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27 October 2010

Sports car concepts have dominated the auto show circuit for most of 2010, with the Volkswagen Group leading the charge. By adding Porsche to the family last year, the ever-expanding universe now has at least five brands (VW, Audi, Lamborghini, Bugatti and of course Porsche) over which to spread the cost of developing new mid-engine sports cars. Our man George, who also mans the office at Fourtitude.com, offers us a comprehensive breakdown of what we know as well as some educated guesses for the future of mid-engine cars at the Volkswagen Group and specifically Audi.

Transverse Mid-Engine, aka: MQB Mid

MQB is VAG’s upcoming modular architecture that will feature transversely mounted engines in the front of the chassis, following in the vein of Audi’s longitudinal engine MLB setup pioneered under Martin Winterkorn’s tenure at Audi. In MLB, key points are shared underneath everything from the A4 to the A8. MQB is apparently just as flexible as MLB and key components from this upcoming set were used to underpin Volkswagen’s mid-engine Bluesport Concept in 2009.We don’t yet know an official designation for this component set, but for now we’re dubbing it ‘MQB Mid’.

Since the debut of Bluesport, the group has been evaluating use of this cost-effective and likely rear-drive-only chassis for small Porsche and Audi sportscars and perhaps even a third-generation modern Volkswagen Beetle. Its combination of lower cost and compatibility also make it a potential for a Seat like the Tango concept that appeared several years ago, though no reliable source has ever mentioned this possibility.me r3

While Audi executives refused to get specific at the Detroit Auto Show last January, we were able to learn that the blue e-tron concept shown in Motown was, in fact, a mid-engine configuration, despite its almost Aston Martin-like proportions. Audi group design boss Wolfgang Egger also confirmed that the Detroit e-tron was roughly the same footprint as an Audi A1, so it’s easy to infer this car was Audi’s take on the MQB Mid chassis set. All rumors from informed corners of the press suggest the Audi, Porsche and VW have been evaluating whether or not to put this architecture into production, and the continued onslaught of concept cars suggest the future looks bright.

Possible VAG Cars That Could Make Use of MQB Mid

• Audi R4, R3 or TT Successor

• Porsche 914 or 356 Successor

• Volkswagen Bluesport or Beetle

At Audi this vehicle would most likely establish the smallest R-car, expanding from the lone R8 into a full line of sports cars. An R4 seems to be the most likely designation for the car, according to the rumor mill, but a transverse engine configuration and small size makes us wonder how likely this is. Based on the fact the A4 uses a longitudinal engine and is a much bigger car, we suspect it may bear an R3 designation. Discussion of a possible TT model on this platform seem unlikely, as the TT is set to remain front engined. Regardless of name, electric e-tron versions are likely.

Since the engine is transverse we can make a few more assumptions. Audi will be limited to use of its inline or narrow angle VR engines such as the V6 recently removed from the TT and A3 lineups. More than likely the largest and most powerful Audi engines in the car would be the 2.0T or the 350 hp 2.5T from the TT RS.me bluesport

We have no direct intel from inside Porsche, but other news sources have suggested Stuttgart is working on a spiritual successor to the 914 or maybe even the 356 as an entry-level sports car slotted below the Boxster/Cayman. Trusted news sources seem to think the current Cayman/Boxster chassis is getting an overhaul with some added length in part to help make room for this new Porsche model below them. CAR magazine also hinted that Porsche might be considering a new turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine for the car.

If a new boxer is developed, it could also see duty in a Volkswagen iteration. Still unclear about the name, it is likely that VW would go for a roadster similar to the original Bluesport concept. Add to that unconfirmed rumors of a New Beetle successor and the boxer engine makes even more sense from a heritage standpoint.

Longitudinal Mid-Engine, aka: MSS

MSS is an entirely new component set revealed to us by high-levels contacts from Audi AG. Using the same design parameters as MLB and MQB, such as geometries between steering components and engine placement, the Volkswagen Group aims to add further flexibility to cars on the more exotic end of the spectrum with longitudinal engine configuration.

We’ve seen not only size and dimensional flexibility from MLB but also material flexibility. Where the A8 uses an aluminum space frame, the A4 uses steel and cars like the A7 use a mix. We’re told MSS has the same flexibility and moreso. At the time of our conversation over a year ago, we were told MSS would underpin the next-generation R8, the Gallardo replacement and the upcoming Murcielago replacement with materials dictated by cost. Where the second-gen R8 and the Gallardo replacement will likely use an aluminum space frame, the Murcielago replacement will be built extensively from carbon fiber as hinted by the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento concept shown earlier this month in Paris.

When the Porsche 918 was revealed last year at Geneva, we once again brought up MSS to our source. At that time he was unwilling to confirm 918 was based on MSS architecture, but it seems to make sense; another story we’ve seen from Georg Kacher at Automobile and CAR magazines corroborates this.

How flexible is MSS? At the time, the first photoshop images of an ‘R4’ were just hitting the web and the Bluesport not yet revealed, so we asked specifically about steel production and scaling MSS down. Rumors at that time hinted at a Cayman/Boxster replacement with a horizontally opposed six-cylinder and rear-wheel drive, sharing a platform with an all-wheel-drive Audi using 2.0T and 2.5T inline engines. Where our source was more than willing to share MSS’s use for R8 and the two Lamborghinis, he refrained from theorizing on its use in models further down the range such as Boxster/Cayman or a middle-sized Audi sports car.

