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Posts filed under ‘Audi’

The Sweet Spot: ’04-’05 Audi A8

August 27, 2016 by Matt

Audi A8 D3

As with the ’95-’97 Lexus LS400, I really like this car—but only in a very specific flavor.

In contrast to BMW and Mercedes’ practice of rolling out their most avant-garde technology (and design) with their respective top-of-the-line 7-series and S-class ranges, Audi’s flagship has charted a rather more gradual, evolutionary path since the original D2 platform’s arrival here in 1997. In the best Audi tradition, its styling has always been understated, if perfectly tasteful and proportionally spot-on.

Audi A8 D3

Unfortunately, for the mid-cycle design refresh of the 2nd-generation D3 A8 featured here, Audi decided to add its newly-minted corporate “deep grille,” intended to circumscribe the front license plate of cars so equipped. And while I understand the desire to give that bit of necessary evil some context, styling-wise, the A8’s look suffered for it—as did, admittedly, the rest of Audi’s lineup. That said, the pre-facelift D3 A8 stands out in my mind as the absolute pinnacle of the Ingolstadt automaker’s non-deep-grille look. It looks breathtakingly elegant, and in the flesh has a presence matched by few other vehicles. Every line resolves perfectly and there’s a real cohesiveness to its styling that was undone with the refresh. The pre-facelift car looks all-of-a-piece, machined from a single aluminum ingot, and has very real shades of that loveliest of Audi concept cars, the Avus quattro.

Audi A8 D3

Mechanically the D3 A8 was an upgraded carryover from the D2 platform, with 4.2l V8 and 6.0l W12 engines offered here, developing 335 and 444 horsepower, respectively. Audi’s quattro AWD system was naturally fitted to all US-bound cars, and the aluminum-intensive unibody kept weight reasonably low at around two tons.

Audi A8 D3 Interior Inside

The interior is Audi’s typical symphony in leather, wood and metal accents, ergonomically flawless and beautiful to behold and interact with. Mirroring the A8’s outside, it’s businesslike, without the fussiness or gratuitous flourishes typical of many other luxury car interiors. And best of all, the central screen is retractable into the dash.

Most range-topping luxury cars I would feel ostentatious driving; out of place, like I was behind the wheel of something that didn’t accurately reflect my income bracket. The pre-facelift D3 A8, though, in a similar way to the Mercedes W123 coupe, overwhelmingly exudes such a sense of good taste that it transcends petty concerns of class envy when it comes to cars. It’s a timelessly beautiful car, and one I could visualize with little difficulty parked in my garage.

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Audi Concepts: The RSQ

December 28, 2014 by Matt

Audi RSQ

Audi RSQ

More than any other automaker, Audi’s styling gives us a sense of “you can get there from here.”

What do I mean? Examine the various generations of Audi cars and there’s a clear aesthetic progression from one to the next. There’s no jumping off the deep end design-wise, a la Bangle-helmed BMW in the 2000s; instead, Audi’s corporate styling themes seem to move forward in even, incremental steps. And while this approach sometimes raises the question of whether their aesthetic evolution is too gradual, the easily-traceable progression makes it easier to extrapolate Audi’s future styling direction. In other words, it’s easier to fill in the gaps between Audi’s present lineup and the look of its concept cars, which in turn makes the concepts seem nearer, less fanciful and more real. While that might be a downside for those who enjoy concept cars as pure flights of fancy, aesthetic puff pieces with no connection to an automaker’s current offerings, most car buffs at some point imagine themselves behind the wheel of a car rotating slowly on the dais. Cultivating that connection means that a less extreme suspension of disbelief is needed to fantasize about driving a concept car, and renders it more attainable, so to speak, and thus more desirable.

