Audi previews 2018 electric car with E-tron Quattro concept

Intending to sell a fully electric car by 2018, Audi showed off its work in that direction with the E-tron Quattro concept, a large luxury SUV boasting a range of 310 miles.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Audi E-tron Quattro concept
The E-tron Quattro concept can go 310 miles on its 95-kilowatt-hour battery pack, according to Audi. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

FRANKFURT -- Clothed in the sharper lines of Audi's new corporate styling language, the E-tron Quattro concept's low roofline makes it look more like a wagon than an SUV. However, those proportions are intentional. Audi's aim is to improve aerodynamics to maximize range from its electric drive system.

That's right, the E-tron Quattro is a fully electric car, with a robust 95-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack to give it 310 miles of range.

The battery pack sits under the passenger compartment, lowering the car's center of gravity. It powers three motors, one for the front wheels and one for each rear wheel. The arrangement improves handling by letting the drive computer put more torque to the outside rear wheel. This counteracts understeer by pushing the back end around. An air suspension should lead to a comfortable ride, and four-wheel-steering will help low-speed maneuvering and high-speed turns.

Audi showcases styling direction with electric E-tron Quattro concept (pictures)

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Because of the size of the battery, Audi notes that it takes 50 minutes to go from empty to full at a Level 3 DC charging station. Audi is also exploring wireless charging, with the idea that the E-tron Quattro concept could drive itself onto a wireless charging pad.

The styling echoes the sharper lines that Audi previewed with its Prologue concept last year at the Los Angeles auto show, along with the new Q7. The Prologue design is reflected in a geometric grille cross with vertical lines, LED headlights and a cabin with narrow roof rails, emphasizing good visibility from its large greenhouse.

Aerodynamics were clearly a factor in this design, as the door handles retract to form a flush surface with the body. Instead of side mirrors, the E-tron Quattro concept uses camera pods on the front fenders, relaying an image to the displays in the cabin. Those features and a low roofline, giving the concept a more wagon-like profile, serve to bring the coefficient of drag down to .25. Audi notes that this is better than any SUV on the market.

Using a concept version of Audi's Virtual Cockpit driver interface, first seen on the recent Audi TT, the driver gets a large LCD for the instrument cluster. Another LCD on the dashboard lets the passenger see entertainment options, and a smaller touchscreen at the base of the console lets driver and passenger set climate controls and other functions.

Although the E-tron Quattro concept does not include any particular breakthroughs in electric drive technology, Audi's promise of a production electric model for 2018 will give buyers more choice when it comes to longer range electric cars.

Be sure to check out all of CNET's coverage of the 2015 Frankfurt auto show.