Don't call it an MPV: Audi is preparing a new A4-based high-roof model that eclipses the current A4 Avant. It may be badged as A4 Sportback, or possibly as A4 Avantissimo, like the A8-based luxury wagon concept shown back in 2001. However, it will most likely be called the A4 Superavant because that's what it effectively is: a new type of estate car which is significantly roomier as well as more flexible but just as sporty, elegant, and driver-oriented as its more mainstream sister models.
In February, Audi designers and engineers met at the Italidesign Studio in Turin, Italy to check out a series of early proposals. If the board does give the still-technically-nameless project the green light, expect to see a concept car in 2014 that would be followed by the production version two years later. Although the project is still in its infancy, it obviously aims to plug the gap between the A4 Avant and the Q5 and forthcoming BMW X6-fighting Q6 crossovers.
The main force behind the new car is market research which points out that there is a growing demand for a premium MPV -- but only as long as it does not look like a tall, boxy, pseudo-commercial vehicle. Young families would only form a small portion of the target audience then; instead, Audi intends to attract DINKS (double-income no kids), Woopies (well-off older people), golden agers, and active leisured-oriented folks. Common to all these groups is the desire to sit up high for a better surrounding view; to occasionally accommodate a couple of friends; and to load sports equipment, holiday luggage, or a few crates of wine purchased en route.
Definitely not a minivanIn 2006, the Roadjet show car conceived under Ulrich Hackenberg was Audi's second attempt to create a high-end holdall after the aforementioned Avantissimo. Why didn't the Roadjet make the grade? It looked a trifle homespun, it did not push out the envelope far enough, and it almost completely lacked that coveted sporty touch. In contrast, the proposed A4 Superavant is an XXL estate car that combines dynamic proportions with above average space utilization.
The crucial visual elements are the exact height of the elevated roofline, the relation between the wheelbase and the rear overhang, and the dialogue between body and greenhouse that maintain the A4 Superavant's sporting stance. "The last thing we want to create is a minivan," explains a project engineer. "Why? Because a minivan is incompatible with the Audi brand image. A minivan triggers all the wrong associations - like soccer moms, kiddy seats, and weekend groceries. In an ideal world, the Superavant addresses primarily lifestyle-related packaging issues. That's why two rows of seats are plenty. Those who need to carry more than five adults should consider a Volkswagen Sharan or T5."
Attempting to appeal to every marketAudi looked at three different donor cars for the Superavant. The A3 range could do with an Avant model, but not with an even bigger derivative that would cannibalize the A4. The A6 would have been an OK choice for Europe, but not for the rest of the world where 16 foot-plus hatchbacks and wagons simply don't sell. That's why product planning agreed on the A4 - even though Mercedes will derive its stylish people carrier and R-Class replacement from the next E-Class, and even though BMW will stick with the oddball 5 Series GT and add the upcoming 1 Series and 3 Series GTs.
The A4 and A6 will share the same MLB modular components set and there exists extended-wheelbase variants of both models developed for the Chinese market. But the Superavant will almost certainly be based on the smaller A4 L sporting a 2.4-inch stretch. The longer wheelbase and the more substantial rear overhang should create an extra-large cargo bay, as well as plenty of legroom for backseat passengers. As far as conventional drivetrains go, the must-have list for the A4 Superavant includes a more potent 255-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the long overdue high-end 2.0-liter TDI rated at 197 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Like the rest of the next-generation A4 range, the good-looking high-roof holdall is part of the MLB components set which indicates a 220-lb weight saving, an enhanced structural rigidity, and more efficient engines. Perhaps the most noteworthy new arrival of the B9-generation A4 is the front-wheel drive plug-in hybrid that boasts a 226-hp 2.0-liter gas engine and a 35-hp electric motor integrated in the transmission housing. After that, we are going to see an even more sophisticated e-quattro application that employs two electric motors delivering a combined 136-hp to power the rear wheels. e-quattro also promises a zero-emission driving range of 20 miles.