Full-speed (sort-of) in the Audi E-tron

New Red Audi

Following its U.S. debut at the Los Angeles auto show, we got a chance to sample the battery-powered sports car along a scenic stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway.

The bright red show car is the same prototype our man Georg Kacher sampled in Europe, but has since seen its top speed lifted from a fast crawl to a more informative 55 mph. That’s still well short of the 125 mph promised for production, but was fast enough to appreciate the E-tron’s instantaneous torque, which we’re told amounts to about 150 pound feet to each rear wheel and 75 to each front wheel. That's down from dubious early reports of 3319 lb-ft, but is still impressive. For comparison, the R8 on which the E-tron is loosely based produces 317 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm in V-8 form, and sends 90 percent of it to the rear wheels. The carefully configured seat of our pants tells us the E-tron might get a jump immediately off the line, but would watch the R8 fly by as soon as its 4.2-liter V-8 took a deep breath.

Not surprisingly, the E-tron hardly excercises its R8-sourced suspension at 55 mph, and neither, Audi says, would it at 125 mph. For that reason, the production model will likely get lighter and less expensive components.

The E-tron introduces an entirely new interior design language for Audi, one that will likely inform other future models. That could mean more austere dash layouts with floating center consoles. The show car has an LCD rear-view screen as the batteries fill what would normally be the rear viewport, but production models will have to make do with only side mirrors.

Audi still isn’t sure how it will market the E-tron but is not likely to follow the Lexus LFA example and retain ownership of the cars. There might be a limited lease program in the first year followed by regular sales, depending on consumer response.