Live from Frankfurt: Wrap Up

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September 16, 2005

By: Matt Daniels

As I write this during the 10 hour flight back to Denver, I can reflect on the show without the worry of deadlines or the need to run off to some other event.

My first trip to the Frankfurt Auto Show was notable. The sheer size of the show is so unbelievable that seeing and absorbing everything is nearly impossible. For everything I did see, there was plenty that went unseen – Jeep, Mazda, Volvo, and most of the Chinese manufactures come to mind.

Audi’s presence at the show was one of the largest – with only parent company Volkswagen and Mercedes seeming to have larger spaces. They also had one of the most attractive booths, featuring a showcase of stainless steel, frosted glass and their signature orange backdrop. The Q7s were prominently displayed on a multi-level stage. At the top of the stage was an entrance for the Q7 lounge, where one could get a drink and relax for a bit. Keeping journalists company in the lounge was a black Q7 featuring a number of Audi Exclusive accessories, the most notable being the RS4 style wheels and DVD screens built into the rear of the front headrests.

The star of Audi’s booth, the Q7, attracted large crowds at all times. Near the end of the second day, I was finally able to spend some time in and around the Q7 without having to put up much of a fight. I noticed one minor change between these official production models and the pre-production test mule I saw in February. The production models have a dual tone paint scheme with silver painted rocker panels, whereas they were body color on the model I saw in February.

Capable of carrying seven passengers, the Q7 is a large SUV and is longer than the Audi A8. From the exterior its elements are well proportioned which gives it the visual impression of a smaller vehicle. Audi went with a cross-over SUV design rather than a truck based design, a move that is more in line with its brand image.

It goes without saying that the interior is the definition of luxury in the SUV segment. It is elegantly designed with a layout similar to the Audi A6. Middle row occupants have plenty of comfort and space, with a respectable amount of head and legroom for adults. Accessing the optional third row required a little more of effort than I would expect from Audi, but I attribute that to being unfamiliar with the system rather than it actually being “difficult”. Once in the third row, there is room for average sized adults. Ideally, the third row would be reserved for small adults and children. With the third row in place, there is still a respectable amount of cargo area behind the seats. With them folded, it is positively huge.

Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) will be standard on the Q7, with navigation and satellite radio being optional equipment. With the U.S. in mind, the Q7 is standard with ten cup holders throughout the vehicle, and they’re even large enough to hold something larger than a can of soda. Score one for the soccer moms!

Even though the Q7 is a large vehicle inside and out – I found that the interior has an intimate feeling to it, rather than feeling spacious. This could be somewhat of a turnoff to some buyers who may be expecting Chevy Suburban type interior space.

Two engines will be available when the Q7 arrives at European dealerships in early 2006. I have a feeling that the 3.0 TDI diesel will be a popular choice – it develops 233 bhp and 500 newton-meters of torque. A 4.2 liter FSI V8 with 350 bhp is also available and will the only engine option for the North American market when the Q7 goes on sale shortly after the European introduction.

Forgoing the heavy-duty four-wheel drive system found on the VW Touareg, the Q7 will come with the new 40/60 quattro all-wheel drive. While not intended to be a serious off-road vehicle, it should have greater capabilities than an allroad quattro, which was capable in many situations. An option four level air-suspension will be available as on option for those planning on traveling on more treacherous ground.

With gas prices raising drastically in the past year, it will be interesting to see how the Q7 performs in the marketplace. I image that Audi is hoping they haven’t missed that gold-rush of the SUV crazy 1990s. While it has been reported that domestic SUVs have shown a large drop in sales this year, luxury SUV sales have remained flat, so that’s good news for Audi.

There is no official Q7 pricing for the U.S. market, but in Europe the base model Q7 will start at €43,000 – which currently is around $60,000 in U.S. dollars.

Audi’s other significant debut at the show was the first public showing of the A4 Cabriolet facelift. This model didn’t gather much attention from the crowds, mainly due to being overshadowed by the Q7. With this facelift, the A4 Cabriolet now looks identical to its A4 siblings. They did keep the unique interior design.

There had been rumors that the next generation TT would debut in Frankfurt as a concept and many were disappointed when it did not make an appearance. I suspect that Audi wanted to keep the focus on the Q7 for this show. Monday evening we had dinner with a number of Audi executives and one confirmed that the new TT is “very close” but wouldn’t elaborate more than that. However, they did state it will be radically different from the current TT, at least from a technical standpoint. It sounds like it will become larger and built on a new platform. At a minimum, it would be safe to say that it will no longer be based on the same platform as the Golf and A3. A new platform would open up a wide range of engine possibilities and open the door to utilize the Torsen based quattro system. I would expect to see this new TT at one of the early car shows in 2006.

Other interesting news from Audi was an unofficial confirmation that an Audi A3 convertible is in the works. An A3 convertible would be another reason for moving the TT upmarket.

Other Audis were scattered throughout the rest of the show as well, most notably in the tuner hall and in the Dunlop Tire stand. Dunlop had an Audi RS4 DTM Safety Car on display along with a display of their new winter tire line, which showcased an RS4 and a RS4 wheel with the new Winter tire.

In the Tuner call ABT had a number of Audi’s on display including a number of A4s and an A3 Sportback. Across the row from ABT was MTM’s S4 Avant Clubsport, which featured a supercharger mated to the V8 engine. Along with the radical body kit, graphics and interior roll change, it definitely stood out from the pack. In the same booth was an Audi A3 with a JE Design body kit. Unfortunately the Tuner Hall was a quick tour for me on the second day of the show and I wasn’t able to get a lot of details on these modified Audis.

My first trip to Frankfurt is also memorable for my first ever ride in a Lamborghini Murcielago. Tuesday evening we had dinner with Lamborghini executives who, as expected, were a lively bunch of people.

When we arrived for dinner, the driver of the Murcielago was providing details about the car. After informing him that I had never even ridden in a Lamborghini, he spoke to the bosses and was able to arrange a quick ride around the block for me. While my ride lasted less than five minutes and I’m sure we didn’t travel more than a mile total, it was still memorable. In one small area the driver was able to show off the acceleration of this beast, and the only thing I can compare it to is the acceleration of a large rollercoster going over the first drop. I’m sure I didn’t experience a fraction of the power before the driver had to brake, hard, for the traffic stopped in front of us. It should be noted that the driver is one of Lamborghini’s professional test drivers, one of the few people in the world they would trust to drive their expensive vehicles around the city.

While Frankfurt didn’t produce any concept cars that really wowed the crowds, it is notable for a significant number of exciting production models that were introduced. The Audi Q7, Volkswagen Eos, Jaguar XK and Porsche Cayman S are all vehicles that already have a strong public interest and were popular with the attending journalists. I’m looking forward to being able to drive some of these vehicles in the future.

Hopefully this will not be my last trip to the Frankfurt Auto Show. In two years when it is coming around again, I should be just about recovered from this trip.

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