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Deep Dive: Audi Expands the Q Range

Once Audi's new Q crossover range strategy is in place, the brand will offer no fewer than seven different Q models. Says chairman of the board Rupert Stadler: "The SUV segment keeps on growing. This is a trend not only in China and North America, but also in Europe. Because Audi wants a share of the action, we are going to expand our crossover line-up."

Makes sense -- after all, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are also adding new tall-roof four-wheel drive models such as the BMW X2 and X4 and the Mercedes MLC and GLA. But Audi intends to eclipse its rivals by preparing an even wider choice of soft-roaders; seven Q cars -- isn't that too much of a good thing? Don't some of these variants cannibalize each other? Are the individual volumes really big enough to warrant sustainable profits? Predictably, the product planners from Ingolstadt are familiar with these arguments. And they believe that they found a solution by splitting the future Q family into two distinctly different tribes.

The Game Plan

The idea is to tweak the odd-numbered models more toward a SUV DNA by adding more ground clearance, all-season tires, go-anywhere body cladding, bespoke bumpers, and adventure-oriented trim levels. The next Q3, Q5, and Q7 will therefore display an "allroad-plus" theme with a higher-roof stance, more rugged make-up, and an outdoor-focused appeal. But don't expect hardcore engineering items like a low-range transfer case or mechanical differential locks.

Quite different in character and appearance, the Q2, Q4, Q6, and Q8 are currently being designed from scratch. Inspired by the coupe-like A3-based Steppenwolf concept introduced at the 2000 Paris shows, the new additions to the Q corral are sleeker, sportier, and sassier than their odd-number counterparts. Means to this end include a lower roofline, an accordingly smaller greenhouse, faster windscreen and backlight angles, mildly flared fenders, more chrome, and bigger wheels shod with on-road-biased tires. While the Q6 and Q8 will definitely have four doors, the Q2 and Q4 could work with either four or two doors; the final decision is still pending, but insiders claim that only one Q model will end up as a two-door coupe - mostly likely the Q4.

The Answer to All Your Qs

The first all-new Audi Q model will be the MkIII Q7, due in 2014. Based on the so-called tall platform edition of the MLBevo components set shared with the next Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, and Lamborghini and Bentley SUVs, the full-size crossover will shed around 772 pounds (350 kg) in weight thanks to a reengineered body structure and panels made of aluminum. The new architecture is labeled WKK60 - which stands for material-flexible concept with a 60-percent steel content. The remaining 40 percent are lightweight materials, in this case predominantly aluminum. The current Q7 has been on sale since 2005, receiving a minor facelift in 2009 and revised powertrains in 2011.

The next major Q-related evolution is due in 2016. At that point in time, Audi will replace the Q5, have access to the compact MQB AO architecture being developed for the next VW Polo that it requires for the Q2, and is expected to launch the range-topping Q8. What happened to the Q1, you ask? Well, after the A2 was off to a slow start, the Bavarians quietly changed the nomenclature and turned the Q1 into the Q2. Earmarked for the Q2 are five different engines: two 1.4-liter gas units rated at 125 and 185 hp, two 2.0-liter TDI diesel powerplants good for 115 and 177 hp, and the 220-hp S Q2.

The Q8 will be derived from the 2014 Q7, but it won't adopt the lesser model's new four-cylinder base engine. Instead, we should expect to see two gas-powered V-6 engines delivering 230 and 300 hp, a 250-hp 3.0-liter V-6 TDI and a 400-hp 4.2-liter V-8 TDI, plus the S Q8 boasting the same 550-hp twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 from the S6/S7/S8. In addition, spies are predicting two plug-in hybrids: one mated to a gas-powered four-cylinder TFSI unit, and the other paired with a V-6 TDI motor. Sources from within Audi claim it is entirely possible that the Q8 will make the tentative A9 flagship coupe redundant even before the concept car under preparation for the next Frankfurt show has been completed. The reasoning behind this move? Since the VW Group has enough high-end coupes and sedans offered by Porsche and Bentley, Audi should try to get the next A8 100-percent right rather than spending big on a dangerously small niche.

Looking deeper into the crystal ball, we see the 2017 Q6 based on the matrix of the next Q5. Tapping the same architecture -- but in its current form -- is the 2014 Porsche Macan, which will come in two-door guise, suggesting that this segment will be getting very crowded very soon. In 2018, Audi is tipped to launch the Q4 that will be followed in 2019 by the second-generation Q3. Both models share their underpinnings with the VW Tiguan replacement, which will be offered in standard and long-wheelbase form as well as sporty CC form. That's a lot of product to be fed to an already boiling market.

The same applies to the upper end of the pseudo mud-crawler league where the Q7 and Q8 will be facing the next Cayenne and Cayenne coupe together with the new Touareg and Touareg CC. Considering that BMW and Mercedes have embarked on similar growth schemes, one wonders whether there will be enough takers for that glut of rather heavy and thirsty crossover vehicles, which, by the way, are already facing a latent social acceptance crisis.

What is the next worst-case scenario the auto industry will face: the bursting of the China bubble, the short-circuiting of the electric car, or the mass hiatus of the SUV?