Audi RS leans towards electrification as emissions laws tighten

2015 audi r8 etron front side static

AUDI SPORT chief Stephan Winkelmann says the writing is on the wall regarding emissions, and the company responsible for all fast Audis will need to follow suit with a new generation of electrified powertrains.

But though Audi Sport has already dipped its toe in the water with the all-electric 2015 R8 e-tron, that model was only produced in very low numbers. It was also notable for being the only product of Quattro GmbH with fewer than four driven wheels – not exactly on-brand.

Though Audi’s parent company Volkswagen is bullish on all-electric cars right now, it seems that EV enthusiasm hasn’t quite spread to Audi just yet – and that includes Audi Sport, the brand’s performance arm.

Speaking to Wheels at the launch of the RS3 Sedan, Audi Sport boss Stephan Winkelmann said that though pure electric cars had strong performance credentials, the prospect of a successor to the R8 e-tron popping up in the foreseeable future is slim. That said, its precise future powertrain strategy has yet to be locked in.

“I think it would be foolish to compare the last generation of combustion engines with what is coming up in electrification,” Winkelmann said.

“It has to be a new interpretation of what “sportivity” is all about, and we have to define this for ourselves before we go public.

“What we have to do is achieve the shift between sportivity combined with sustainability – and this has to be credible. So whatever we do, if it’s going into electrification it’s about replication of 0-100km/h, top speed, weight, handling.”

It’s about compromise, in other words. Batteries add weight, and weight is the enemy of the performance car. Figuring out whether a smaller battery pack and a petrol-electric powertrain is preferable to a heavier battery pack and pure-electric motor setup is Audi Sport’s dilemma right now.

And like it or not, electrification is in Audi Sport’s future. Winkelmann was clear that emissions laws were forcing his hand – and that the long-term outlook would ultimately favour EVs as the energy density of batteries (the amount of kilowatt hours squeezed into each kilogram of battery mass) improved.

“We’re working on these things because legislation is moving us into this direction,” he said.

“If I had enough money, I would do everything [pure EV and hybrid]. If I have to choose, at the time being is going half-way [with petrol-electric hybrid] the right way or is it better to wait and get it done in one step?

“This is what we’re working on and where we have to understand which is the better way to go, and where to invest the money.”

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.