS

BAT­TERY FOR 250 MILES

dif­fuser and two ac­tive spoil­ers that dou­ble as air brakes. From be­hind, the Mercedes looks like the Bat­mo­bile rein­vented. So, yes, there is an el­e­ment of pie in the sky.

But don’t for­get that Mercedes put the SLS Elec­tric Drive into highly lim­ited pro­duc­tion in 2013, and we know AMG has com­pleted pre­lim­i­nary fea­si­bil­ity work on an all-elec­tric hy­per­car, so the idea of a high-speed whis­per­liner is still alive and kick­ing. And the EQ’s pow­er­train is far from out­landish these days: its 738bhp comes from two elec­tric mo­tors, en­ergy is pro­vided by an 80kWh bat­tery pack, and there’s a claimed 250 miles of range. To be com­mer­cially vi­able, though, such a zero-emis­sion ve­hi­cle would need two seats and a slip­pery coupe body.

A pro­duc­tion car in­spired by the EQ Sil­ver Ar­row would be far from an es­sen­tial part of the pro­duc­tion line-up, but as soon as the first EQ S sa­loon ar­rives in 2020-21 (a year or two after the EQ C elec­tric SUV pre­viewed on p102), the idea of an elec­tric halo model could eas­ily gain mo­men­tum.

WHAT MAKES THE AUDI SO VI­ABLE?

The Audi’s im­pact on fu­ture mod­els is more di­rect: since the ex­ist­ing R8 su­per­car will def­i­nitely not re­turn for a third gen­er­a­tion, the re­mark­ably co­her­ent all-elec­tric con­cept may re­place the sports car in 2021 or 2022. What Audi doesn’t want you to know is that the PB18 con­cept sits, by and4

large, on the new PPE (Pre­mium Plat­form Elec­tric) un­der­pin­nings co-de­vel­oped with Porsche. Given the po­ten­tial com­mon­al­ity in terms of hard points and com­po­nen­try, press­ing go for pro­duc­tion should be merely a for­mal­ity. It cer­tainly makes more sense for Audi to do this than any of the al­ter­na­tive op­tions, which in­clude pig­gy­back­ing Lam­borgh­ini’s next Hu­ra­can su­per­car, wait­ing for Bent­ley to get its act to­gether, or have Porsche call the shots with its own be­spoke SPE ar­chi­tec­ture.

A mix of alu­minium, car­bon­fi­bre and com­pos­ites gives a sub-1550kg kerb­weight, while the pack­ag­ing con­cept does not dif­fer much from a mid-en­gined Audi R8 – only that the po­si­tion of the V10 is now oc­cu­pied by the com­pact bat­tery pack. This lay­out en­sures a low cen­tre of grav­ity, short over­hangs and good weight dis­tri­bu­tion.

Liq­uid-cooled, solid-state bat­ter­ies gen­er­ate 95kWh (the Tesla Model S comes with 75kWh or 100kWh op­tions), while the front wheels are driven by a sin­gle 198bhp mo­tor, and each rear wheel has its own 198bhp unit. In over­boost mode they’re said to be good for 764bhp and 612lb ft of torque. The re­sult is a 0-62mph time claimed to be in the low two-sec­ond bracket, and 300 miles on a charge ac­cord­ing to the lat­est WLTP cy­cles – de­cel­er­a­tion by re­gen­er­a­tion helps to max­imise that dis­tance, and Audi says there’s no need to touch the left pedal in three out of four stop­ping ma­noeu­vres.

By and large, the chas­sis is in­spired by the R18 e-tron race car (see panel, left). Dou­ble wish­bones all-round fea­ture

push-rod (front) and pull-rod (rear) el­e­ments sup­ported by adap­tive mag­netic-ride shock ab­sorbers. Lay­ered on top, Audi’s Torque Con­trol Man­ager com­bines with ESC to of­fer a spec­trum of han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics for road and track. This ac­tive sys­tem splits the torque flow front to rear and side to side in ac­cor­dance with eight dif­fer­ent pre-sets from max­i­mum sta­bil­ity to max­i­mum dy­nam­ics. Each mode comes with a spe­cific dis­play.

