Audi A1 e-tron
Audi A1 e-tron
Audi A1 e-tron. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Jonathan Yarkony, additional images courtesy Audi

Berlin, Germany – Last week we looked at the most advanced and fastest experiments in the Audi Tron line, the R18 e-tron Quattro Le Mans Prototype and R8 e-tron electric supercar, and here we cover a pair of intermediate ‘production’ cars on the roads in Germany that will pave the way for future mobility energy solutions.

While these vehicles are road-going vehicles driven on public roads, production is extremely limited, and they serve as more of a data collection pool than as consumer products. As such, I consider them intermediate steps towards viable production vehicles like the upcoming A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid that we will preview next.

Audi A1 e-tron

Audi’s teensy A1 city car, available only overseas, is already an efficient vehicle because of its small size and light weight. However, Audi also gave it the full e-tron electrification treatment to make it an electric vehicle, and then stuffed a small range-extending gasoline-powered Wankel engine under the cargo floor in back.

Wait, did you just say Wankel?

That’s right, Audi is getting in on the rotary action that has been pretty much the sole domain of Mazda for the past, well, pretty much ever when it comes to production cars. Then again, this is no production car, but I found it ironically cool that Audi is putting to use another legendary Le Mans technology – Mazda famously dominated the 1991 race with its R26B rotary-powered 787B race car, an engine type subsequently ruled out because of rule changes.

While we won’t go into much detail on this product, I took it for a short spin in Berlin streets around the airport. My takeaway: drives like a teensy Audi. The interior is a cross between a business-like A3 and funky Fiat 500 with its paint-matching plastic panels, but the steering wheel and switchgear are familiar Audi fare. The electric motor provides ample torque to dart around in city traffic, and the rotary engine, used for its compact size will help extend the range of the vehicle beyond the life of the Lithium-Ion battery.

Audi A1 e-tronAudi A1 e-tronAudi A1 e-tronAudi A1 e-tron
Audi A1 e-tron. Click image to enlarge

The electric motor is 85-kW strong and capable of 221 lb-ft of torque, enough to get it up to 100 km/h in under ten seconds, but its real strength is at sub-60 km/h speeds, where its plentiful torque means it can dart around better than many conventional city cars. The 13.3-kWh battery, fully charged, offers enough juice to provide up to 50 km of range. Charging takes three hours using European 220V household outlet juice. The 25-kW/34-hp 0.35L rotary-engine generator increases the range to 250, and is not connected to the front drive wheels. All told it weighs a not-insignificant 1,407 kg, about 300 kg more than a typical A1.

It’s a car ideal for the tight urban confines of European cities and high gas prices that drive consumers to explore alternative fuel vehicles.

However, it is not even available through ordinary retail channels in Europe, never mind here in North America. Audi has built 80 A1 e-trons (some from a previous-generation electric only drivetrain) and is putting them into a handful or private households, corporate programs and government initiatives meant more to collect data on charging infrastructure and projects and urban functionality than selling them as relevant consumer products.

Far more than the R8 e-tron, this seems like a realistic and useful application of battery technology in electric vehicles, but the two go hand in hand toward advanced electric propulsion and battery and powertrain design that Audi will bring to market in future hybrids.

Connect with