Claiming to be the world's first crossover cabriolet, Audi's latest concept car, unveiled at the LA Auto Show in Dec '07, initially seems to be a confusing mixture of messages. But after sitting down with the design team, we were able to make sense of this extraordinary vehicle.
There's little secret that the Audi Cross Cabriolet quattro represents the closest indication of what the new Audi Q5 will look like. According to Jae Min, chief designer at the Audi Design Center California (which they share with VW), it's a little shorter than the production car (because it's a coupe) but the proportions are the same. You will see the shape of the concept's grille, head- and tail lights carried over to the Q5, but don't expect to see either the cabrio roof or two-door bodyshell in the showrooms anytime soon.
Perhaps our initial confusion with the concept is that it's sending so many messages. It's the "world's first cabriolet crossover," it's also a two-door coupe, plus it has quattro AWD and bulging quattro-esque fenders, yet it's also a turbo-diesel to herald the return of 50 state oil-burners to the USA. On top of that, you may remember there was a previous Cross Coupe concept launched earlier in '07, which had a coupe-style roofline and four cylinder TDI engine. But according to Executive Design Director, Claus Potthoff, "that vehicle used a completely different platform and was also a different size. The only similarity was the name."
Classic OffroaderThe Cross Cabriolet's project manager, Steve Lewis, was on hand to demystify the concept. He pointed out that this was the first such concept to be designed and built entirely in North America and that its cabrio roof was a direct consequence of this. He explained how soft-tops are very important to the US market, particularly in California. Claus also explained, "Every manufacturer is looking for a new niche and so a convertible crossover was an interesting idea. But if you think about it, the earliest offroaders were open [think of the original Jeep], so we decided to create a classic soft-top cabriolet because we feel the fabric roof can still exist among all these metal-roofed convertibles."
Jae also stated that a cabrio "makes more sense when driving offroad since it gives you greater visibility to both enjoy the countryside and navigate difficult terrain."
For this reason, the concept was always going to be quattro. It wouldn't be an Audi without it and AWD is de rigueur in this market sector. However, we were curious about how the design team approached the issue of safety. Some early SUVs had a reputation for rollovers, so how did a roofless crossover protect its occupants?
"We have pop-up pillars behind the rear seats and strengthened A-pillars in the event of a rollover," Steve explained. "We also have air suspension like the Q7 that allows you to get the best setting for the conditions."
In addition, the crossover has a wide track, thanks to those quattro-style fenders, that lends a sporty element but also helps to disguise the dimensions of the car.
Each fender is filled with 21" wheels carrying special 265/35 Michelin tires. The wheels have an almost imperceptible two-piece construction that gave the designers flexibility when creating the centers. The wheels were then finished in a tinted chrome, which is also used on the bodywork and interior. "We wanted to add the brightness of chrome, but without the pimpiness," Steve told us.
"We developed a clearcoat in the design studio that is used on the trim pieces," Claus continued. "Audi is a premium product and we try to convey that in the details."
"And so all the exterior trim is actually aluminum," Jae added, "but we treated it with our tinted clearcoat to give it the quality we wanted."
Behind the wheels are ceramic brake rotors that reduce weight, increase service life and withstand high temps. They're 380mm on the front, clamped by six-piston calipers, with 356mm rear rotors.
"The Cross Cabriolet has several traditional SUV elements," Steve said. " We've added front and rear skidplates, plus running boards on the sides. These have been made from the same tinted aluminum and were integrated into the body. The running boards actually become part of the door sill step-plate that takes you into the car.
More aluminum can be found on the mirror housings. "We have a step between the top of the hood and the belt line that runs the length of the car," Steve explained, "but the twin supports on the mirrors straddle the two sections, connecting them in a harmonious way."
Big NoseThe front end is probably the most dramatic aspect of the concept, with its huge grille and the aforementioned skidplate at the bottom. The grille is no bigger than a regular Audi piece, but the designers detailed its slats before surrounding it with a tinted aluminum frame.
The concept also boasts all-LED lights, from the strip in the brake ducts that serve as foglights, to the head- and tail lights. It also has a strip of daytime running LEDs, similar to the latest Audi's - something the car maker is introducing to give its products another signature element.
Under the hood lies a 3.0 V6 turbo-diesel. With its ultra-low emissions, Audi is heralding it as the cleanest diesel in the world when it arrives in the Q7 this year. In stock trim it delivers 240hp, 370 lb-ft and respectable economy.
The V6 TDI uses a common rail system with piezo injectors operating at 2000bar, along with exhaust gas recirculation and exhaust aftertreatment that's said to cut oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions by up to 90%. It does so by injecting AdBlue carbamide solution ahead of the cat. The solution breaks down into ammonia, splitting the NOx waste into simple nitrogen and water.
It's the lower emissions that make a diesel cabrio more palatable. However, even current diesel emissions standards haven't stopped European car makers from selling thousands of diesel cabrios over the last few years, ever since Audi introduced the world's first with the A4.