Audi RSQ

Audi RSQ Interior Inside Cockpit Console

Take the car featured in this post, the RSQ. Created in 2004 especially for the Will Smith sci-fi action flick I, Robot (itself nothing to write home about, but that’s another matter), the idea behind the car was to create a realistic vehicle for the year 2035, when the film is set. Naturally, it has futuristic overtones, especially the spherical wheels. But because of Audi’s progressive design philosophy, there’s still a connection with their present-day cars; when you see it there’s a sense that, “Yeah, I could drive that.” That attainable quality stands the RSQ in contrast to other sci-fi movie cars like Lexus’s vehicle in the Tom Cruise flick Minority Report. Compared to Audi’s concept, Lexus’s offering looks downright alien. Now, does that mean I consider the RSQ objectively desirable, in that I would choose it over other, present-day Audis? No, but I still appreciate its visual kinship with those models.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of noteworthy concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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Another Boxy ’80s Audi:
The Early Coupe GT

October 10, 2014 by Matt

1983 Audi Coupe GT

I think this might have been what I always wanted. I just didn’t know it.

I’ve written about the ’81-’87 Audi Coupe GT before; it’s a personal favorite of mine. I daily-drove a 1986 Audi 4000 quattro for a couple of years, a car that shares the Coupe GT’s interior, engine and basic structure, only with a pair of rear doors and AWD instead of the Coupe’s FWD. So I learned to really appreciate what Car and Driver lauded as an “uncluttered,” “simply and tastefully trimmed” interior coupled with “dead-nuts accurate” steering “full of road feel.” For any car with sporting pretensions, getting those elements right, among others, is a great place to start.

My ownership experience wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, though. The 2.2-liter straight-5 made a nice burble, but 110 hp was completely inadequate when it came to moving the little sedan along with any kind of alacrity, despite the best efforts of the close-ratio 5-speed. Blame the car’s 2,800-lb weight for that.

1983 Audi Coupe GT Interior Inside Console Cockpit

But most significantly, I fell into what I’ll call Enthusiast AWD Delusion Syndrome. My reasoning was as follows: I appreciate the superiority of RWD over FWD the standpoint of engineering balance and how that affects the driving experience. Architecturally, my Audi 4000 was effectively a FWD car with a driveshaft, rear diff and axle shafts tacked on. In my mind, though, the mere fact that the rear wheels were driven meant it seemed more like a RWD than a FWD car. Naturally, this conceptual shift was completely at odds with the 4000’s behavior on the road, where it felt very nose-heavy, understeered resolutely and didn’t exhibit any of the fun tail-happiness characteristic of the best RWD mounts. But, just to underscore the point, my idea of the car changed when I discovered it had AWD; in my little automotive world, I felt like I was more of a true enthusiast because I hadn’t compromised and bought a FWD car, never mind the fact that the Audi’s balance and handling were, for all intents and purposes, identical to those of the layout I was trying to avoid. Furthermore, I have a feeling Enthusiast AWD Delusion Syndrome is more widespread than is generally realized, but that’s a topic to expand upon in another post.

So what does any of this have to do with the Coupe GT? Simply put, it shares all of the positives its sister car, my little 4000, and shores up the two deficiencies noted above. Is it RWD? No; it’s FWD, but it doesn’t deceive the enthusiast into thinking it’s more balanced than it is, and the lack of rear running gear nets a 400+ lb weight savings over the 4000, sharpening the car’s responses even further and, more significantly, freeing up the powerplant to shave a good second and a half off the 0-60 time. The Coupe GT is lighter, more tossable, quicker, less complicated and more straightforward than the 4000.

1983 Audi Coupe GT

It’s a great looking car, too. From an aesthetic standpoint, in spite of their more prominent black bumpers, I much prefer the early, pre-facelift ’81-’84 GT to the ’85-’87 car. The refresh may share the earlier car’s proportions and stance, but in being smoothed out and cleaned up, it lost some wedgy-ness, some of the attitude of the ’81-’84 model. The earlier, boxier car share a visual kinship with the first-generation VW Scirocco and Golf GTI, good company indeed, and a pair of cars, like the Coupe GT, their automaker got just right the first time. I just wish I had known it.

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The Early Coupe GT

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.

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Audi Concepts:
The quattro Concept

April 19, 2013 by Matt

2010 Audi quattro Concept White

As much as I covet the quattro Concept, I’m actually kind of glad Audi decided not to put it into production.

