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Is Audi’s Design in a Rut?

March 20, 2014 by Matt

2012 Audi A5 White

“Awfully familiar” is how a recent Car and Driver article described the evergreen A5/S5’s looks, now its 7th model year. And yet in the final tally, the Audi ended up with only a 1-point deficit in the “Exterior Styling” category to the brand-new, sultry BMW 435i. Audi’s designs have staying power; that much is certain. But in spite of their objective attractiveness, is it time to move on to a different, or at least more significantly updated set of visual themes?

Audi S3 Red

The conservative looks of the new A3/S3 sedan could be construed as evidence the automaker is out of ideas. Aside from various detail updates, the car looks like an 75% facsimile of Audi’s current-generation (and rather long in the tooth) A4. It looks buttoned-down, tasteful, taut and sporty, but isn’t it time to push the styling envelope a bit?

It’s risky to introduce new themes to such an established brand, and the industry is replete with failed examples of automakers attempting to roll out a fresh new look for their lineup, most recently Lexus with their hideous “hourglass” grille shape.

Success stories do exist, however; recall Mercedes’ transition to oval headlights in the ’90s and more recently Jaguar’s jettisoning of basically their entire classic design vocabulary with the XF and XJ. In both cases, the automakers’ efforts were well-received and unlocked new styling possibilities across their respective model ranges.

2015 Audi TT Coupe Blue

2015 Audi TT Coupe Blue Rear

As far as Audi is concerned, small indications exist that they’re trying to move beyond the current design playbook. With its revamped fascia, the new 3rd-generation TT gives glimpses of what a new styling direction could be like, even if the rest of the car actually takes a stylistic step backward in apeing the 1st generation car more than its immediate predecessor; the rear fenders and overall profile look like they haven’t shifted a millimeter in the past 10 years. Granted, it’s difficult to improve on a shape that was acclaimed as a design icon when it was released, but still, coupes are most brands’ styling vanguards; Audi could stand to be a little more radical without “endangering” sales of their bread-and-butter models.

Rumors are flying of a new Sport Quattro coupe; here’s hoping that serves to introduce a positive new design direction.

Image credits:

Filed under: Aesthetics, Audi, News


  1. JMTC says:

    I’ve never been a fan of Audi’s “deep grille” look, and am even less a fan given how broadly it’s been copied by various and numerous manufacturers for the past decade. That grille has just never been an attractive feature in my opinion, and I’m frankly surprised that they persist in it.

    Show us some design bravado like we saw from Audi in the mid-late ’80s.

    • Matt says:

      I’m not a fan either, but I will concede that it makes a little more sense in Europe where the wide front plates are required. Justifies it a bit I think.

      Still, I think there are definitely ways to “transition” the deep grille into a more attractive design, the new Sport Quattro concept being one example.

      I don’t fault Audi for the fact that their deep grille has been copied; it’s like their LED daytime running lights—their ubiquity only affirms Audi’s status as a design leader.

  2. Joe Public says:

    One of the problems is Audi’s own earlier design success. The TT and A5 are some of the more beautiful cars to emerge in the 00s. So I understand that it’s hard for the brand to move beyond such great successes. But they really are starting to have two design problems: (1) models are looking stale (the A5 is over seven years old now); (2) models are becoming increasingly homogenous (it’s sad how hard it’s become to tell the difference between a $100,000 A8, a $60,000 A6, and a $35,000 A4). They need a shake up. You seem revolutionary new design aesthetics being proposed from time to time (e.g., the new Quattro Coupe concept they’ve toyed with for a few years now) but it seems like the more radical design proposals are not filtering into actual product lines.

    • Matt says:

      Agree with all of the above. They’re definitely being very conservative at the moment. One of the things that enables them to get away with it is the fact that their cars’ details are so flawlessly executed. Audi may be playing it safe stylistically, but no one can argue they’re not very stylish and supremely tasteful, qualities that play very well in the luxury market.

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