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Audi Nanuk Quattro concept is a supercar softroader

Audi's latest concept supercar aims to be fast both on- and off-road.

Audi Nanuk Quattro concept
Part supercar and part crossover, the Audi Nanuk Quattro concept seems to be having an identity crisis. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

What do you get when you cross an Audi R8 with Lamborghini design language and the proportions of a donk? You get what Audi calls the Nanuk Quattro concept: a supercar-meets-crossover concept penned by the same designers as the Italdesign Giugiaro Parcour that we saw at the Geneva auto show earlier this year, which explains why this Audi also looks a lot like that Lamborghini-based concept.

The Nanuk Quattro makes use of a twin-turbo V10 TDI engine that sits amidships, displacing 5 liters while it produces 544 horsepower and 737 pound-feet of torque. Audi's seven-speed, dual-clutch S Tronic gearbox has been "beefed up" to handle the high levels of the torque that is split between all four wheels via the automaker's Quattro system. Zero to 62 mph happens in 3.8 seconds, on the way to the claimed top speed of 189.5 mph.

The Nanuk makes use of aluminum construction and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) to keepsits weight down to a relatively svelte 4,188 pounds. (For comparison, the BMW X6 M tips the scales at 6261 pounds.) Low weight and high power are a combination for performance grins, but the combination also allows the TDI-powered concept to reach a claimed 30 mpg average fuel economy.

Audi claims that the Nanuk Quattro concept will be "equally at home on the racetrack, the highway or a winding country road as it is off-road," but with big 22-inch wheels and lowish-profile 235/50 tires up front and wider 295/45 ones out back, I'm thinking that "off-road" means "unpaved road." Tucked into those massive rollers, you'll find carbon fiber-ceramic brakes.

Sitting between the large wheels and the Italian-sculpted chassis is the Nanuk Quattro's adaptive air suspension, which holds the whole thing up. Drivers are able to adjust the ground clearance, raising the vehicle by 1.5 inches or lowering it 1.2 inches from the static ride height. Despite the exaggerated wheels and arches, the ride height at which the concept is displayed is quite low. Even if this is the lowest setting, the Nanuk is far from a hi-riser, so perhaps I was being a bit dramatic calling the Nanuk a donk. That the vehicle prints so wide in person probably helps with the flattened illusion.

Audi Nanuk Quattro Concept
Promotional photos made the concept look tall, but the Nanuk Quattro sits wide and low in the flesh. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Audi's electronic brain can adjust the ride height automatically based on driving speed and predictive route data provided by the GPS navigation system. So it can, for example, lower its ride height when on smooth highways, but then raise itself when turning onto a gravel road.

The concept also makes use of rear-wheel steering, turning its rear wheels up to 9 degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels at low speeds to make the vehicle more agile and eager to turn. At higher speeds, the rear wheels only turn up to 2.5 degrees in the same direction as the front wheels, slowing the vehicle's eagerness to rotate and making the vehicle more stable for quick lane changes and fast sweepers.

Audi Nanuk Quattro Interior
The rearview mirrors have all been swapped for cameras, but the displays still sit in the same place that the mirror would have been...seems wasteful. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Look past the off-road pretenses and massive, cartoonishly exaggerated wheels and it's possible that the Nanuk Quattro is a heavily veiled preview of what we might expect from a curvier, next-generation Audi R8. The automaker has, of course, been teasing TDI-powered R8 concepts for years. Concept car touches -- such as the vertically hinged doors and cameras where side mirrors should be -- likely won't see production, but the smaller "R8 sideblade" design that integrates the intakes for the TDI engine and cooling systems, the sculpted doors, and the Matrix LED headlamp technology just might yet find its way to a showroom.