It's one thing to see Audi Prologue Concept on a revolving platform under the bright lights of the South Hall at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The two-door luxury Audi coupe looks sleek and handsome there—futuristic even—but still not out of the ordinary. After all, next to Audi's stand is Jaguar and its racy Project 7 F-Type. And not far from that is Maserati's Alfieri masterpiece. But it's quite another thing to see the Audi Prologue Concept in a more organic environment, like the driveway of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Even crazier: I'm about to mix it up in city traffic with all-too-ordinary Civics (yes, Civics exist in Beverly Hills), E-Classes, Mustangs, and X5s.
This car is one of two built (the other is still sitting at the show), and Audi reps are rightly a little nervous about sending it out on the road. Before climbing in, I'm instructed to wear a set of white disposable coveralls in an attempt to preserve the delicate cream-colored leather interior. This car costs more than $1 million to produce, and Audi would like to keep it looking pristine for the remainder of its public appearances. My co-pilot (an Audi engineer) and I climb aboard carefully, both looking like extras from a '70s science fiction flick.
The experience escalates quickly when an official police escort turns up—fore and aft—with sirens wailing and lights flashing at every intersection, stopping traffic and guiding us through red lights. Then there's the raucous bellow from the nearly straight exhaust system fitted to the Prologue's 597hp, 4.0L, twin-turbo V-8 (essentially a modified engine from the S8 sedan). Only there's some software glitch causing a miscommunication between the accelerator pedal and the engine. Basically, moving off from a standstill is a bit of a crapshoot. Maybe the car moves forward in a controlled manner, maybe it will roar off at nearly full throttle, maybe it will do nothing and threaten to stall. It's all part of the excitement.
We're attracting a significant amount of attention with a car that looks like a movie prop and sounds like it's ready to run at Circuit de la Sarthe in June. Old-money, middle-aged Beverly Hills residents stare angrily, wondering who dares disturb their relative peace. The younger set has camera phones out, recording the proceedings to upload to YouTube later. A car full of 20-something females pulls alongside, windows down, shouting things that aren't really discernible above the thunderous grumbleblatblatpopbanggrowl coming from the exhaust. Nearly everyone at least turns a head to see what all the commotion is about.
Despite the madness surrounding our little circus, the Prologue is quite pleasant inside. The seats are comfortable, the ride shockingly so, the steering light and precise, and the brakes work well. Visibility out the front is excellent thanks to a large windscreen and thin A-pillars, and the car generally has a light feeling to it, which belies its actual size and weight.
The interior is uncluttered and ultra-modern, with OLED screens that cover nearly every function and nearly every surface. There's a large screen in the center stack, coupled with a strip of a touchscreen that spans the passenger's width of the dashboard. This unconventional screen shape and placement is something Audi says will be commonplace in the future, replacing most hard buttons, knobs, and switches. The only physical button that's immediately obvious is the one used to start the car. This approach is a progression of the new TT's Virtual Cockpit design, but leaves me somewhat skeptical. So I asked the Prologue's chief designer, Marc Lichte, about the feasibility of such design. His response: "Do you think your next-gen iPhone will have switches or buttons? Why should your next car be any different?"
Under the Prologue's skin is a combination of current and next-gen Audi A8 pieces. Some people in the company say the chassis itself is nearly production-ready—it just requires final tweaking. That doesn't mean all the components are production pieces. Many are custom-built just for this car. But the basic evolution of the chassis is strong enough that no major changes should be necessary.
How much of this car will we see in future Audi products? The design language is a certainty. Expect the revised Audi grille and front end to make its way into the A6/7/8 lines. Those wheels that look like they're being twisted by the car's torque are also production-viable. But will we actually see a two-door A8 to rival Mercedes' S-Class coupe? It's a possibility at the very least. Keep your fingers crossed.