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4T : Design Miscellaneous Features

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4 October 2012


If all you noticed about the Audi crosslane coupe concept revealed last week in Paris was that it was a targa three-door crossover, then you’ve missed a lot actually. During its presentation, Audi brought brand design boss Wolfgang Egger out to emphasize a few things about the car – a move that suggested more of a careful examination than might be required by a typical show stand concept with an outlandish body configuration. Following the car’s reveal, we checked in with Egger and several of his team to get a more detailed explanation of this concept car’s significance to the Audi brand. The resulting conversation revealed a completely new direction for Audi design.

As you might expect, the crossover coupe may herald the next-generation Q3 or perhaps a coupe-like Audi Q2, but the real news here is a significant design shift for a brand that counts design as one of its most defining qualities. Though Egger’s hand can be seen on previous work, the lusty quattro Concept from the last Paris Motor Show comes to mind, this new crosslane coupe defines more than any before it the direction Egger will lead the Audi brand going forward.

Worth noting, Wolfgang Egger took over the Audi Design Team this year when former brand design boss Stefan Sielaff went on to take the roll as interior designer for the entire Volkswagen Group. As might be expected, he got right to work developing his own take on Audi’s design language and charting a new, authentic and evolutionary language for the brand. While immediately recognizable as an Audi, closer inspection reveals many changes. As an army of automotive press swarmed in on the just-revealed concept, we sought out members of the Audi Design Team who beamed proudly nearby.

Cesar Muntada
Hovering close to the front of the concept, we noticed a familiar face in the crowd– that of Cesar Muntada, the Barcelona-born Head of Exterior Design Product Identity for Audi. We first met Muntada back in 2010 at the A7 reveal in Munich and he was now here in Paris to speak specifically about the design of the cross coupe’s lights – design elements that literally lead the way for the concept. As it turns out, they’re also a fitting thematic lead for Audi Design in general.

L.E.D. light signatures have become striking differentiators that adorn all Audi vehicles, a practice that began with the introduction of the last-generation Audi S6. Not surprisingly, the success of these L.E.D. signatures has been noticed and widely copied by many automotive competitors. Always one to lead, Audi has begun to move further with this design element, first making solid light signatures through the use of light-shaping tubes as seen on cars like the latest Audi A4 and A5. Look more closely at the cross coupe suggests Cesar Muntada, and you’ll now see the next step.

A new theme I’ll hear over and over from Muntada and his Audi Design Team colleagues is that of “volumes”. The team is using volumes of mass rather than surface-like graphic “decorations” in order to further define Audi design. Whereas the light treatments on recent and most current Audis are more two-dimensional, Cesar encourages us to take a closer look at the headlight and taillight assemblies on the concept.

A closer inspection doesn’t disappoint, with intricate structural shaping of the various LED-lit active elements – parking lights, turn signals, low beams and high beams. The white lit DRL assembly that turns amber during turn signal operation appears as squarish piping, with pin stripe texturing on non-forward facing surfaces. In between its vertical elements that were inspired by those menacing lights on the Audi R18 reside semi-hidden elements positioned further back in the assembly… lighting up in the outer position for low beam and full across including inner positioning for high beam. Behind this intricate cluster you feel the theme of the old quad-square H4s that were fitted to the ur quattro during Audi’s rallying heydey, though you only really notice that hidden detail when you view the switch from low to high beams in operation.

Tobias Hoss
A few minutes later Muntada introduces us to the fresh-faced Tobias Hoss. The young designer is one of two exterior designers who are chiefly credited with the overall look of the cross coupe concept.

One of the first things Hoss points to as he walks us around the car is the utilization of Audi’s ultra lightweight chassis design as a key styling element. There are exposed carbon fiber touches at various points around the vehicle, while structural aluminum framework is exposed along the accent lines of the hood… here with “ultra” branding.

Early in the conversation with Hoss, the discussion turns back to that word volume. “We don’t want to design lines. We want to design around volumes,” says Hoss as he points out the creases in bodywork on the side of the car.

