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Audi unveils radical Urban Concept buggy

Sketches of Audi Urban Concept emerge after public appearance goes viral

10 Aug 2011

AUDI has become the latest brand to come up with a tiny two-seat city-car with its battery-powered, buggy-like Urban Concept, a “technical study” expected to feature on the company’s Frankfurt show stand next month.

The ambitious German luxury marque has issued sketches and basic details of the vehicle after its appearance in full public view with its bodywork disguised by camouflage – but Audi badges exposed – in Berlin’s busy Potsdamer Platz at the weekend, earning the company plenty of viral publicity.

Described as an “ultra-light car for congested urban spaces”, the concept jettisons Audi’s trademark Russian doll styling while promising “sporty performance” thanks to a lightweight construction featuring a cockpit and integrated seat bases formed of carbon-fibre, coupled with what the brand describes as “elaborate suspension”.

The sketches and brief accompanying media release reveal a low-slung open-wheeler riding on 21-inch rims surrounded by mudguards featuring “blinking strips of LED lights”, that reach almost to the ground.

7 center imageHowever, the vehicle seen in Berlin appears to be subject to some engineering compromises, exhibiting a more jacked-up dune buggy appearance with race-car-style exposed wishbone suspension and smaller, narrow wheels and small Ariel Atom-style integrated mudguards covering only a quarter of their diameter.

Images and videos showing people standing close to the concept make obvious the vehicle’s diminutive dimensions, the driver’s eye-line just above a bystander’s waist height.

Audi says the concept is propelled by two “e-tron electric motors” that take power from lithium-ion batteries. Driveshafts visible in shaky amateur Youtube footage suggest the tiny Audi gets rear drive from internal (rather than wheel-mounted) motors.

Unlike the post-World War 2 Messerschmitt bubble car to which the Audi no doubt owes some inspiration, the concept has four (as opposed to three) wheels.

Audi says access to the two-seater cabin is achieved through the tailgate rather than swinging the roof open like the lid of a chest freezer a la Messerschmitt, although it difficult to see how this is possible from the sketches.

Half the cockpit surround slides back, jet-fighter style, but no mention is made of this as a method of entry/egress.

Its intended function could be to offer open-air motoring or a way for occupants of the vehicle – the roof of which barely matches the wheel-arch height of some SUVs – to pay at toll booths or buy food from drive-through takeaways.

The cockpit features two staggered seats, with the passenger sitting further back than the driver to liberate space. Because the thinly-padded seats are fixed, the rectangular steering wheel and pedals can be independently adjusted to suit the driver.

Interior sketches show a basic cabin with a carbon-fibre cross member forming part of the dashboard and housing the simple digital instrument pack.

In January this year, Audi’s parent company Volkswagen revealed its diesel-electric XL1 concept in the Middle East that featured a staggered seating arrangement – a similarity that resulted in speculation that Audi had borrowed the XL1’s underpinnings for its Urban Concept. Audi says the concept is “not based on any previous model”.

It is also speculated that Audi is planning an eco-friendly sub-brand like BMW’s recently-launched ‘i’ or Daimler’s Smart, which in additional to technical constraints, goes some way to explaining the Urban Concept’s radical styling departure.

Audi reportedly is readying more variants of the Urban Concept for its Frankfurt display, suggesting the vehicle in the sketches is one of the more flamboyant iterations.

Renault is leading the way with vehicles of this type, already taking deposits for its electric Twizy scooter-car and alliance partner Nissan is working on an electric city-car thought to be based on the 2009 Land Glider concept that leans into corners like a four-wheeled motorcycle.

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