10 Aug 2012

Audi R8 e-tron laps Nurburgring in 8.09

Along with 249,999 others I watched the Audi R18 e-tron diesel hybrid win at Le Mans this year.

Through Mulsanne, Porsche & Ford curves, Dunlop and Tertre Rouge we watched as the sleek, silent winning machines sped by.  And then we waited for the fire-breathing Corvettes to shake the earth we stood on as we felt their 5.5 litre V8s in our bellies.

The Audis were epic but they were, almost, silent.  Unlike petrol motors diesels can be silenced to almost nothing and the electric motors just added a background whirr.

Audi has chosen to race at Le Mans rather than in Formula 1 which arguably provides a more fertile breeding ground for new and innovative ideas - although the R18's e-tron's kinetic energy recovery system was made for them by Williams Hybrid Power.

Which brings us on to to the Audi R8 e-tron.    The R8's current power plants are a 4.2 litre V8 and a 5.2 litre V10 - both petrol.  In 2013 customers will be able to purchase the e-tron - an all electric version of the hugely successful R8 sportscar.

What do we know about the R8 e-tron?  Well, it will likely cost £150,000, it will feature a digital rear view mirror in order to improve aerodynamics - all important for the range of an electric car - and it will be fast.  Very fast.

The e-tron R8 has just lapped the Nurburgring in 8 minutes 9 seconds.  This is just 5 seconds slower the the fastest time set by the V10 R8.  The e-tron can go from 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds and has the equivalent of 375bhp.  Not too shabby.

The electric car just got sexier.  Audi knows that in order to shift e-tron versions of their cheaper cars they must demonstrate performance in real world conditions and the R8 e-tron does just that.

But, just as the with electric bikes at the Isle of Man TT, the achilles heel of electric motors is their range.  The TT bikes were just about able to complete one lap of the 37 mile TT course.  Theoretically the lithium iron batteried R8 has a range of 130 miles but this will diminish hugely at race speeds.

The R8 e-tron is a fantastic idea and no doubt is a fantastic car.  For now electric cars remain hindered by their range but they are making huge strides towards becoming a mainstream choice of power plant in modern vehicles.

And when they do the roads will become much quieter places.  Hopefully, alongside electric engined vehicles, there will be a place for alternative fuelled Corvette V8's in our motoring future.

Here's a video of the R8 e-tron lapping the 'ring in 8.09.  It's pretty special but spookily quiet, aside from the tyre and wind noise.