Every concept car sends a message. The ice-blue Audi Allroad Shooting Brake design exercise, which made its debut at the Detroit auto show, is no exception. First of all, much of its design tipped off the new Audi TT, which has now been revealed. Second, it demonstrates the scalability of the Allroad theme, which to date has only been applied to the A4 Avant and A6 Avant. Third, it takes the compact shooting-brake body style, first presented at the 2005 Tokyo Show (as a TT concept), to an exciting new level. Last but not least, it incorporates state-of-the-art plug-in-hybrid technology in a package dubbed E-tron Quattro. We recently took the Allroad Shooting Brake for a spin, and talked with company insiders about the concept's significance for future Audi models.
The first thing you notice when you see the concept car in the flesh are its compact dimensions. The wheelbase is 3.5 inches shorter than that of the two-door A3 and the length matches that of the current TT. While the driver and the front-seat passenger enjoy enough leg- and headroom, space in row two is cramped by the dropping roofline, the tapered plan view, and the uncomfortably small seats with upright backrests. Says Ulrich Hackenberg, board member in charge of engineering: "If we were to take the shooting brake idea one step closer to reality, it would be essential to rethink the packaging. After all, a saleable shooting brake needs four seats and a spacious loading bay." The Allroad concept has neither. Used as a coupe, however, it carries enough luggage and leisure equipment as long as you fold down the split rear seats by pushing the appropriate buttons inside the trunk. The lithium ion batteries, located in front of the rear axle, don't much compromise cabin space, nor does the small electric motor tucked under the cargo deck.
Gas and electric: E-tron plug-in hybrid
The Allroad concept in theory features a plug-in hybrid system that employs a 288-hp turbocharged four-cylinder, a 54-hp electric motor integrated into the six-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a second 114-hp electric motor driving the rear wheels. In the show car, however, the front motor is absent, and the downsized rear motor develops only 54 hp. At this point, hybrid mode is not available. It's either front-wheel drive using TFSI engine power or rear-wheel drive via that humming little box fed by eight water-cooled batteries totaling 8.8 kWh.
In EV mode, the E-tron motor whines noisily, but it's ever ready to put the maximum torque of 199 lb-ft to the ground. Audi is quoting a 0-62 mph acceleration time of 4.6 seconds and a driving range of better than 500 miles. (We played around for over two hours in EV mode with the headlights on and the windows going up and down, and the state-of-charge meter never dropped below the halfway mark.) In E-tron configuration, the top speed is limited to an energy-saving 81 mph, but with all powerplants working in sync the Allroad concept would have to be governed at 156 mph. Although e-drive sounds and feels less refined than expected, the instantaneous takeoff and the kick-butt in-gear performance are truly entertaining. It does put a smile on your face.
Step off the throttle casually, and the system will slip into freewheeling coasting mode. Step off the throttle abruptly, and brake energy regeneration makes the vehicle grind to a rapid halt. Theoretically, the Allroad has enough ground clearance and sufficient underbody cladding to leave the beaten track, but the 255/40 R19 Michelin Pilot Sport tires lack even modest off-road talent, the approach and departure angles are simply too shallow, and the long-legged transmission is geared exclusively for on-road use.
Wolfgang Egger's swan song
The Allroad Shooting Brake also marks design chief Wolfgang Egger's last effort. (Egger has been dispatched to Ital Design, and Mark Lichte, who took over at Audi on January 1, is now administering the brand's new look.) Egger's Allroad concept is evolutionary in a cautious yet tasteful manner. "The single-frame grille remains a must for all Audis," he notes. "In the future there will be more variations like this E-tron treatment, which was inspired by the cooling ribs of a high-tech electrical device. Another area the brand intends to advance is in lighting technology. Although laser lights are undeniably the coming thing, the Allroad concept demonstrates its proximity to the new TT by featuring LED matrix headlamps. As far as the Allroad aspect goes, we chose more prominently flared wheelhouses to underline the dynamic character and larger contrasting elements to visually reduce the volume of the body." Another message here is that shiny chrome is definitely on the way out while brushed, anodized, or even painted metal is increasingly en vogue. That brightwork is often used in combination with glossy black plastic or - in case of this show car - with matte grey. Another up and coming surface treatment is carbon fiber, used here for the outer rims of the wheels.
Open the door, slip into the Alcantara-trimmed bucket seat, and you face a squared-off steering wheel with unusually small shift paddles. About 90 percent of what you see and feel from this position is identical to the new TT. Unique to the show car are the approach sensors in the air vents, which make the control knobs pop out as you reach for them, and the motorized center console that adjusts to meet the driver's right elbow. Gear changes are either via shift paddles or the short transmission joystick, which is required to engage neutral, reverse, and park. All A/C controls are integrated in the five rosettes spread across the dash. While the outer vents accommodate the seat heater buttons, the ones above the center stack let you adjust temperature, fan speed and air distribution.
Audi's trick new instrument cluster
The interior's hero piece is of course the 12.3-inch TFT display, which the company unveiled at CES and which replaces both traditional gauges and the center screen. Most of the time you'll prefer the classic readout with analog rev counter and speedometer paired with a digital gear indicator and a digital mph display. Not dramatic enough? Then select sport and the tachometer doubles in size in an environment that changes color when the redline nears. Navigation summons a large map with the available imagery ranging from the close-up of a city intersection to a full-width panoramic mountain range. Zooming in and out is by a convenient rubber thumbwheel but entering a destination is a job for the (much improved) voice control. In off-road mode, the pictogram is complemented by information such as steering angle, fording depth, and the gradient of the next descent. Select hybrid, and the monitor will show a large power meter flanked by charge and boost bar graphs as well as by a range display. It's great stuff—as long as the big screen is not playing "House of Cards," season III, whilst the vehicle is in motion.
Concept cars are seldom more pragmatic, visionary, and realistic than this bonsai Audi. As an Allroad, it is a precursor to future models, since Audi is reportedly contemplating Allroad derivatives of all passenger car lines from the subcompact A1 to the A7. Additionally, the E-tron Quattro application makes for a credible, practical, and brand-compatible evolution of the universally accepted plug-in concept. Ultimately, though, it's the Allroad Shooting Brake's conceptual whole that intrigues us.