Bright Spark

Bright Spark

Bright Spark

With a host of Audi plug-in hybrid models joining the range, we take a closer look at the car that started the marque’s journey towards electrification

Take a look through Audi’s history and it’s plain to see that the marque has always led the way when it comes to innovation. Some of the many highlights of the past 40 years include quattro all-wheel drive, TFSI and TDI engine technology, advanced aerodynamics and the weight-saving aluminium spaceframe chassis. These have all played a key part in advancing the automotive world, and now a diverse range of sophisticated plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) marks another crucial milestone in the brand’s story (as we previously explored here).

You might think that PHEVs are a relatively recent addition to the motoring landscape, but in fact Audi built its first hybrid vehicle more than 30 years ago. The Audi Duo experimental vehicle was created in 1989, and was a star of the following year’s Geneva Motor Show. Based on the handsome 100 Avant, the Duo’s 2.3-litre, five-cylinder petrol engine sent 136PS to the front wheels, while a nickel-cadmium battery mounted underneath the boot floor powered a 9kW (12.6PS) Siemens electric motor that drove the rear axle.

Hybrid technology has been enhanced significantly in recent years, with efficiency, power and refinement all advancing at a rapid rate. This remarkable progress is clearly illustrated by the high-tech and ultra-efficient A7 Sportback TFSI e quattro (seen here alongside an example of its 1980s forebear) which in the blink of an eye switches automatically – and seamlessly – between driving modes to provide optimum efficiency.

Things weren’t quite so simple for the Duo driver, though, who had to put the transmission into neutral and press the E button on the dashboard before engaging electric mode to access an electric driving range of up to 24 miles.

The ample torque produced by the Duo’s electric motor meant that the car could reach 31mph before the petrol engine needed to take over. In slippery conditions, where all-wheel drive was required to pull away, both power sources worked in tandem. And, despite being built some 30 years ago, the Duo included a regenerative braking system, with kinetic energy utilised to charge the battery pack when the brakes were applied. Since it was created using a completely standard 100 Avant, the Duo also benefited from the production car’s aerodynamic fastback-style body, resulting in an incredibly low aerodynamic drag coefficient that helped the vehicle cut through the air more effectively.

Only ten examples of the Duo were built, and this immaculate example now enjoys a quiet life in the Audi museum in Ingolstadt. But the hybrid philosophy that the Duo explored three decades ago now enables Audi’s new PHEV models to deliver significant efficiency gains on our roads today.

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