For a long time Audi stood for refinement, graceful styling, and intelligent detail design. We owe the benefits of a now almost-universal flush side glass to Audi, along with the serious, widespread application of low-drag aerodynamics for mainstream vehicles. Those huge grilles from more than a decade ago were unpleasantly obtrusive but were offset by the most refined and agreeable interiors in the business. As the market has moved from sporty coupes and sedans to taller, heavier, and bulkier SUVs, the focus has changed, and Audi’s subtle styling refinement has transformed into a blockier, coarser, and more trucklike look. This disappoints me slightly, but Audi buyers are presumably getting more of what they truly want — or, at the very least, what marketers and stylists think they want.
The Audi Q8 concept’s grille is imposingly big but is now defined by an irregular octagonal perimeter affixed to a black-painted frame that projects the ensemble forward. Five black horizontal bars with double-radius leading edges sit unobtrusively behind six double-radius vertical bars with kinks in them that align with the four innermost creases on the hood. There are a couple more creases outboard, one aligning with a sharp edge in the A-pillar, another with a little inset below the side windowsill that runs onto the front fender top. Add in creases above each wheel and a few horizontal and arched lines in the body sides, and you can see that the die makers were kept busy getting this car’s skins ready for production.
There is no denying this is an attractive package, but it is reasonable to question whether it is sensible to transport only four people and a limited amount of luggage. The available space is truncated by the falling roofline and extensive mechanical and electric hardware carried under the load floor to accommodate all-wheel drive, hybrid motors, and batteries. But efficiency and practicality are no more a part of what this design is about than they were in planning and building Duesenberg J or Packard V-12 two-seat roadsters. Economist Thorstein Veblen laid out the underlying reasons for things such as this concept SUV late in the 19th century in his seminal “The Theory of the Leisure Class.”
There will always be a desire and a need for excess, and we are all beneficiaries of the search for ways to indulge those who seek to have more than others. When I compare the 10-year-old economy model I keep as a second car for local use to the ultra bare-bones first car I owned long ago as a teenager, I realize that every one of the improvements appeared first on cars meant for, as is this Q8 concept, the rich and privileged. This is not a car I’d want under any circumstances, but if there are inexpensive all-wheel-drive hybrids years from now, it will be because this and other over-the-top models exist now. So, long live conspicuous consumption.
1. Wheel openings in the body sides are complex, with four sharp-edged surface changes in the semicircular wheelhouses. Clean, interesting, and different from any other car.
2. A sort of hip line is embossed high up on the body side, suggesting a rear fender shape that really isn’t there.
3. This is an access door for energy supply. And yes, there is one on the other side. But unlike old Jaguars with two gas caps, one is for liquid fuel, the other for electrons.
4. It seems stylists can’t keep themselves from indenting the bottom of doors, whether it makes sense or not. This shows up in dozens of designs these days.
5. This crisp line in the sides keeps the body from appearing too tall.
6. A mighty lot of ribs and creases on top of the front end. Some align with the grille bars, others delineate surface changes, providing some linearity for the blocky form.
7. Somehow the shapes in the head- lamp area suggest macramé hangings. Certainly there is nothing particularly automotive about these shapes.
8. Fairly sophisticated texturing is hidden away inside the grille and below the lamps.
9. Quite large corner air inlets are very nicely framed with what appear to be metal castings.
10. This painted bar, horizontal at its extremities then rising to a high plane, was used on Oldsmobiles from 1946 to the early 1950s. It still looks good in this form.
11. The lowest part of the front end is a handsomely sculpted piece, nicely completing the front-end graphics.
12. Yet another well-sculpted piece of bright trim, this carries a clear, clean horizontal hard line and peculiarly abstract curves above and below that reference.
13. Audi PR makes a big deal out of the wheels: “Five intertwining Y spokes project a filigreed, three-dimensional, and powerful image.” Translation: messy, complex, and hard to keep clean.
14. This projection of a front fender profile is clean, flowing, and quite successful.
15. The coupe roofline is sporty, but somehow a vehicle this big and heavy for just four seats and with limited luggage space begs the question: why?
16. An innovative and quite nice idea is tucking some of the rear body face into a dramatic slot cut into the rear body side. It works well and adds a lot of interest.
17. The overhanging roof is punctuated by four crisp longitudinal lines and a depressed center panel.
18. Notice the transverse rib derived from the fender profile on top and the trailing edge of the side slot, resulting in a tiny flat band across the tail.
19. This transverse rib comes off the top wheel-opening circle and helps break up the height of the rear face of the body.
20. Only four ribs under the tail, versus eight on the front end. The entire lower body trim piece is nicely shaped, somewhat repeating the lines at the lower front end.
21. Clean door panels, but the grab handle on the front of the armrest is a bit too far forward to make it useful for closing the doors.22. Slim, slotted, and elongated ventilation outlets are different from usual practice and all the better for it.
23. The idea of sharp surface changes resulting in bands of nearly flat material, as used on the exterior, is recapitulated inside the cabin as well, to good effect.
24. There is a great deal of screen area on the instrument panel, making extensive use of images.
25. There are a lot of switches and buttons attached to the steering wheel, which is very sporty in shape and execution.
26. The pedals and footrest are presented nicely with bright perimeters. A luxurious touch.