If Audi's curiously named Elaine concept looks familiar, that's because a very similar tech showcase, the e-tron Sportback design study, was shown at Auto Shanghai just a few months back. You may notice some differences in the five-door soft roader's detailing this time out at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but the big change is under the skin. This car carries Level 4 autonomous drive hardware.
The Elaine uses a three-motor electric powertrain — one for the front wheels and two wheels for the back. Powered by a 95-kWh battery, total system output is listed at 429 horsepower or 496 hp in "boost mode," enabling a 0-62-mph time of 4.5 seconds. Charging can be accomplished wirelessly via induction, or through a 150-kW corded connection.
More interesting than its powertrain tech is the next-level version of the zFAS self-driving controller employed in the 2019 A8's Traffic Jam Pilot system that I tested last week. The new "nerve center" allows for hands-free driving at speeds of up to 81 mph (versus 37 mph for the A8), and the Elaine can even change lanes on its own to maintain cruising speeds.
Audi also says that the car can also operate itself without anyone inside when it's in designated "AI Zones." At the "handover zone," you can jump out and leave the vehicle to its own devices, whereupon it can go perform basic functions such as parking itself in a multi-story garage, find a vehicle charger or get itself washed.
Along with higher-speed capabilities, the Elaine has additional in-town autonomous hardware, including digital matrix projectors that illuminate the road ahead, "turning light into versatile, dynamic channel of communication with the surroundings." In other words, the car displays signs to pedestrians and other motorists.
We may not see an exact production version of Elaine in dealerships, but the car is expected to hint at the design of the second-generation A7, which is almost here. It could also form the basis for one of the three battery-electric vehicles Audi has promised by 2021.