January 7, 2002

NAIAS 2002 - Audi Recap
Article and Photos by Jason Teller

I did not travel to the Frankfurt Auto Show this year and thus my first look at Audi's newest concept vehicle - the Avantissimo - had to wait until NAIAS. I had previously seen both the new A4 Cabriolet and the A4 Avant on a different trip to Germany, so the Avantissimo was the highlight of the show for me. A highlight it was, indeed.

The Avantissimo is as wide as the day is long. This is no doubt in part due to the massive 22-inch wheels, as well as the fact that the car over 75-inches wide. The vehicle's styling is a natural combination of aggressive and luxury stance. Technology aside, it's just one of those cars that you can sit and admire for its good looks.

Audi of America VP Len Hunt told me, "Audi has a long tradition of producing high performance Avants and the Avantissimo is just the latest example." After chatting for a few minutes we soon returned to the Avantissimo.

"When do I sign up for my test drive," I joked.

His answer helped me confirm the validity of the technology within the car. "Although we may not see a production Avantissimo," he quickly answered, "you are looking at many of the features that will undoubtedly find themselves into Audis in the near future."

The most probable feature to be found in a production vehicle sooner than later is the 4.2-liter biturbo V8 engine. Although Mr. Hunt wouldn't confirm it then, I got the distinct impression from conversations with other Audi officials that this engine might appear in a 2003 model Audi to be announced later this year. And why not? With gaudy figures such as more than 430 horsepower and maximum torque of 442 lbs. ft., it would have few rivals even among the premium European brands.

There were two other features on the Avantissimo that I found quite intriguing. The first was the headlight system. During the press conference Dr. Peter-Felix Tropschuh, Head of Vehicle Concepts, Audi AG, explained that there were problems mounting the very deep bi-xenon lights in the customary horizontal arrangement. Audi's solution was to mount them vertically to save space, and then use reflectors to deflect the light beam forwards.

With fixed lights and a reflector system the engineers took things a step further, giving the headlights a light beam pattern that can be altered. When the Avantissimo goes around a corner the lights will turn with the car (up to 15-degree sweep in each direction) to illuminate the corner better. This is all managed by the onboard computer, which is reading information from the wheels as they turn.

The next generation of vertically mounted bi-xenon light will receive turning information not from the drivers input to the steering wheel, but rather from GPS input. The GPS signal will tell the vehicle if curves are coming up and turn the lights proactively.

The other feature I liked was what Audi is calling "Varilite" technology. Glazed roof panels and the tailgate window can be dimmed at the touch of a switch - and each occupant of the car can dim the glass manually in his or her individual seating area. This means that one passenger could be staring up at the warm sun, while another could be too hot and dial in total opacity.

Dr. Tropschuh explained that the technology seems to work well, but that deployment in production vehicles would have to wait for extensive long-term reliability testing. In any case it is amazing to sit in the car and see this feature in action.

There are other features of the car such as the "Pax" wheels and underfloor storage, which are equally innovative. These features are explained in more detail in the original press release for the Avantissimo.

ALMS Commemorative Edition TT

One TT at the Audi booth caught my eye immediately, and it wasn't until later in the day that I found out what was different about it. This particular TT was the Misano Red version of the ALMS Commemorative Edition TT and the color looked superb. For the 1,000 lucky owners in North America this car will undoubtedly stick out as unique.

I was also impressed with the light-colored interior since it was the first time I had ever seen a TT with something other than black, gray or baseball-glove leather. In contrast to the rich looking Misano Red the interior looks razor clean.

Looking Ahead

The auto show season is still young and Audi undoubtedly has some surprises waiting. With New York, Geneva and Paris all coming up there will be plenty of opportunities to show new vehicles.

I go back to the many conversations I had with Audi representatives and can't help but wonder if the Avantissimo is actually a glimpse of things to come. Although it seems improbable that they will build it in its current form, it seems quite reasonable to think that some of the interior design cues and innovative technology could be carried forward into a new production vehicle. Since the Avantissimo is a D-chassis vehicle (whereas the A4 is B-chassis and the A6 is C-chassis) the likely recipient of some of its goodies would be the A8/S8.

As always you can follow all the current Audi news here.

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