Standing back and taking in the profile of the concept car, this subtle change becomes quite striking. For instance, the idea of combining things like ur quattro-esque box flares with more rounded arches that remind me of the B5 RS 4, you’d think they might run into trouble as managing both of these cues could get very complicated very fast. By limiting the definition of each to be drawn by volumes coming together, the overall look is one that appears both very natural and quite muscular.

Hoss explains it as more simple and more purposeful – less unnecessary decoration drawn by character lines that have otherwise no purpose in being there. It goes unsaid, but I’m thinking this is a markedly opposite philosophy from the Bangle-driven flame surfacing trend that emanated from BMW. Seeking to learn more, I go in search of the man at the top.

Wolfgang Egger
Wolfgang Egger isn’t hard to find. This German with a very Italian style and smoothness is also proudly staying nearby long after Audi’s top brass have disappeared from the stage. He’s in the middle of an interview with German TV when I find him, and when the crew calls it a wrap Egger is more than willing to walk us around the car and explain where he’s going. Then, as we make our way over to the concept to chat, one of his team walks past and says to me, “you’re talking to the best boss in the world.”

Audi’s design boss smiles at the compliment, but doesn’t dwell. His passion for his work moves him quite directly past the gushing complement and into the design discussion. Egger explains that each product family like Q, R or A will have its own design elements. Certain components such as the framing or positioning of the rings are one obvious place to begin. This crosslane concept shows where the Q family is going – with the grille itself very substantial and supporting those rings with mass below them. Expect to see something very similar on all future Q models going forward.

“Every segment will have its own way to treat the rings,” says Egger. He sights the R8’s rings mounted on the hood or bonnet as the most sporting, while he emphasizes that the A-cars will have focus on elegance in their use of the logo. Egger lists the configuration of the lights as another differentiator between lines, and we’re guessing those matte black wheel arches on the cross coupe will be one very specific Q-model identifier.

As we discuss the shaping of the cross coupe’s body, Egger also turns to the use of volumes. Look at nearly any point on the car and accent lines are really only used to show where one volume comes together with another. Even Audi’s trademark tornado line is defined with the shut line of the hood from headlight to A-pillar.

Volumes aren’t just used to mark character lines. As with the headlights, volumes are also used to define key elements like the trademark Audi grille frame. Egger nods toward the nose of the cross coupe and waves his hand in the shape of the grilles outer border.

On the cross coupe, that frame becomes a volume in and of itself. Its silver shaping carries three-dimensionally back from the grille to the headlight. Below, it disappears into the lower air inlets. Glancing at the concept and then over to the brand new A3 Sportback parked close by, I can readily see the difference. In comparison, the A3’s current grille seems two-dimensional – a graphic element seemingly installed on the front surface of the car in comparison to the nose of the cross coupe where the same frame takes on a more structural appearance. In an era where most new cars seem to be aerodynamic eggs with differentiation via surface decoration, this language is very refreshing.

Egger looks at the A3 too. He refers to it (and presumably the upcoming sedan) as the final entrant in the current line of Audi design. From here forward, future Audis will more aggressively take on the new language being pioneered by this carbon targa-topped crossover.

Understanding the timing of model cycles, I press Egger further. What about the P.I.s?

A P.I. stands for “product improvement” – industry speak for a facelift. The reality at Audi is that a P.I. is seldom just about the outer surface of the car and thus facelift is only sometimes an accurate term anyway. Still, more radical design changes usually happen when a car migrates from one architecture to an all-new configuration. While this sort of migration will be the case for cars like the next-generation Q7, A4, A5 and Q5, others like the A1, A6, A7, A8 and that brand-new A3 are still due for a mid-lifecycle P.I.

Egger almost seems to have a glint in his eye as he assures me that even the P.I.s will migrate to this new design language. They’ll be part of the new family. This would seem to affirm then rumors like those from Car & Driver of a new and more edgy look for the A8… and also the A6, A7 and everything else going forward.

Seeing the cross coupe in person and taking it in at the guidance of these three talented members of the Audi Design Team, we’re most excited to see where this leads. As much as the new A3 Sportback looks like a fantastic design and it’s certainly won over A3 owner members of our discussion forums, the car does not move very far from the design of the outgoing model. It seems timely for a new and fresh take on all Audi offerings going forward and Wolfgang Egger (along with his team) seem to be ready to take on this new challenge.

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