Why? It’s too retro. It’s a developmental dead-end. As a nostalgia piece it’s a brilliant tribute, echoing not only exterior details like the classic Quattro‘s aggressively stubby proportions and box flares but also its businesslike interior and especially its iconic turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. No mere automotive sculpture, it’s a real working car, driven in anger by more than a few automotive publications.

2010 Audi quattro Concept White

But had Audi produced it, even as a limited-run model, as many implored them to do as it graced the auto show circuit in 2010, the quattro Concept would have met with the same fate as other unabashedly retro concepts like the Plymouth Prowler or the 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird: Constrained to its niche and not really relevant to any of the other cars in the manufacturer’s lineup. One of Audi’s greatest assets as an automaker is their brand cohesiveness; some may call it lack of creativity but there’s real value in their cars’ messaging consistency across the model line, and a production quattro Concept would have been a bit of an outlier, even as a halo car.

2010 Audi quattro Concept Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

That said, even as a one-off homage, the car demonstrates a few aspects of Audi’s way forward. The grille shape and headlight treatment, for one, seem to represent the direction those of the rest of the marque’s lineup are headed—with the logo moved up above the grille onto the hood for a cleaner look. The 402-hp, 2.5l 5-cylinder engine, lifted from the TT RS, seems in tune with the latest trends in engineering and has a considerable amount of development potential remaining. Most significantly, the quattro Concept signaled Audi’s newfound commitment to lowering their cars’ weight, tipping the scales at a lithe 2,850 lbs. After several decades of ballooning car mass, via the quattro Concept, Audi’s statement was, “We’re fighting back.”

Audi showed commendable self-restraint in not producing such a desirable car. I can admire it as a hat tip to its creator’s legacy, infused with a few glimpses of the future.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of noteworthy concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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The quattro Concept

Audi R8 V10 Plus Ad: The Animal Within

March 15, 2013 by Matt

Note to other performance automakers: This is how you do a commercial if you want to get your enthusiast base fired up about your flagship’s capabilities. None of that gentle-winding-through-a-wooded-backroad crap—which, ironically, Audi’s also done—just pure, raw, unadulterated power, full stop.

Aside from the visceral appeal, it’s quite a brilliant ad for Audi in that it directly addresses one of the main criticisms leveled against their R8 supercar: It’s too user-friendly, too sterile, too easy to drive quickly and not edgy enough to be called a proper supercar. As a result, the entire focus of the clip is on the roaring, crackling, popping, savage, well-nigh alive quality of the car’s engine—with a nice shot of the ultra-wide rear tires thrown in for good measure—dispelling any notion that the R8 is some kind of ho-hum “speed appliance.”

Between this and their well-received Super Bowl commercial, Audi’s marketing has been firing on all cylinders lately. I particularly appreciate the ads’ focus on the cars themselves, instead of simply trying to gin up an emotional reaction via a non-automotive storyline. It speaks to the confidence Audi (rightly) has in their design and engineering that in many cases the spots highlight those aspects of their cars which, according to conventional wisdom, would have less mass appeal. Well done, Audi, and carry on.

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Audi Concepts: The TTS

March 8, 2013 by Matt

Audi TTS Concept Gray

Whatever your thoughts about the production version (too cute, not a real sports car, etc), there’s no denying Audi’s initial TTS Concept, unveiled in 1995, was groundbreaking.

Let me explain. The TTS Concept is an exercise in context—every single styling feature has meticulously thought-out relationships with the ones surrounding it, and the overall result is an incredibly cohesive-looking vehicle. Most significantly, Audi gave the car’s wheels a context—notice how the curve of the front and rear of the car neatly echoes the circular arc of the wheels. This has the effect of integrating the wheels more closely into the TTS’ overall look.

Audi TTS Concept Gray Rear Back Taillights

Big deal, you say; cars have had wheel arches and fender flares for ages. True, but to my knowledge the TTS was the first car to have such a tight connection between its wheel design and placement. Consider: If you changed the average car’s wheelbase by an inch or so in either direction, it would hardly alter the car’s look, but with the TTS, the wheels are located precisely where they are because of how they relate to the car’s front and rear styling; any change in their location would wreck the design.

