Marvelous Failures: The Audi A2
Introduced in November 1999 for the 2000 model year, the A2 may have been the smallest car in Audi's range, but it definitely wasn't a cheap one.
Seven thousand, five hundred and thirty-two Euros.
That's, on average, how much money Audi lost on each A2 it sold, throughout the model's five-year lifespan.
That figure was calculated by the Bernstein Research company in 2013, and, given the A2 was dropped after a mere five years and never replaced, it mustn't be too far from the actual one. However, about fifteen years after its demise, the Audi A2 is quietly gaining in appreciation, and sure I can see why.
Introduced in November 1999 for the 2000 model year, the A2 may have been the smallest car in Audi's range, but it definitely wasn't designed as a cheap one. The idea was to offer the same level of engineering refinement that built Audi's success, but in a smaller package.
Tasked with designing a small car that could comfortably transport four people and their luggage from Stuttgart to Milan on one single tank of fuel, the Audi engineers started from the proverbial blank sheet of paper. And that's what makes the A2 special: it's a largely bespoke, highly optimized product designed to achieve a precise set of goals.
As we all know, weight is the enemy of efficiency, so the Audi A2's body is an aluminum space frame built from laser-welded casts and extrusions, with the outer skin bearing little to no structural load. As a result, this remarkably spacious 3.8 meters-long car only weighs about 900 Kilograms, giving its 1.4 liters turbodiesel engine less work to do.
The inline-four turbodiesel in the video's example is the 90 HP version introduced in late 2003, and, as you'd probably expect, it doesn't look special. Not that you're supposed to see it anyway: the A2's bonnet doesn't open but rather detaches from the car if you want to do anything more than checking the fluid levels, which are accessible through a service hatch.
Form rarely follows function in the fickle car design business, but it certainly does on the Audi A2. It appears hewn from a solid block, and its rather exquisite teardrop shape glides through the air with minimal effort, thanks to a Cd between 0.25 and 0.29, depending on the version.
The interior is spacious and just as well-appointed as in a contemporary Audi A3 or TT, especially so on this loaded example upholstered in striking red leather and equipped with an electric glass sunroof.
Such attention to detail extends to almost every aspect of the A2, including the lifting jack: it's a bespoke, lightweight item made in aluminum, just like the rest of the vehicle.
Such engineering integrity was, and presumably forever will be, unique in a small family MPV, but it came at a considerable price.
When new, the Audi A2 retailed for a price comparable to a well-specified Volkswagen Golf, one that potential buyers weren't willing to pay, regardless of the car's inherent qualities.
As a result, less than 180.000 copies of this great little Audi left the assembly line before the company pulled the plug in August of 2005, and that's a crying shame, as the A2 is arguably the cleverest car Audi ever made, a conceptual landmark that's only proving more relevant as time goes by. Only one contemporary model compares, and that's the BMW i3, arguably another sales flop.
But that's a story for another time...