Note: Mike Juergens from QuattroWorld.com and I have been chatting about how to do a fun collaboration. So, for the next four Mondays I'll feature an Audi or one of the automakers combined to create Audi. Articles #2 and #4 will be written by Mike, as a guest writer—something I haven't done before. All four articles will also appear on QuattroWorld.com. Should be fun! (For those of you keeping track, this is also the first Audi to be featured here!)
Let's talk about weight for a minute.
Alfa Romeo must have been pleased with themselves after shaving the 4C sports car's weight down to 895 kg (1,973 lbs.)
That figure puts it as only 75 kg (165 lbs.) heavier than the smart fortwo. The fortwo keeps its weight low by being a city car with room enough for two adults and a stick of gum, while the 4C's frame is made from exotic carbon fibre like you'd find in a Formula 1 car.
Rewind the clock back to 1999, though, and you'd have witnessed the debut of a small MPV with room for four and luggage…with a kerb weight starting at 895 kg.
Yes, a family car that's as light on its feet as a modern Alfa Romeo sports car. Even its closest modern analogue, the all-electric BMW i3 MPV—also built with a carbon fibre chassis—is a porky 300 kg (661 lbs) heavier.
Say hello to the Audi A2, an aluminum 5-door hatchback that was 15 years ahead of its time.
I think it's important to revisit the A2 because, well, as enthusiasts we tend to forget the minutia. We may know the Audi A2, of course, but its design details and its performance may be a little fuzzy in our minds.
The impetus was simple: get four people from Stuttgart, Germany (the most direct route passes through the middle of Switzerland on the way!), and on to Milan, Italy using only a single tank of fuel. Distance? 500 km (310 miles.)
Who best to design the car? Audi chose a design penned by Luc Donckerwolke, whose more recent credits include the Audi R8 Le Mans race car, Lamborghini Murciélago, and Lamborghini Gallardo.
Of course, after you're done designing a 4-seat, 5-door MPV with a length two inches less than a modern Toyota Yaris 5-door, there's not much room for a massive fuel tank for long journeys. At just 34 litres (8.9 U.S. gallons), that means the A2 would have to consume just 6.8 L/100 km or (34 US MPG).
Don't forget, though: the route from Stuttgart to Milan would take you over the alps and you'd have four people onboard, some bags, and a few sticks of gum.
The target Audi hit? Just 3 L/100 km (78 US MPG.) If you're keeping score at home you'll know that's an improvement of 17 mpg over a Toyota Prius. Using hypermiling techniques, an A2 has consumed as little as 2.62 L/100 km (90 US mpg.)
Weight definitely played a part. Its chassis was an aluminum spaceframe with a large amount of aluminum found in the rest of the vehicle. It previews the current trend of automakers trying exotic chassis and bodywork materials—the 2015 Ford F-150 is a great example of how aluminum body panels can shed a truckload of weight.
Its aerodynamics, too, were exceptional. Depending on the trim level, its coefficient of drag could be as low as 0.25, identical to the much longer and lower Toyota Prius.
Under the hood? A range of three- and four-cylinder engines, burning either gasoline or diesel. At the top of the performance charts was a 1.6-litre FSI with 109 horsepower, 114 lb-ft of torque, a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time of just 9.8 seconds and a top speed of 202 km/h (125 mph.)
Kinda the hood? The Serviceklappe—"service hatch"—a simple hatch that opens to reveal the dipstick, oil filler, and windshield washer filler. The hood is kept on by two clasps below the Serviceklappe, and for more involved servicing is removed altogether.
At its most efficient, the A2 1.2 TDI trim level was fitted with no power steering, air conditioning, or extras—not to mention features more often seen on supercars: thinner glass, lighter seats, and magnesium alloy wheels!
Amazingly, in addition to reshaped exterior panels, this so-called "3L" trim was one of the first vehicles with a stop-start system to save fuel. In Eco mode, it'd also switch to neutral in order to freewheel down hills—a similar idea to one used on the Messerschmitt KR200.
Something it had over most vehicles (including the Messerschmitt KR200) is that the A2 could be ordered in a number of interior and exterior colour combinations. quattro GmbH would also customize your A2 just like other Audis. Sadly, their services were not a popular option.
At this point, it may sound like the A2 was a low volume product, but Audi built more than 176,000 of them before production stopped in 2005.
With sky-high production costs and fuel prices at about half of what they are now, an expensive premium MPV made from aluminum—not available at any price with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive—was a tough sell.
Now? You can splurge and pick up a low mileage version for 10,000 Eur ($13,400 Usd.) or less. Average price? Less than 7,000 Eur ($9,300 Usd.)
Sadly, thanks to idiotic importation laws, the A2 will first by U.S. road legal in 2024.
Until then, do me a favour and mention the A2 every time a fellow enthusiast remarks about how impressively light the Alfa Romeo 4C is. Sure, vehicle regulations have come a long way, but not far enough to diminish the significance of Audi's little A2.