Audi TTS Concept Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

With its chunky “baseball glove” stitching mated to clean, geometric shapes, the interior is a home run as well. Some elements didn’t survive the transition to production, primarily the aforementioned stitching, the gauge typography and the raw aluminum door bars, but Audi wisely kept most everything else intact. Between the color combination (chocolate leather and battleship gray paint), meaty switchgear and a perfectly laid out control arrangement, the TTS’ interior looks like a very inviting place to be.

Audi TTS Concept Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

I think what I appreciate most about the TTS Concept is its fusion of the beautiful with the rational. Every single line, curve and feature seems designed and placed with a definite sense of purpose; it’s the antithesis of the “Well, it just looks right” school of design. No, the best styling efforts have thought and intentionality behind them, and that design creedo shines through the TTS Concept.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of legendary concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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Audi Concepts: The Rosemeyer

January 25, 2013 by Matt

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of this one when I first saw it.

Audi’s Rosemeyer concept, one of the highlights of the 2000 auto show circuit, certainly isn’t a conventionally beautiful car. It is, however, fascinating in the sense that when I first beheld it, I was immediately curious about its design influences; I wanted to know why Audi had decided to shape its lines and details how they did, and even the genesis of its name. There had to be a lineage, a reason—Audi is too deliberate a car company to pen such a car on a whim.

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

In a nutshell, the Rosemeyer concept is Audi’s homage to the all-conquering
1934-1939 “Silver Arrows” Grand Prix racers. This crop of pre-war German monsters, fitted with massive, supercharged engines channeling, in the end, well over 600 hp through the skinny tires of the era were only truly mastered by a handful of top tier drivers, among them Rudolf Caracciola, Tazio Nuvolari and the concept’s namesake, Bernd Rosemeyer, killed during a land speed record attempt in 1938 on the then-brand-new Autobahn.

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car Inside Interior Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

The Rosemeyer exudes a brutish, imposing, almost industrial presence. The brushed aluminum finish is catnip to a design enthusiast and the almost Art Deco features like the headlight eyebrows and four-spoke steering wheel make it look like something out of Fritz Lang’s landmark sci-fi epic Metropolis. Every line is rational, crisp, utterly Bauhaus, not classically lovely but completely mesmerizing. In a way, it reminds me of a Porsche 911 in the sense that if described objectively, someone not able to observe the car wouldn’t visualize a beautiful vehicle, but actually seen, everything works together perfectly; no detail seems to have been overlooked.

Audi Rosemeyer Concept Car

Furthermore, its shape whetted our appetite for that of the Bugatti Veyron. Even a casual comparison of the two brings out their similarities: The relatively small greenhouse, the horse-collar grille, the same general stance and proportions; they even share a mid-mounted W16 engine configuration (the Veyron’s fitted with quad turbochargers) and all-wheel-drive. But where the Veyron shares little with its marque’s predecessors save its grille shape, the Rosemeyer’s design connects with Audi’s lineage at too many points to count. I’d call it the superior design, and it’s a shame its creator declined to produce it, citing potential brand conflicts with Lamborghini, which Audi had recently purchased, as well as difficultly in translating the design into a production form at a certain price point.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of legendary concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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Audi and BMW:
A Tale of Two Brand Identities

November 26, 2012 by Matt

Audi BMW Corporate Logos

Over the past 14 years, the brand perception of these two German luxury automakers have followed decidedly different trajectories.

Note that I’m not talking about corporate profitability. Even as I make the case that Audi’s efforts at building and consolidating their brand image have far outstripped BMW’s, the latter remains a thoroughly successful company. I intend to focus more on brand perception, especially among nominally impartial enthusiasts like myself.

14 years ago, BMW was on a tear. Their primary lineup consisted of the E36 3-series, the sports sedan benchmark at the pinnacle of its development, the beautiful E39 5-series, arguably the best 5-series generation yet made, and the E38 7-series, a bold and powerful player in the high-end luxury sedan market. BMW’s offerings were built on the automaker’s core philosophy of RWD, highly-tuned non-turbo engines and a focus on driver involvement. Most significantly, BMW’s lineup was relatively small, and again, rested upon the automaker’s non-negotiables.