WHAT NEXT LEVEL TECH CAN WE EX­PECT? In both cars, the in­stru­men­ta­tion is mind-bog­glingly com­plex, the res­o­lu­tion equals the very best desk­tops, and the ex­tended ar­ray of dy­namic as­sis­tance sys­tems is claimed to en­hance the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence rather than sti­fle it.

The main dis­play of the Mercedes is a wide, curved screen, which acts as a can­vas for a 3D beam orig­i­nat­ing close to the driver’s head. The high-def­i­ni­tion full-colour sys­tem is pro­gram­mable, keeps an eye on traf­fic and has fu­ture-ori­en­tated tal­ents in­clud­ing the abil­ity to sniff out on-the-go in­duc­tive charg­ing lanes, should they ever come to fruition.

Thanks to a gen­er­ous help­ing of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, the EQ can stage a race against his­toric or cur­rent Sil­ver Ar­rows, show­ing the car’s po­si­tion ver­sus its com­peti­tor on a given cir­cuit. Hit the Vir­tual Race Coach but­ton, and an in­vis­i­ble co-driver will talk you through laps, do­ing its best to im­prove your skills and keep you out of the gravel.

A large touch­screen on the square steer­ing-wheel hub

THE AUDI SITS ON THE BRAND NEW PRE­MIUM PLAT­FORM ELEC­TRIC PPEDEVELOPED WITH PORSCHE

is the key in­ter­face be­tween car and driver. There are three ba­sic modes, la­belled Com­fort, Sport and Sport Plus. The choice of back­ground mu­sic played by the sound gen­er­a­tor in­cludes Hamil­ton’s M09 power unit and Carac­ci­ola’s SSKL.

The Audi’s cock­pit is stylish, fu­tur­is­tic, vis­ually over­whelm­ing and in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile. To get in or out, you must first open the door and then the front-hinged pro­tec­tion bar. This is a head-turn­ing so­lu­tion for a de­sign ex­er­cise, but is prob­a­bly a bridge too far for pro­duc­tion.

The seat­ing po­si­tion is al­most as low and stretched out as an LMP1 racer’s, and the dom­i­nat­ing el­e­ment as you look for­wards is a trans­par­ent full-width OLED dis­play, which can be black-panel sparse, cin­e­mas­cope busy or al­most any­thing in be­tween. In ad­di­tion to the fa­mil­iar MMI func­tions, the PB18 in­vites you to dial in dif­fer­ent road and race er­gonomics set-ups, in­clud­ing a neat choice of seat­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions.

WHAT’S WITH THE CEN­TRAL DRIVER’S SEAT? In the EQ Sil­ver Ar­row the cen­tral seat­ing po­si­tion is part of the car’s race in­spi­ra­tion. The seat is fixed but the ped­al­box can be ad­justed. In the PB18, by con­trast, the driver can

be cen­trally po­si­tioned – with a bril­liantly un­clut­tered view down the road – or can be joined by a pas­sen­ger. This is made pos­si­ble by a mo­torised slid­ing cock­pit mod­ule com­pris­ing the seat, the four-point seat­belt, two lat­eral pro­tec­tion el­e­ments and drive-by-wire steer­ing and brakes. The dis­tance be­tween the seat and ped­als can’t be ad­justed, and the pas­sen­ger seat, when in use, is a nar­row and thinly padded lounge chair con­coc­tion that won’t be com­fort­able for long. The cabin also con­tains a vir­tual-re­al­ity dis­play that can pop up and plot the rac­ing line or sat-nav path.

WHAT’S THE BIG­GER PIC­TURE?

‘The Peb­ble Beach con­cept lets you catch a glimpse of the unique form lan­guage Mercedes is pre­par­ing for the all-elec­tric EQ fam­ily of cars,’ says Mercedes’ chief de­signer Gor­den Wa­gener.

In this con­text, Wa­gener is re­fer­ring to his hot-and-cold de­sign phi­los­o­phy that com­bines de­tail el­e­ments in black with flow­ing shapes in Alubeam Sil­ver.

Ex­plains Audi’s Gael Buzyn: ‘The role of PB18 is to trans­fer au­to­mo­tive pas­sion to the age of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. PB18 and last year’s Ai­con con­cept are the book­ends of Audi’s e-tron prod­uct strat­egy.

