By on April 9, 2018

Gran Turismo is arguably the first video game franchise to appeal to car enthusiasts en masse. While Sega’s Out Run had us sitting behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa as early as 1987 and Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed let us abuse a handful of exotics by 1994, Polyphony Digital hit us with 140 licensed reproductions of real-world automobiles in 1997. Two years later, Gran Turismo 2 upped the ante with 650 new and used cars, even more tracks, and extensive modifications. This kicked off a bizarre symbiotic relationship between game developers and automakers.

Advancements in technology allowed burgeoning car fans to virtually experience their favorite rides, as well as new models they’d never even heard of. Developers took notice of the GT success story, as did manufacturers, which recognized the usefulness of these games as an incredibly potent marketing tool. Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have all developed concept vehicles that debuted inside a video game, Ford briefed Turn 10 Studios so it could nail the GT’s specs in Forza 6 before the car even finished development, Toyota offered a free demo disc of Gran Turismo 4 as part of its 2004 model brochure, and Porsche unveiled the GT2 RS during the Forza Motorsport 7 press announcement at last year’s E3 conference.

While corporate partnerships between automakers and game developers are nothing new, it’s exceedingly rare to see a vehicle intended exclusively for the digital realm drive off the screen and onto the racetrack. But that’s exactly what Audi has done with the E-Tron Vision Gran Turismo. 

Audi isn’t the first company to pull this off, however. As previously stated, the GT franchise has a long tradition of factory racing concepts that only exist as ones-and-zeros inside a computer or gaming console. Mercedes-Benz actually built the AMG Vision Gran Turismo in tandem with the the release of Gran Turismo 6 and a handful of other manufacturers have enacted similar marketing shenanigans. But Audi did things a little differently.

Traditionally, an automaker debuts a physical concept at roughly the same time the game’s release to lots of fanfare — having made a deal with the game developers far in advance. However, Gran Turismo Sport, which showcases the E-Tron Vision racer, came out in back in October. There wasn’t much of a preamble to the E-Tron Vision’s launch. In fact, Polyphony Digital only started issuing press materials last week and Audi kept nearly silent on the matter until April 9th.

Painted to be intentionally reminiscent of the 1989 Audi Quattro 90 IMSA GTO, the E-Tron Vision ditches the old racer’s 2.2-liter turbocharged five-pot for a trio of electric mills. At roughly 200 kW apiece, the system’s total output comes in at 600 kW — or about 815 horsepower. Running an all-wheel-drive setup, two electric motors turn the back tires while the third works on the front axle. A load of batteries brings the vehicle’s overall weight to 3,200 lbs, though Audi says it can still shoot from 0 to 62 mph in just 2.5 seconds.

None of this matters, as the concept won’t have to win any races. Instead, Audi intends to use it to highlight its commitment to electrification and prove that you can have a gas without burning any.

“E-Mobility is rapidly gaining importance,” said Peter Mertens, Audi AG board member responsible for technical development. “That is why in 2017 Audi was the first German manufacturer to enter Formula E with a factory-backed commitment. In our development laboratory motorsport, we are continuously expanding our expertise in e-mobility and gathering valuable experience also in extremely demanding conditions. With the Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo race taxi we are turning electric mobility into a tangible experience for our customers and guests as part of the Formula E races – in the middle of the world’s metropolises.”

The E-Tron Vision Gran Turismo makes its first public appearance in Rome on April 14th, where the automaker plans to give Audi customers and guests thrill rides ahead of the city’s upcoming Formula E race. From there, the brand intends to have it make appearances at all subsequent European Formula E races.

[Images: Audi]

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