March 5, 2006

2006 Geneva Motor Show Recap
Text & Photos by Chris Ostberg

While making my way though the snowy mountains to the beautiful western Swiss city of Geneva, one thing was very clear to me . . . the Swiss love Avants. More specifically, the Swiss love high powered RS quattro-equipped Avants. I had never seen so many RS6, RS6 Plus, and RS4 cars in one day. Unsurprisingly I later found out that of the approximately 6,000 B5 RS4 Avants sold worldwide; more than 1,000 of them went to Switzerland.

With that said, the world renowned Geneva Auto Show is a prime venue to debut and showcase a number of high performance Avant cars from Audi. World premieres at the 2006 Geneva Auto Salon include the A6 based allroad, RS4 Avant, and RS4 Convertible.

Based on European demand for an Avant variant of the ultra performance RS4 sedan, quattro GmbH has been given the “go ahead” to begin production on the B7 RS4 Avant. Adding practicality and utility to the RS4 range without sacrificing performance is the name of the game with this Avant. With a 0-60 time just a shade higher than its sibling sedan version (and only 0.3 seconds slower to 200 km/h-124 mph), the RS4 Avant is sure to bring you and your cargo to whatever destination you please, rain or shine, in the quickest and most entertaining way possible.

Since the driveline is inherited from the sedan, it benefits from the same 420 hp, 8,250 RPM V-8 and asymmetrical 40:60 quattro AWD system. The extended fenders and wide rocker sills of the RS car take very well to the Avant body shape. The Misano red RS4 Avant was equipped with front ceramic brake rotors, a 5,000 Euro option. This braking system greatly reduces unsprung weight for dynamic suspension response and resists fade during high speed driving. Unfortunately neither the ceramic brakes nor the Avant body style will be available to US customers. When asked, Audi’s response (based on feedback from the North American dealer network) was that there was not enough customer interest for an Avant body style.

Another RS4 derivative displayed for the first time in Geneva was the RS4 Cabriolet. For those who can’t get enough of the intense wail of Audi’s ultra high-revving V-8, the Cabriolet may be the ideal solution. This is one performance convertible which can truly be driven year ‘round with nearly no compromise. Sure footed quattro handling combined with a power retractable soft top (including heated glass) allows for driving enjoyment in the wet or dry. As with the RS4 Avant, the Cabriolet is also not destined to the North American market. Audi cites the expensive emission and safety certification processes as reasons why the potentially one year production cycle RS4 Cab will not make it stateside.

Also joining the Audi Avant ranks is the updated version of the A6-based allroad. This rugged crossover combines the luxury and performance of Audi’s latest A6 line with the go-anywhere versatility of an SUV. The adaptive air suspension ensures that you’ll never be caught high centered when fording deep snow or even mild off-roading. On the other hand, lowering the suspension to the lowest setting gives you a sporty ride and handling quality that is simply not possible in a traditional SUV.

For those needing a true “do it all” vehicle, the allroad may be a great fit. The sporty appearance of the allroad is enhanced by an exclusive billet type grille treatment. Subtle protective body cladding peeks through on the front bumper and rear fascia. Shiny aluminum door guards are also available like the last generation. The new A6 body gives a very sleek overall shape and is quite complimentary to the Avant body style. The LED tail lights are a great touch which I’ve noticed to be very effective in traffic.

On the interior side, the new A6 is a huge improvement from its predecessor. The large multicolor MMI LCD display dominates the dash area and gives vital radio, air suspension status, navigational information (if equipped), and even a extra eye when backing up (rear mounted parking assist camera). A wide range of V-6 and V-8 gasoline and diesel engines are available. Unfortunately, Audi has no plans on bringing the latest allroad to the North American market. The reasoning in this case centers around the allroad’s potential to cut into Q7 SUV sales.

Speaking of the Q7, Audi had a few well equipped examples on display in Geneva. One cannot miss the high level of quality and luxury seen in Audi’s first entry into the already crowded upscale SUV class. From the adaptive air ride suspension (similar in operation to Audi’s allroad), to the rear heated seats/rear climate control, the driver and passengers are sure to be treated to a level of sportiness and luxury not normally found in traditional SUV’s.

One thing I noticed is that the Q7 appears to inherit the large 6 piston Brembo brake assembly from its distant cousin, the Cayenne Turbo (albeit painted a subtle black to the Cayenne’s “look at me” red). Taking into account that the Cayenne has at least 100 horsepower above the Q7, it’s encouraging to see Audi “over-engineer” something as critical to safety and performance as the brakes. Most of the switchgear and control layout is nearly identical to the C6 platform A6/allroad cars.

Geneva was the first opportunity I had to sit in Audi’s new luxury/sporting flagship; the S8. The car on display was equipped with a striking Onyx white leather with carbon fiber trim. Unlike the A6 line, the MMI LCD screen hides away under a carbon fiber door on the S8. This car is thoroughly equipped with all the features one expects from a top of the line luxury car . . . and more.

Alongside the velvet hammer 5.2 liter V-10 (based off of the Lamborghini Gallardo engine), the very special 1,000 watt 14 speaker Bang and Olufson sound system may be equally entertaining. Bar none, this is the best factory stereo system I have heard in any car. The front tweeters elevate from the dash to provide the listener with a soundstage and clarity that cannot normally be achieved in an automobile. The bass is very tight and deep. The system is also dynamically self compensating allowing for perfect sound under any conditions. Also innovative is the S8 is a fingerprint touchpad located on the right side of the center console next to the shifter. The driver can use this feature to automatically recall his/her favorite seat, HVAC, radio, and suspension settings while simultaneously starting the car. Very cool. Mr. Bond, your Audi is ready.

Audi’s latest bid in the endurance racing world, the TDI diesel powered R10, was also proudly displayed in Geneva. As predicted by AudiWorld last June, this alternative fuel powered race car will be the first diesel entry in LMP1 class which will be competing for overall race victory. Given Audi’s domination with the R8 platform, I am sure everyone will be taking Audi’s latest effort very seriously. The advantages of the 5.5 liter twin turbo V-12 diesel engine are many. The R10 will be able to go 1-2 laps longer between pit stops than the notoriously fuel thrifty R8. The aluminum diesel engine churns out an amazing 650+ hp and brutal 1100+ Newton-meters of torque, also superior to the gasoline FSI engine in the previous R8. Dual particle filters equipped in the R10’s exhaust system ensure that the competition will get a clear view of the Audi’s backside…don’t expect the black smoke screen of a Kenworth. Audi’s new high pressure common rail diesels are very clean. Stay tuned for AudiWorld’s full coverage of the 2006 24 hours of Le Mans.

As usual, Audi did not fail to impress with a well rounded selection of automobiles and a bold yet classy showstage. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting vehicles shown this year will not be making their way to US shores. Blame this on the general lack of interest in “station wagons” in North America as well as over regulation and cost of safety certification. Those who would otherwise be in the market for these super Avants, express your interest to AoA. Without you, they are not likely to change their stance.

All hope is not lost for US consumers. There are many interesting sedans soon to come to the US market later this year. Dealers are currently taking orders for the US version of the RS4. The Q7 SUV and S8 are also soon to come. Rumor also has it that turbos may be making their way back into the Audi performance lineup. Does anyone like the idea of a twin turbo V-10? I know I do. Time will tell. Stay tuned to AudiWorld for the latest information and developments.

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