The engine's torque is distributed to the AWD system by an eight-speed auto with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
Step InsideThe concept is a four-seater, with individual chairs for each occupant, finished in special whitestone leather and divided by a prominent console running the length of the car. The seats are based on production units but have been resculpted and skinned. Each seat has an "air scarf" system that provides air vents in the headrests to warm the neck area when the roof is down. There's also an intercom system so rear seat occupants don't have to shout to be heard at speed. It uses a microphone in the rear of each front seat, which is heard through speakers in the front seat headrests.
Dark brown ash wood inserts on the dash, doors and center console contrast the white leather. The wood on the glovebox features a graphic said to represent the criss-crossing Los Angeles freeway system.
The white instruments in front of the driver have a ripple pattern on their faces and the numbers are lit white at night. There's also a 4" screen between the dials to show nav guidance or album artwork when accessing the internet radio system.
Working with ERL in San Francisco, the concept was given a Google Earth nav system and internet radio. The latter works in combination with "love" and "hate" buttons. This allows you to reject certain tracks or keep others. The system then learns your musical taste and creates playlists for you. The music is channeled through a B&O sound system that includes multiple speaker locations and a 500W amp.
Another interesting aspect is the cupholders. In this application they can either heat or chill your cup, selected by turning the cup either left or right.
The FutureAs with any concept car, the Cross Cabriolet quattro allows the manufacturer to prepare its customers for a new product, in this case the forthcoming Q5, while gauging reaction to some new ideas.
The design team confirmed that Audi management was "pleasantly surprised" at the reception the concept received. They are said to be "considering various options" at the moment. But don't expect to see two-door or convertible iterations of the Q5 any time soon. However, you may see Google nav, internet radio, powered cupholders and heated headrests in the next few years.
Cross CoupeThe Cross Coupe quattro concept, unveiled in Shanghai in 5/07, aimed to combine the dynamic qualities of a sports coupe with the versatility of an SUV. Painted in liquid silver and sitting on 20" wheels, the designers wanted to emphasize its offroad intentions, but added a full length fabric folding roof to increase its appeal.
The engine is a 204hp, 295 lb-ft 2.0 TDI four cylinder with particulate filter and Bluetec system to reduce emissions. A DSG transmission accesses the quattro AWD.
The engine, tranny and adaptive suspension are electronically linked and can be set to dynamic, sport or efficiency modes, affecting shift points and even deactivating the A/C at times.
While the Cross Coupe shares its name with the Cross Cabriolet, we're told the two have little in common but both are precursors to the Q5.
Q7 V12 TDIWhile Audi is making everybody aware of its clean diesel technology, we shouldn't forget it has performance applications, too - most notably the all-conquering,Le Mans-winning 650hp R10 prototype racecar.
And while there are rumors of a diesel-powered R8 road car in the pipeline, the closest spin-off from its motorsport program is this Q7 SUV that uses a 500hp V12 TDI.
Whenever diesel is mentioned, we know power is only half the story, and the highlight of this V12 is its 740 lb-ft of torque. The result is a 0-60mph sprint in 5.5sec, although the vehicle is limited to 155mph.
The Q7 V12 TDI was presented as a concept last year, but we're reliably informed it will reach production. In fact, Wolfgang Hatz, Head of VW Group's Powertrain Division, referred to the V12 as "his baby" and suggested it would be available this year.
Whether the production car looks as sharp as this Q7 concept is debatable, as is its availability in the USA. We can only wait and hope.
MetroprojectIt's not all SUVs from Audi. The company is working on a small car to rival the Mini in the premium sector. While there's been plenty of speculation, this Metroproject quattro concept provides the clearest indication of what's to come.
The styling speaks for itself - simple yet muscular, crammed with Audi signatures and very appealing. There's some doubt over whether the A1 will make its way to the US, given the current exchange rates and the price of the A3, but this concept is even more interesting under the skin.
Under the hood is a 1.4TFSI motor. The little four cylinder turbo is a version of a current Audi A3 motor, modified to develop 150hp and 177 lb-ft. It also uses multi-hole injectors to ensure combustion efficiency and cut pollutants.
It delivers power to the front wheels via a DSG gearbox. However, there's also a 41hp electric motor under the trunk floor that drives the rear wheels. When both engines operate together, the car gains quattro drive to cope with the 325 lb-ft generated.
The Metroproject is also able to regenerate its braking energy to create more electrical power. Using this technology, plus automatic stop/start functions, the concept reduces fuel consumption by 16% over a vehicle running on gasoline alone.
To produce zero emissions, the car is able to run solely on the electric motor for up to 60 miles before it needs to be plugged into a power socket for refueling.
Additionally, the Metroproject has a version of the Audi R8 and TT's magnetic drive, in which special damper fluid is controlled by electromagnetic fields.This allows the damping to be adapted electronically to different conditions.
However, the concept's most intriguing gadget is the Audi Mobile Device. The portable unit functions as the car's access system (door/ignition key), as well as being a cellphone, MP3/video player and nav unit. It can also control the car's functions from outside, so you can operate the heating and program the sound system from your home.
Phone numbers and addresses can be stored in the device (through the touchscreen that recognizes handwriting) and then linked to the nav functions to direct you to that destination. Furthermore, the device offers security functions: images from an in-car camera can be displayed on the screen in real-time. If the alarm is triggered, the device alerts the driver and tracks the vehicle if it's driven away.
The only question remaining is why don't we all have one of these? It's pure genius.