We’re hearing that Audi are talking to Mazda about producing a small capacity Wankel engine for the Audi A1 e-Tron range-extender.
Last year at the Geneva Motor Show, Audi showed us another in its seemingly endless line of fantasy e-Tron cars.
But instead of being a pointless supercar with a pile of batteries bolted underneath to wreck the handling with all their weight – for the three feet you can actually drive with your foot to the floor before you run out of juice – this e-Tron was a different beast altogether.
Not only was the Geneva 2010 e-Tron a properly sensible city car – the Audi A1 - but it came with a range extender so you could actually use this Audi A1 e-Tron beyond the confines of its electric charge. But that wasn’t the best bit.
The best bit was that Audi had chosen to use a Wankel engine – sitting below the boot floor – to provide charge to the batteries when the plug-in charge ran out.
That small Wankel engine (just 254cc), running at a constant 5000 rpm, would provide cost-effective range once the electrickery ran out. Yet Audi claimed a range of just 124 miles on top of the electric range of 30 miles. Which seemed pretty poor. But then we discovered the A1 e-Tron had a 2.6 gallon fuel tank.
Stick in a proper-sized tank for an A1-sized car – something around 10 gallons – and you’d have a total range of over 500 miles when you needed it – and then just a quick refuel to continue – and an electric range of 30 miles for shop-popping and going to work during the week.
We’ve long advocated the range extender as the only really sensible ‘Hybrid’, and we hoped that Audi would pursue the A1 e-Tron. But we didn’t think it likely as Audi, despite having absorbed NSU – the original Wankel engine masters – years ago, had no Wankel expertise. So we though the A1 e-Tron would gather dust as just another Motor Show Concept.
But now we’ve heard that Audi are talking – informally – to Mazda, the only car company left who still pursue the Wankel engine. True, Euro 5 has killed off the Wankel engine for now, but Mazda are working on a replacement, and we’re expecting a new RX Mazda next year.
New advances in Wankel engine technology should make the Wankel engine both more reliable and more economical, but as a range extender its compact size for its power output is the big appeal.
All of which means that the Audi A1 e-Tron could still make it in to production.
Complete with its Wankel range-extender.