At the moment, Audi has a suite of newly electrified vehicles. However, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, Audi was one of the last mainstream premium automakers to adopt electrification. But that’s actually a bit odd because Audi was seemingly experimenting with hybrid and electric technology long before it became popular. You could say Audi was a bit of a hybrid hipster, in a sense. That’s because in 1997, the four-ringed brand developed the Audi A4 Avant Duo, which was a diesel-powered hybrid.
The 1997 (B5-generation) Audi A4 Avant Duo was the brand’s first-ever hybrid that was actually sold to customers, even if it was only sold in extremely low numbers. In fact, only 90 models were sold, barely enough to even be considered a production car. What’s important about the A4 Duo, though, is the fact that it showed Audi was ahead of the game, as it was far ahead of its time.
Powering the Audi A4 Avant Duo was a 1.9 liter four-cylinder diesel engine that made only 90 horsepower. That combined with an electric motor, which was powered by 320 kg of lead-acid batteries (’90s tech after all) to drive the front wheels. While that setup wasn’t revolutionary, the fact that it was actually a plug-in hybrid was. That gave it a pure electric mode, with a few miles of emissions-free driving, something almost unheard of at the time.
The problem for the A4 Duo was the fact that it came at the wrong time for hybrids. When it debuted in 1997, it was quite expensive (the equivalent of roughly $40,000 USD). Sure, it had great fuel economy and and all-electric range but gas was cheap at the time, while diesel wasn’t as cheap, and customers weren’t as concerned with the well-being of polar bears back then. So customers just didn’t see the point in spending that much money on a slow, diesel-powered, hybrid wagon when they could get something much more powerful and exciting for less money.
However, it’s still incredibly impressive that the Audi A4 Avant Duo was made at all. Audi didn’t have to mess with hybrid tech back in the ’90s but it did so anyway. What’s even more impressive, though, is what actually came before it.
Prior to the A4 Avant Duo, there was actually another Audi Duo based on the Audi 100 Avant and it debuted back in 1989. It had a five-cylinder gas engine under its hood that powered just the front wheels. However, it had an electric motor that drove the back wheels. That’s very similar to how some hybrids work today and made it far, far ahead of its time. Audi even updated that car, with a different four-cylinder engine and permanent all-wheel drive.
So while Audi only first launched an all-electric car recently, it’s actually been dabbling with electric tech for decades. And the first hybrid the brand ever sold wasn’t the A3 e-tron but instead a 1997, B5-gen Audi A4 Avant Duo, a car that was way ahead of its time.