|March 7, 2008
Geneva Motor Show 2008: Audi Recap
Audi offered tremendous if not over the top hospitality surrounding the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, a theme echoed by the cars it displayed at this year's show. Each vehicle shown by the brand tied strongly to Audi's core pursuits:
Turning first to the A4 Avant, it made sense for Audi to debut the car at a European show where uptake for Audi wagons is robust (quite opposite to that of the, in our opinion, still clueless US market). The new A4 Avant is, like its sedan sibling, absolutely gorgeous.
Audi had labeled 2007 the Year of Passion with stunningly designed cars like the R8 and A5/S5, but the A4 Avant audaciously continues this tradition by adopting both the sensuous front end of the A5 and a longer, more swooping body line which stretches the wagon from a more mundane, utilitarian grocery hauler into an A6 Avant-ish work of fine automobile styling. With its 6-inch longer wheelbase one could almost swear they were looking at a grand touring wagon rather than the entry level B-segment wagon.
Those who have followed the brand since the nadir of the early to mid 90's will recall how the B5 A4 changed the game for Audi. We believe that the B8 A4 now some 13-years later represents a new zenith moment and here's why.
For starters the new A4 and A4 Avant ditch the evolutionary design characteristics that marked the progress from B5 to B6 and B7, opting instead for a more revolutionary redesign enabled by the longitudinally mounted platform and the relocation of the differential directly behind the engine. The B8 looks bigger because it is bigger, but not so much that starts to defy the class in which it belongs. Psychologically the vehicle presents a forcefully substantial, yet undeniably graceful, facade which ups the game against its midsize luxury competition.
Just as importantly the car is poised to handle and perform better than any of its predecessors thanks to Audi's adoption of asymmetric torque in a 40:60 front/rear distribution and powerplants which continue to up power output while cutting fuel consumption and emissions.
And while buyers will certainly appreciate the heady performance and a break at the fuel pump, ultimately many will simply be lured by the overall packaging of the vehicle. Everything taken for granted in the high end Audi models has strutted down the model range and this A4 Avant is loaded. Options such as power trunk, climate controlled seats (heated and cooled), adaptive cruise control, lane assist, side assist, drive select, B&O sound system, electronic parking brake, Bluetooth integration and keyless entry / start quickly become differentiators in this class.
While Europeans will get to choose from five total powerplants - 1.8TFSI and 3.2FSI gasoline 4 and 6-cylinder engines, respectively and three TDI variants - we heard that the US-bound A4 Avant will be offered in just one flavor, an all new 2.0-liter variant said to significantly raise the bar over the current 2.0T.
With the A4 Avant filling the all important midsize segment, some of Audi's other show cars fill segments that the manufacturer is literally inventing. The announcement that the Q7 V12 TDI quattro is moving from concept to production means that Audi will soon field the world's first V12 diesel engine in a series production vehicle. Clearly built as a testimonial to the brand's success with a similar V12 diesel in its R10 TDI racecar, this new Q7 will re-write everything people know about the performance, fuel economy and all out price of an SUV.
Check these numbers: 500 horsepower, 758 lb-ft of torque from six liters of displacement, a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds, top speed electronically limited to 155 mph and, to top off all of these performance figures, average fuel economy of nearly 20 mpg.
We really wish we could be reporting on a test drive of the new monster Q7, but that'll have to wait for repeated pestering and the enduring hope that we can wear down Audi's PR staff over the coming year. In the meantime we had to settle with a little show floor seat time in the Q7, including requisite drooling over the other goodies such as the 20-inch Audi ceramic brakes, oval exhaust pipes and LED daytime running lights. The Q7 V12 TDI of course also gets unique exterior treatment with wider wheel arches, a chromed single-frame grill and updated front and rear bumpers.
When pushed, nobody from Audi could confirm whether the US will eventually see the monster Q7, but we put our money on no-way in the short term. Audi is proceeding ever-so-methodically on its introduction of TDI vehicles in the North American market and we simply can't see them jumping ahead to a V12 TDI offering in the near future. In any case the price of the vehicle is expected to be well over €125,000, which would make it prohibitively expensive in US Dollars.
Famed quattro GmbH was responsible for development of the Q7 V12 TDI and will also produce the vehicle.
The big SUV didn't get to hog the entire spotlight around the V12 TDI powerplant since Audi showed two other vehicles with the same chutzpah under the hood. The first was really just v2.0 of a vehicle seen a few months earlier in Detroit: the R8 V12 TDI concept. This time round Audi employed a drop-dead red exterior and added the term "Le Mans" to the vehicle's moniker in an obvious reference to the Le Mans winning R10 race car from which its engine is inspired.
We focused our attention to some of the unique details of this concept car, including the wider, scooped sideblades which help to feed air into the massive engine and the wide and imposing grille and front end treatment. Importantly, yet almost overlooked given the excitement around the powerplant, this concept's headlights are all-LED - a first for Audi in any vehicle. As with Audi's entire LED lighting initiative we expect to see these innovations filter down into production vehicles over time.
Last, to finish out the trifecta, Audi showed a study variant of the Q7 V12 TDI dubbed the Audi Q7 coastline. This Q7 picks up and runs very well with two ideas, mainly that the color white is ultra-hot in the automotive industry right now and that the yacht-inspired interior of the coastline brings to mind the ultimate maritime luxury of sea-faring vessels.
We can say with confidence that we've never seen a more perfectly "money" looking Q7. The simple starkness of the polar-inspired exterior white set against the soft, comforting interior white with brown stitching and darker walnut and oak veneers produces a vibe that is unequaled in run of the mill production cars.
We had the audacity to actually climb inside the Q7 coastline and immediately experienced an ambiance akin to an adult-sized womb. Besides a paranoia that something - anything - would rub off our hands or feet and sully the impeccably clean interior we were all at once enveloped by the coastline. At one point we reached up and stroked the headliner, our fingers to be met by the softest feeling leather this side of a five day old calf. Clearly Audi took its formulaic interior greatness and pulled an Emeril by kicking everything up a notch... or two.
With racing popularity at a fever pitch in Europe Audi also brought its latest A4 DTM car and driver Mattias Eckstrom to help show it off. Unfortunately the presentation was scheduled just at the same time as we were starting a roundtable discussion with Audi AG Chairman Rupert Stadler, and thus we were unable to attend.
During our time at the Geneva show we were able to sit down with other representatives from Audi, including the aforementioned meeting with Mr. Stadler. That content, together with full show galleries, will appear here shortly so check back often.