The Audi Sport Quattro concept car, after several re-thinks, finally seems likely to get the nod for production. Come to that, the company has recently re-jigged several pieces of its sports-car jigsaw.
When the viciously yellow Sport Quattro was shown at Frankfurt last autumn, the bosses put out the message that if it were to get the nod, it would likely be as a £100k-plus boutique car, using lots of carbonfibre in the body and an expensive plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
Trouble is, even with limited-edition cachet helping to get the selling price up, the engineers didn't think they'd be able to turn a profit.
Well, according to chief engineer Ulrich Hackenberg, that's changed. If they widen the range by adding cheaper engines, and drop the selling price, they can shift more of them and cover the costs of tooling-up. He told Top Gear "We used a powerful powertrain to position it. But the potential is to have more volume. It needs a high investment so it makes sense to use other engines."
Does he mean selling it for somewhere between the TT and the R8? "Yes. The R8 is a pure sports car for two. The Frankfurt car was a four-seater, a comfortable GT." He says it uses the next-generation modular longitudinal matrix (MLB), which can use aluminium and carbonfibre to cut weight. If it gets the nod, expect it around 2016-2017.
The TT itself gets replaced very soon - the new car will be at the Geneva show in early March. But Hackenberg says there's more in store for that one too. Instead of building the TT just as a coupe and roadster, he talks up the idea of adding something like the Allroad Shooting Brake concept that was at the Detroit Show.
"I can imagine the TT has much more potential than we have used up to now. That's why we did this Allroad concept. The trend is to smaller crossovers. So for example you could do a crossover TT. It would have a big group of fans."
Hackenberg was moved to the Audi R&D job to replace Wolfgang Duerheimer (ex-Porsche and Bentley) who'd previously told TopGear.com of a couple of other pet projects for Audi sports cars. So we asked Hackenberg if they were still on the go.
First of them is a superlight TT. Duerheimer had talked of under 1000kg. "I could imagine a limited series. Our new MQB architecture allows lightweight parts such as a carbonfibre roof." That's OK then. We like that idea a lot.
The other was a full-on hypercar. It was meant to use Audi's Le Mans racer, a four-wheel-drive diesel hybrid, as a jumping-off point. It hadn't got beyond the bright-idea stage when Duerheimer had told us about it, and now Hackenberg is back-pedalling. "Le Mans is a story: the next step diesel hybrid. We always make Le Mans technologies that can transfer to the road cars. But there's no priority to take the whole car to the road - that was Mr Duerheimer's idea. It's interesting but not a priority."
On the other hand, Hackenberg is fast-tracking another supercar project that had previously been moribund, the electric R8 e-tron. They built 10 test cars and then said they wouldn't go to production. I drove one of them and it felt brilliant - and completely finished. But the battery range wasn't far enough.
"I had a deeper look into the technology. It was fine, except for two problems, range and cost," he says, encapsulating everyone's problem with hot electric cars. "But we've worked on it. We have changed the package to use more battery modules, and changed the modules too. It's been a success. I'm discussing with the board to use this car as a technology carrier for us. Bringing it to market is my personal target."
Of course by the time it gets built, the R8 will be up for replacement. "Yes but we can use it in the current or next R8 depending on timing."