Crapwagon Outtake: Audi's Aluminum A-Segment Wonder

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Banovsky’s Car of the Day sets the clock back 15 years to look at a vehicle that was tragically ahead of its time. So much so, that it makes the Prius look unimpressive.

The Audi A2 was an all-aluminum microvan capable of hitting 78 mpg in its most fuel-efficient trim level. As Banovsky writes,

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.)

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.

Of course, the 78 mpg figure was for the A2 TDI 3L, which used a special, ultra-efficient diesel engine and other tricks like redesigned body panels to hit that figure. The A2 was also made entirely of aluminum, which makes the bespoke body panels all the more amazing. And expensive.

The A2 cost an absolute fortune to produce, and fuel prices weren’t high enough to entice people into buying one. Production lasted just a few brief years before Audi cancelled the program. One can only imagine that with the current adoption of aluminum, the greater acceptance for small, fuel-efficient vehicles and the increased cachet of the Audi brand, the A2 would have a much brighter future today – and be capable of even greater fuel economy gains. Then again, with the improvements we’ve seen in the last 15 years, would aluminum construction and other expensive technologies even be necessary?

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

More by Derek Kreindler

Join the conversation
2 of 97 comments
  • Johann Johann on Aug 06, 2014

    krhodes1 said: "And yet, in Europe, it outsold the Prius during its production run. Proving once again that unlike Americans, Europeans rarely buy cars by the pound (or kilogram, as the case may be). It was a limited production technology demonstrator. In Europe, it is still a highly-regarded and sought after car – I would call that a success. Even now, very few people in Europe have much interest in the Prius in any of its sundry variations." Very true. I bought a brand new A2 in 2001 and had it for 111,000 miles and 9 amazing years. Loved that little beast. The fuel economy, the scarcity, the sound of that 3 cylinder engine, the panoramic glass roof. I didn't care for the rock hard suspension (done after the A-class elk affair) that meant 10mph over speed bumps, but also means go kart handling around smoother roads. For the same money I could have had a boring as toast 170hp V5 Golf. Yet I got the 75hp Audi. I could trash the Audi all the time to 100% and not get into too serious trouble. But trashing a V5 leads to trouble (it's obviously faster to 60 and in top speed) and they float on country lanes like a barge (I had a partner a few years later with one and I NEVER took the V5 on a Sunday for a spin, always taking the A2). And because they are not plentiful, are scarce and still look great, they have held their second hand values very well. A Mercedes A-class similarly priced in 2002 is now worth about £600 vs the A2 being worth at least £2,500.

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 06, 2014

    "The Audi A2 was an all-aluminum microvan capable of hitting 78 mpg in its most fuel-efficient trim level." European reported fuel economy is invariably grossly inflated. You should probably knock off a good 20-30% off of that figure in order to convert that into American.

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.