What's it like?
The lovely thing about the e-tron is that already, despite being at an early stage in its development, it feels like a proper product. From the moment you set eyes on it close-up, it exudes a look of solidity and preparedness.
Truth is, it's still a little flaky, but utterly understandably for a car which has been put through no production work so far. Close the doors too hard and the window glass is liable to shatter. The interior is beautiful, minimal, crisp and clean but when I say it looks a million dollars, I fear that's actually what it's worth.
But nonetheless, the panel gaps are super tight. The metal ribs that run down the back of the car are superbly finished and pop up with satisfying vim to allow cooling air into the battery pack. The charge-socket lies on the rump and it, too, is thoughtfully finished. Behind the wheels (nicked from an R8 V10) sit purposeful carbon-ceramic brakes. In short, it feels like somebody has thought not just about how the e-tron looks, but also how it goes.
That's how it turns out, too. The finished e-tron will have similar performance figures to a Tesla Roadster – a range of 150 miles (variable depending on how you drive it), 0-62sec in a number starting with four and a top speed of 124mph, limited because it takes such a whopping amount of energy to keep a car going at that speed.
The prototype isn't that fast yet – its power reduces limited from 50mph and it runs into a limited brick wall at 62mph, but it gets there briskly (I'd say in about six seconds at the moment).
I've driven a few cars with electric drive now but the novelty still hasn't worn off. The four motors combined make not just 313bhp but 3319lb ft of torque and the delivery and response is, er, electric. You ask, you get. By dint of having more powerful motors at the back than the front, power delivery is split 30/70 front to rear.
Weight distribution, meanwhile, is 48/52 which, combined with the power output, should make the e-tron corner very neutrally, if with less agility than an R8. Because the battery pack reaches right to the roof of the car, too, the finished article will probably roll more and feel less agile than the petrol R8. Already though the brake pedal feel is solid – better than a petrol R8's. The steering is more intuitively heavy, too, and direct and accurate.
Our test drive was tantalisingly short so I can't tell you too much about the way the e-tron corners. It rides firmly, as most prototypes and concepts do, but the ride/handling finessing hasn't even started yet, so it could turn out utterly different. It certainly shows promise.
Ditto the interior might change, for something rather more conventional. It'd be a shame if it did – Audi's design team have gone for something lighter and cleaner than they usually would, because they felt they could go out on a limb with an electric car. I hope they keep their nerve.
Should I buy one?
Here's the rub, of course; you can't until 2012. And when you can you'll be looking at the wrong side of R8 money for a car which, yes, is slower than an R8 and, yes, has a limited range and, yes, takes up to six to eight hours to charge from flat (two and a half from a high output socket).
So you'd have to really want one. But given the technology will filter through to other cars in and given the e-tron is only the second zero-tailpipe emission car that's desirable and sporting, I hope there are a whole bunch of people out there who do want one. I'll probably end up being one of them.