Audi, for its part, was still finding its footing, particularly in the US market. As Peter De Lorenzo summarizes in his excellent commentary on Audi’s most recent Le Mans triumph:

Audi was a perennial “second-tier” brand behind BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus in the U.S. market, struggling to break out of the continuing funk that was the direct result of the hatchet-job performed by “60 Minutes” twelve long years before that (November 1986). The totally erroneous report by the CBS news program, which accused Audi of building vehicles that suffered from unintended acceleration, nearly put the brand out of business in this country – even though it was proven to be completely false – and it lingered over the car company like a shroud of negativity.

De Lorenzo points out that the Audi’s cars were fundamentally solid, if a step behind BMW’s in terms of enthusiast appeal, but the automaker’s brand perception needed rehabilitation.

Audi set about that task in a consistent, disciplined manner, focusing on appealing design, effectively applying technology developed through the automaker’s racing efforts to their production lineup, and most importantly, making intelligent product decisions and not overextending themselves into markets out of sync with the company’s brand focus. As a result, De Lorenzo writes:

Audi is now the forward thinking brand firmly ensconced at the head table of the luxury-performance segment. Boasting technically advanced and beautifully purposeful machines inside and out, Audi production cars bristle with brilliant, innovative ideas and are executed with a relentless precision. And they are beautiful to look at as well.

Meanwhile, from an enthusiast standpoint, BMW has squandered their carefully crafted brand image with an ill-fated foray into Formula 1, as well as dubious product decisions. Among others, they released the hideous Chris Bangle-designed E65 7-series, the frumpy X3 small SUV, the confusing X6 crossover and its downright baffling performance variant the X6 M, and the awkward 5-series GT midsize hatchback. The Bavarian automaker’s market experiments with alternative propulsion have been less than confident, the excellent 335d diesel-powered sports sedan notwithstanding. And BMW has suffered a succession of comparison test losses to its rival from Ingolstadt (A6 vs. 535i and S6 vs. M5) along with a shocking victory by the new Cadillac (!) ATS over the new F30 3-series in the key categories of chassis design and handling.

BMW’s performance benchmark the M3 is still a world-beater, demonstrating that in essentials, the automaker is still as good as it ever was, but the singular drive necessary to develop the M3 doesn’t seem to maintain itself throughout BMW’s lineup, and the brand is weakened. There’s expanding into untapped markets, and then there’s unfocused quasi-desperation, a quality BMW seems to be radiating of late. In the final analysis, as we look forward to 2013, BMW is offering less and less for enthusiasts to get excited about, and Audi’s lineup contains more and more.

The obvious response comes: Why should the corporate bean-counters at the helm of either company care what enthusiasts think? They run businesses, and if there are new opportunities, why not tap into them, brand history and consistency be damned? While that line of thinking has merit, consider the significance of branding to luxury and performance automakers in particular: In order to maintain brand image, a kind of above-the-fray certainty about product decisions must come through. A luxury or performance vehicle should sell itself, to a degree; its brand should shape popular trends, not chase them. In other words, it’s counterintuitive, but too much marketing is a sign customers aren’t beating a path to your door; they aren’t seeking you out like they should. And if nothing else, certainty was a quality BMWs exuded from their arrival here in the US market in the mid-’60s all the way through to the turn of the century. That confidence, coupled with a focus on capturing the enthusiast market, vaulted the automaker to its current place of prominence, and ever since 2000 or so BMW seems to be simply coasting on its brand capital while exploring every new market niche under the sun. No, the majority of its customers may not be enthusiasts, but many of them appreciate the opinions of enthusiasts when it comes to choosing a quality car; this is what drove the yuppie obsession with BMWs 30 years ago, and is important, I believe, for the brand’s continued appeal in the larger market. BMW needs to maintain its position as the enthusiast’s choice of luxury cars in order to sustain its brand image, and they simply cannot do that by exploring every last untapped market niche, as they seem intent on doing.

If the BMW emblem is to remain a beacon to car buffs like myself, the automaker needs to take a page from Audi’s playbook for the last 14 years: Recognize the brand’s traditional strengths and focus like a laser beam on those qualities while expanding the product line within that context, rather than distorting it out of all recognition.

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A Tale of Two Brand Identities