‘While the sports coupe is a level 0 [au­ton­omy] EV with no as­sis­tance sys­tems at all, Ai­con was a fully au­ton­o­mous level 5 long-dis­tance cruiser.’

Ul­ti­mately, both wild and cre­ative con­cepts are shouty fu­ture elec­tric pro­duc­tion cars in vary­ing lev­els of dis­guise, at least in some form. While both man­u­fac­tur­ers are close to de­liv­er­ing all-elec­tric pro­duc­tion cars (Merc’s is on the next page, no less), Audi and Mercedes have lagged be­hind com­pa­ra­ble ma­chines from Tesla, BMW and Jaguar. But while they’re un­doubt­edly late to the elec­tric party, ex­pect them to hit the ground run­ning. And in some style.4

THANKS TO AR­TI­FI­CIAL IN­TEL­LI­GENCE, THE EQ CAN STAGE A RACE AGAINST HIS­TORIC OR CUR­RENT SIL­VER AR­ROWS

MERC EQ SIL­VER AR­ROW Sin­gle seat, 738bhp…

Keep­ing it cool The cool­ing sys­tem for bat­ter­ies, mo­tors and per­for­mance elec­tron­ics is by air through var­i­ous black in­takes. A pro­duc­tion ver­sion would need two orthree cool­ing cir­cuits.

Now that’s a mono­coque Car­bon ibre chas­sis is a mono­coque in the purest sense. Its lat-bot­tom tri­an­gu­lar shape is just about wide enough for the well-equipped sin­gle­seater cock­pit. Ac­cess is via a front-hinged canopy. Mercedes claims am­ple legand shoul­der-room for the driver, who is se­cured by a four-point har­ness. Seat is ixed, but power-op­er­ated ped­al­box can be moved. Tyres might be pricey The alu­minium front wings are draped over be­spoke 255/25 R24 Pirellis that boast a laser-etched three-pointed-star tread pat­tern. The rear multi-spoke al­loys are shod with even meatier 305/25 R26 tyres. To smooth the air low, the rose-metal­lic wheels are cov­ered by lush semi­cir­cu­lar body-colour el­e­ments at­tached to the Rolls-Royce-style ixed hubs. The spoil­ers of suc­cess The shape of the tall rear in is a mix of vin­tage Le Mans and mod­ern F1. Two auto-ex­tend­ing rear spoil­ers also dou­ble up for air-brake du­ties by in­creas­ing wind re­sis­tance when re­quired.

Size mat­ters Un­like the Mercedes, the PB18 is a con­ven­tional size, with a 2700mm wheel­base, 4530mm length, and two-me­tre width. It’s al­most as low as the EQ, though, at1150mm. Don’t throw stones The glasshouse fea­tures such cu­riosi­ties as two pairs of A-posts, asym­met­ri­cally split win­dows with slim up­per panes an­gled in­wards,and one of the big­gest wind­screens in au­to­mo­tive his­tory – it reaches from the roof al­most all the way downto the road.

Per­fect for shop­ping The com­pact tail­gate pro­vides re­mote-con­trol ac­cess to a deep and wide cargo deck that holds a whop­ping 470 litres. The mas­sive U-shaped roof-mounted wing ex­tends au­to­mat­i­cally at speed and the rear side win­dows stretch all theway to the chunky rear end. The air it breathes Two lat­eral air in­takes feed the brakes and front mo­tor. Air passes through a yawn­ing grille to the ra­di­a­tor; it also cre­ates down­force be­fore ex­it­ing over the screen. At the trail­ing edge of the lushit­ting un­der­side, there’s a sim­i­lar ground-e‚ect ar­range­ment gov­erned by an ad­justable lap above the di‚user. Fill­ing the sub­tle quat­tro blis­ters are 22-inch wheels with ac­tive blades for op­ti­mised aero­dy­nam­ics andbrake cool­ing.

The cen­tral line Audi’s cen­tral driv­ing po­si­tion can also move to make room for a pas­sen­ger. Head-up vir­tual-re­al­ity dis­play will plot the rac­ing line oncom­mand. Race his­tory Re­ally – you can race his­tory in the Merc. If you want to take on, say, Lewis at Sil­ver­stone from 2014, then as you lap the track the sys­tem will show his car rel­a­tive to you. Rather brieƒly,we as­sume.

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