It may surprise you, but what you see here is not an R8 e-tron. Yes, it is an electrically powered Audi R8, but it is not one of any number of R8 e-tron prototypes built by Ingolstadt while the company was readying those cars for production. No, this car instead is an idea platform, an e performance project… a research car.
This particular car is dubbed F12, which stands for Forschungsauto 2012. The word ‘forschungsauto’ is German for ‘research car’, and it’s a name first used by Audi’s 1981 Frankfurt Motor Show concept car that was a precursor to the 1983 Audi 100 (a.k.a. Audi 5000 in the USA).
If you’re still confused and thinking the F12 looks just like an R8 e-tron, here are a few clues that’ll help you differentiate. With matte grey carbon blades sans charging access point (or also gas cap) and anthracite wheels from the R8 GT, the F12 with its production R8 V10 grille kind of looks more like Audi’s most hooliganistic gasoline R8 and less like it’s saintly electric prototypes.
There are other visual differences too. At the front, the car does include the R8 LMS spec vented carbon fiber hood shared by the e-tron, but conspicuously absent is the chrome four rings logo, instead allowing for an access panel. At the rear, the e-tron’s carbon fiber panel that replaces the glass panel on the production R8 is gone and this car instead has a rear deck design that utilizes the engine cover of the R8 Spyder and combines it with sloping C-pillars… think of an 80’s era mid-engine Ferrari and you wouldn’t be far off.
Less noticeable at the rear is a newly designed valance. With no exhaust needed, the space instead is used for a drawer-like compartment from which a cable can be used to re-charge the batteries of the F12. With no exhaust pipes necessary, the prototype sports oddly shaped light clusters made to look like the ‘e’ logo of ‘e performance’ in place of alloy exhaust tips.
Inside the car, details revealing its special nature continue. Lit ‘e Performance’-branded sills and super lightweight Recaro seats usher you in to a considerably different R8 cabin experience. The central tunnel under is bulkier in order to house much of the car’s battery cells. It also includes drive controls such as Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive functions are all operated by buttons found here. All other operations of the car are controlled by a very slick software package running on an Apple iPad mounted within part of the R8’s monoposto dashboard structure – where you’d otherwise find the navigation and audio controls in a production Audi R8.
The real technology showcase for the F12 is not the iPad nor the trick bodywork, but instead the experimental drivetrain and innovative high-voltage battery design. This hardware is an early example of an actual plug-in electric drive system meant to be scaleable so as to be compatible with everything from sportscars to sedans and city vehicles.
Audi collaborated with electronics supplier Bosch and several institutes at the RWTH Aachen University to develop this new technology platform. Further support from Audi came from the Audi Electronics Venture GmbH (AEV) that no doubt had a hand in the slick software solution found on the iPad.
Within the parameters of the project, the F12 represents the ‘e Sport’ model in Audi’s intended modular lineup.
A most noteworthy component of the F12 is its battery application – a switchable high-voltage configuration made up of two separate blocks of battery. One battery has an output of 144 volts and the other 216 volts. Under partial load, maximum efficiency is reached by running roughly 200 volts. This can increase up to 440 volts depending on power demands. Together, those two blocks of batteries provide an overall capacity of 38 kWh.
Safety is another key focus in the design of the battery. Each of the two blocks is comprised of 200 macrocells. The design of these macrocells is beveled – a shape that allows them to shift in relation to one another in the event of an accident and improve safety. Cast aluminum sections integral to the battery design also absorb most of the kinetic energy from during a crash.
Power from the batteries is transferred to the ground via three different electric motors that can operate independently. Cruising at low speeds, only the motor at the front axle is used. At higher speeds, two asynchronous performance-optimized motors allow for torque vectoring between the rear wheels. Use of both front and rear motors at the same time bestows the car with a fully electric quattro configuration unlike the rear-wheel drive R8 e-tron and more akin to the A5-based e-tron quattro prototype revealed by Audi last year.
The F12’s total power is 204 hp (150 kW) and 405.66 lb-ft of torque (550Nm) – significantly less than the R8 e-tron, which might just be a bit confusing. After all, the R8 e-tron offers up 376 hp (280 kW) 604.8 lb-ft (820 Nm) via the rear wheels.
To put the F12 into context, the components used in on this car are more in line with the power output of an Audi TT. While an R8 chassis was used in this experiment, the actual electric components utilized in the car are more specifically lined up for an electric TT-like vehicle.
As of this moment, the future of the R8 e-tron is in question. Rumors out of Ingolstadt suggest that current battery design isn’t quite there yet. Of course, the experimental switchable high-voltage battery of the F12 isn’t intended for this small series of production R8 e-trons and is instead more experimental and further down the road. In as much, you likely won’t find this technology in an R8 e-tron if it does end up being produced. Where you may find it or other concepts such as tablet integration is in future electric mobility products from Audi. For now, this is one very trick demonstrator.
Characteristics: F12 Concept Vehicle
platform: R8 Audi Space Frame
vehicle characteristics: athletic, agile, quattro powertrain
max speed: 111.85 mph (180 km/h)
0-62 mph: 7.0 seconds
fuel economy: 160 Wh/km
weight: approx. 1700 kg
range: approx. 200 km
type: 1xPSM, 2xASM
power: 150 kW
energy content: 38.4 kWh
nominal voltage: 144/216 V