Fast-forward to this year’s Paris Auto Show where Audi unveiled its e-tron Spyder concept. Though visibly close in design to the blue e-tron coupe shown in Detroit, the Spyder interestingly broke free of the ‘electric-only’ mold of previous e-trons, also featuring the next generation of Audi’s 3.0 TDI diesel V6. Sources at Audi have confirmed to Fourtitude that the engine in the e-tron Spyder is mounted longitudinally, which further begs the question of chassis. Is this the first showing for a scaled down MSS good for Boxster/Cayman/Audi R use or something all new? We’re guessing MSS but haven’t had a chance to verify this as of this writing.

Possible VAG Cars That Could Make Use of MSS

• Audi R8

• Audi R5

• Lamborghini Gallardo Replacement

• Lamborghini Murcielago Replacement

• Porsche Cayman / Boxster

• Porsche 911

• Porsche 918

We are certain that MSS will underpin the next-generation Audi R8. Not much else is known of that car, but it’s safe to say that it will make use of an aluminum space frame in order to keep weight down. We also expect to see drivetrain upgrades, including perhaps a move away from the current car’s viscous-coupling center differential and the addition of a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox to replace the current R-tronic / e.gear single-clutch setup. By the time the next R8 reaches production, we’re also betting that the high-revving naturally aspirated 4.2 FSI will be have been retired in favor of the new twin turbo 4.0T FSI.

An e-tron version of the R8 is likely, though we’re not sure this will include the first e-tron that is expected to go on sale by 2011 as promised by Audi board member Michael Dick. We believe this “Ur e-tron” is expected to make use of a modified version of the current R8’s Type 42 chassis just as the first e-tron concept car did.

Also quite interesting is the idea of an R5. We’ve heard the R5 name used twice now. The first time was probably by accident while we were chatting with a source from Audi, and the second followed that in a piece written by journalist Georg Kacher, who is known to be incredibly well connected and often quite accurate. While Kacher’s piece was a bit confusing and almost sounded as if the MQB Mid Audi would be named R5, we have reason to believe R5 is a wholly different car, and likely one with a longitudinal engine and available all-wheel drive. In this different configuration, Audi could go with the 2.5T FSI from the TT RS for light weight and efficiency but it could also go with the larger 3.0T FSI from the S4 and still fill space below the R8. And let’s not forget, the e-tron Spyder showed Audi is also willing to explore capitalizing upon its diesel racing program as it examines (at least in concept form) the idea of a TDI-powered sports car. If we’re getting our facts straight, it is the R5 that seems more likely than a smaller MQB-mid R3 for the North American market.

Lamborghini is the easiest to envision in its use of MSS because its product line is the simplest. Sant Agata doesn’t typically re-use names, so the bull-inspired Gallardo and Murcielago nomenclatures will likely be put out to pasture when the new cars come on line. Our source did confirm that, as with the current car, the Gallardo replacement would also make extensive use of aluminum. Given the current commonalities between the Gallardo and the R8, we expect the next baby Lambo will be smaller, more aggressively styled and edgier then the next-gen R8.

Use of lightweight carbon fiber in Lamborghini’s Sesto Elemento concept shown in Paris was extreme, but likely not as far off as many have assumed. The source of our MSS intel suggested that this new car would use carbon fiber much more extensively than the current Murcielago. Migration through to MSS could mean a shift to engines developed entirely by VAG. It is possible, as seen with Bentley, that Lamborghini could try to further evolve the same V12 it has been using as the basis for the Murcielago, a mill that pre-dates VAG’s ownership of the raging bull. However, only the V10 has been claimed as having a strong future, this according to statements made by Lamborghini executives in Paris last month.

Porsche is another very interesting player in the MSS story. Kacher’s latest take on Porsche’s Boxster and 911 test mules that have recently been seen out and about near Stuttgart suggests their very conservatively evolved designs are consistent with the idea that Porsche will develop their current platform at least one more time around and extend the length of the Boxster/Cayman pair.

Kacher also points out though that Ferdinand Piech and VAG boss Martin Winterkorn are keen to establish the 911 as an earlier adopter of new technologies and evolve it less conservatively as in the past. The question is, where does Porsche go from here and will the Boxster/Cayman be split from the 911 developmentally.

If the R5 is more than vaporware, then the Boxster/Cayman sharing in its development makes a lot of sense. An all-wheel-drive Audi powered by a small-displacement turbo or diesel would likely not compete directly with a boxer-fitted rear-wheel drive Porsche sharing this most cost-effective iteration of MSS architecture.

Another unanswered question here is that of the Porsche 911. The rumored Piech/Winterkorn plan of turning the 911 into a technology leader would necessitate it make use of components where rapid and flexible deployment is key. MSS would offer this and would make a cost-effective way to move 911 to an aluminum space frame, perhaps even carbon fiber for more exotic versions such as the GT2 RS.

However, one thing remains to be seen and that centers around the 911’s rear-mounted engine. Thus far, every known and theorized iteration of MSS will be mid-engine, and it remains to be seen whether a rear-mounted 911 engine would fit within those parameters. We can only imagine the uproar if Porsche tossed out this classic configuration for its most iconic model.

Our source wouldn’t get specific about the 918, but it seems obvious the production version of this car will also use the MSS chassis. By doing so Porsche can tailor its use of carbon fiber and aluminum to make one of the most developed super exotic offerings it has ever built.

Could there be more for MSS? You never know. The next Bugatti isn’t expected to be a mid-engine sports car, but such flexibility in this arena would mean less cost if Bugatti wanted to move in that direction. The same goes for the Bentley and Volkswagen brands that, while they haven’t shown outward interest in building a mid-engine sports cars, have in the past flirted with the notion with the Hunaudieres and Nardo W12 concepts, respectively. As executives ponder the business case of MSS, you can bet that inclusion of at least Bentley or Bugatti has been considered for the program.

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