By Design

By Design: Audi Prologue Concept

By Design

Audi is not often thought of as a styling leader, despite having built exceptionally nice-looking and aerodynamically effective sedans for a very long time now, essentially since VW took over full control from the joint ownership arrangement with Mercedes. The early-1980s Audi 100 with its optimized airflow both over and under the car was particularly nice, despite the odd proportions caused by hanging an inline engine out ahead of the front wheel centerline. Its introduction of flush side glass for the first time in a production car was a plus that influenced the entire industry.

That model and those that followed were conservative, clean and helped VW Group’s premium brand start challenging Mercedes and BMW. The arrival of Alfa Romeo’s Walter de Silva as styling leader for the whole VW Group has helped all the brands in the conglomerate, but none so much as Audi. The A7 was our Design of the Year, as well as AUTOMOBILE of the Year for 2012, when it represented the latest and best aspects of the firm’s designs. Now a change of direction is in prospect with new design leader Marc Lichte showing his hand at the L.A. auto show last year when this Prologue concept was presented.

Some of the Audi Prologue concept design cues will appear again on the next range-topping A8 next year, some have just appeared on the A4. I’d guess that the massively oversized grille is one element to be reproduced, the faceted intersections of grille, hood and fender top planes being another. Using hard lines in the body surface is new to Audi, as is indenting the doors at their base, although both are common to other makes. Whether lining up with common practice is a good thing will have to be determined when we see a real production example or two of the new leader’s influence.

Based on the overall visual effect of this more complicated design approach, I have to say that this is a highly promising indicator. For my taste, the grille is much too big, and the surfaces around it too diverse, with elements pointing up and down at various places, with only the top and bottom of the grille and the bar below the chin inlet emphasizing the horizontal.This is again a very good-looking car with some conventional contemporary elements and a few others out of the past, like the inverse-curved backlight that recalls the 1974 Citroën CX and some Pininfarina sports cars from about the same period. But the Audi Prologue concept is unfortunately less simple, straightforward, and elegantly simple than some of its forebears. Whether that matters remains to be seen, but it seems likely that Audi will continue its sales ascension for a long time to come.

1. These slit-like headlamps are a new element, presumably something we’ll see more and more as new lighting technologies mature.
2. This bump-up in the hood contributes nothing to the design, is presumably there to stiffen the broad, flattish panel.
3. This small, almost vertical wall delimits the hood panel, its base establishing the cut line.
4. This wing coming off the top of the grille pushes the grille itself forward, establishes a hard line from the widest part of the main opening.
5. Flattened fender tops are beveled back quite sharply from the grille perimeter, as is easily seen in the rear three quarter view.
6. This hard break line in the body sides is derived from similar breaks starting at the outer corners of both front and rear lamps, with all fading around the wheelhouse openings.
7. This parallel hard line establishes a rear fender top or shoulder, continues across the rear facia as a trip line for aerodynamic flow, a subtle spoiler.
8. An inlet for cooling flow to… the tire tread? Not exactly. It’s part of an aerodynamic package concerned with reducing drag down the side of the car.
9. This anhedral wing section is more for decoration than practicality, but it looks purposeful. Styling over design? Probably.
10. Each horizontal grille bar is broken in plan view, and the trailing portion is emphasized by splitting the bar into two horizontal parts. Subtle and nice.
11. Putting the linked rings into the grille is effective, but their outer limit does not coincide with the hood bump above. Messy.

12. Taillights are suspended beneath a hard horizontal reference, ver much like BMW not-quite-full circle headlamps, in fact.
13. The inverse-curved backlight is nice, but has been exploited at least as well — or better — much earlier in Italy and France. In production.
14. The side DLO is defined by this speedy line, accented in bright trim.
15. But the actual opening is much stiffer and less graceful.
16. These Audi-retouched photos are deceptive. The surface does not actually tuck under below this line, it’s just a surface break, as you can see in the frontal view.
17. This indent is real, however, giving a light-catching triangular section to break up the relatively tall body side. The sober simplicity of earlier Audis is long gone in this car.
18. These drooping surrounds for the exhaust outlets are both interesting and effective.
19. This upward-facing surface sweeps across the back and around the rear corners, catching light and making the car seem even wider than it is. The entire rear is much cleaner and more elegant than the front end.

20. The bright metal trim on the steering wheel spokes looks very much like the yoke of an airplane.
21. The instrument cluster is impressively compact, with all you need to know about driving presented in a small area, allowing the impressively wide-appearing transverse elements.
22. A broad, clean two-level sweep across the car below the windshield base. An indented line on the top padding sweeps around onto the door panels to integrate the whole.
23. Putting a nav screen across the passenger’s side seems a retrograde idea, offering too much visual distraction to a driver if he or she wants to see what it’s presenting.
24. Audi has had the best interiors in the business for a long time now. This extremely simple central tunnel and console with integrated shifter is particularly nice.
25. As is this matter-of-fact intersection of a full-width transverse pad with the door panel, giving maximum visual width.

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