6/1/12

Overview: Audi A2 electric concept

The Audi A2 electric is not quite what it seems. The third all-electric Audi design study, it looks pretty much like a regular A2, but it has little in common with the regular showroom models. Thanks to its hybrid bodyshell, using a variety of lightweight materials, this A2 electric manages a very modest kerb mass of 1150kg. There’s also a fair collection of interesting features that might, or might not, appear on future production cars.

As you would expect, the battery-pack is of the lithium-ion type. For the first time, Audi has adopted Mercedes’ technique of creating a sandwich floor to house the battery and other bits of infrastructure. The motor delivers peak outputs of 116PS and 270Nm; claimed performance figures are 0-62mph in 9.3s and a governed maximum of 93mph. The battery-pack takes an hour and a half to charge at 400V or four hours at 230V; the operating range, under NEDC conditions, is claimed to be 124 miles.

The A2’s technical specification includes shift-by-wire — common as muck — brake-by-wire, which we’ve seen on the electric Mini, and (yes) steer-by-wire, which is guaranteed to raise eyebrows. Inductive charging is also possible, though happily more conventional methods can also be used, and ‘intelligent’ cruise control has been refined a little further to offer what Audi describes as a ‘semi-autonomous running mode’, which operates at low speeds.

The A2 electric’s hybrid construction is based on Audi’s space-frame methods. The superstructure is made largely from aluminium, complemented by add-on parts in carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP). The 18-inch alloy wheels are also responsible for mass-reduction: they save around 2kg each compared with conventional items thanks to cladding technology which greatly reduces the amount of material used.

The charging socket and the coolant connection are concealed at the front of the car behind the upper portion of the grille. The lower section of the grille acts as an air inlet, and incorporates cooling elements made of graphite foam. The lightweight mineral is an excellent conductor of heat from the water to the ambient air. Eight blocks with six graphite elements each are located in the central air inlet.

Suspension is conventional, with McPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear axle, but steering and braking systems are purely electric, with no mechanical or hydraulic connection to the driver.

Two large inward-pointing touch-sensitive pads are used to control all of the car’s main operating functions bar the turn indicators and the windscreen wipers. If both these touch pads are touched simultaneously, the car enters its ‘semi-autonomous’ mode. Happily, the driver can manually intervene and regain full control of the car at all times, as is the case with the current adaptive cruise control systems on which the new technology is based. It’s not just the habitually paranoid, though, who will be uneasy about losing all physical connection with the brakes and steering.

The A2 concept uses what Audi calls a Matrix Beam LED system for its headlights. A bundle of small LEDs arranged one above the other produce the low-beam and high-beam light. Micro-reflectors enable the light to be directed precisely. The LEDs can be switched on and off independently of one another to change the way the road is illuminated in different situations. A large number of mini-LEDs set in the lower section of the headlight produce the daytime running light.

The adaptive tail lights also use matrix beam technology. The system uses a sensor to detect how good visibility is and adjusts the brightness of the lights accordingly.

Five laser diodes produce the rear fog light. When visibility is good, their light is invisible. In the fog or rain, however, it strikes the water particles in the air and becomes clearly visible as a floating triangle.

Each flank of the concept car is embellished by a band of light that connects the headlights with the tail lights. These ‘Audi dynamic lights’ are produced using LEDs and light guides. When in standby mode, the band is coloured black, but when the holder of the key approaches, it lights up blue and intensifies illumination of the door-handles. These are inset into the band and extend when the driver swipes a hand over them. The light band shines bright orange when the A2 concept is driving. It pulses on the corresponding side when indicating a turn; when braking, a red pulse of light runs along the flank.

Overall dimensions are 3804mm in length, 1693mm in width and 1494mm in height.

Inside, the dashboard is split into two sections, with the semi-circular left section enclosing the driver’s area. ‘Dynamic light’ runs along the edges in two separate arcs from the doors to the cockpit.

There is no centre tunnel, and the console between the front seats can be lowered to allow free passage through the vehicle. Heating and cooling air flows through a perforated surface beneath the windscreen.

The steering wheel of the Audi A2 concept bears an unsettling resemblance to BL’s notorious ‘Quartic’ wheel from the Austin Allegro and Rover SD1. It has a single spoke connecting the ring to the impact absorber and the two large touch pads, controlling assorted functions, protruding inwards.

An open, shell-like section serves as the steering column and extends horizontally into the cockpit. On the far end is a seven-inch display flanked by two secondary displays with the speedometer and the power meter.

When the driver pushes the button to activate the electric drive, an animated band of light encircles the driver and passenger, and two touchpads unfold to the right of the steering wheel. The small touch surface on the left is for shifting gears (shift-by-wire); the larger one on the right is reserved for the air conditioning and media functions.

The retractable console between the seats includes an additional touchpad for entering letters and numbers and for secondary functions — a further development of today’s MMI Touch system. A docking station for an iPhone is provided.

The show car has all of the usual Audi connect technologies on board. The Bluetooth online car-phone connects it to the Internet by way of a Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard (UMTS) module; a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) hotspot lets the passengers surf and e-mail from their mobile devices; and a fast data connection delivers news and information to the vehicle. The services currently offered by Audi are available for navigation: the Google Earth-enhanced mapping, Audi online traffic information, Google Points of Interest (POI) search using voice control and Google Street View.

The opaque glass roof of the show car becomes transparent at the push of a button. When an electric voltage is applied, small particles integrated into the glass align so that the light can pass through the glazing unhindered. When the glass roof is darkened, however, it blocks the infrared component of the sunlight almost completely, effectively shadowing the interior.

The four individual seats are very light. They have an aluminium chassis and the developers used a polymer blow-moulding process for the shells. Three struts connect the seats with the floor for more foot room in the back, and there are storage bins beneath the fold-up seat cushions. A console with storage bins is located between the rear seats. Folding these seats forward reveals a fixture for the fork of a special city bicycle.

The luggage compartment of the Audi A2 concept has a sandwich floor. A fold-up frame with two solid, high-load nets covers the lower load level.

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