Stagnation means death in any business, which is why automakers are constantly evolving and expanding their lineups. But, while market research and focus groups design some vehicles—witness the BMW 5-series GT—Audi seems to follow a different approach in which intuition plays a bigger role. Cars like the low-slung, beautiful A7 and the R8 need no lengthy explanations.
Now Audi is preparing to launch another mid-engined sports car, a little brother to the R8 very likely to be called R4. We got our first glimpse of it at this year's Detroit auto show in the form of the e-tron concept—which, confusingly, bore the same name as the bigger 2009 Frankfurt concept resembling the R8. Compact, with clean and powerful lines free of gimmicks, the Detroit e-tron is one of the best-looking small coupes we've seen lately—and most of its styling will carry over into the production model when it hits showrooms in 2013.
Audi is planning coupe and roadster versions of the R4. With the company’s emphasis on lightweight materials, the R4 could come in below 2500 pounds, depending on how much aluminum engineers will be allowed to use. We predict a hybrid body structure of steel and aluminum.
Look Out . . . Miata?
But perhaps Audi will leave the mid-engine-screamer segment to sister company Porsche, which is hinting at a new mid-engined sports car priced well below the Boxster and Cayman. This companion to the R4 will bear Porsche's softer, more traditional styling language and be powered by a four-cylinder engine as well—at least in its entry-level configuration. It makes a lot of sense to consider a VW version of the R4 as well, after the positive reaction to the VW BlueSport concept.