The Audi Prologue Concept was the star of the LA Auto Show this year and we had a unique chance to drive it around Beverly Hills! As a design concept the Audi Prologue paves the way for the Audi designs of the future A8, A6 and A4 models and serves as a showcase for what could become the Audi A9 Coupe!
Honestly, on seeing the first pictures of the Audi Prologue Concept the night prior to the LA Auto Show I was a bit underwhelmed. Teased as the example for a new, sporty and above all different design language for future Audis, it just didn’t strike me as all that different from the current generation Audis…
But then there I was at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills with the Audi Prologue Concept shining away in the Californian sun. And I couldn’t have been more wrong… Parked across the lot was a current generation Audi A8 Limousine and in comparison the Prologue Concept just looks so much more three-dimensional and dynamic. Particularly at the front – the wide and low single frame grill, flanked by two very deep air intakes, give the Prologue a very strong presence and promising outlook for the future.
The Audi Prologue Concept is first and foremost a design concept for the future Audi exterior and interior design. During our stay in LA we also met with the young international design team that works on upcoming Audis and show cars under supervision of new Head of Design Marc Lichte. Marc Lichte was appointed Head of Audi Design on the 1st of February this year and this is the first car created under his supervision.
Marc is shaping a new design strategy and language for Audi. With the Audi Prologue he expresses Audi’s sportiness, lightweight design and emphasizes the Quattro permanent all-wheel drive. Key in the new design are the lower and wider shoulders above the wheels that clearly show the stance of the Quattro drive. The rear of the Prologue Concept is tilted in the driving direction and the rear lights running across the entire width of the car give the Audi a new look.
All around the car 3D elements give the car a special edge. We truly hope most of these design features make it into production Audis some day. The rear lights in particular are a special feast to enjoy, they might appear flat on pictures but in reality the layered shape provides a lot of depth and looks stunning.
The work on the Audi Prologue Concept started around 8 months ago with a team of Audi Designers making first sketches and drawings for a flagship Coupe. The young and international design team that were dedicated to the Audi Prologue showcar for the last eight months consisted of exterior designers, an interface designer, architecture designer, seat designer, UX designer, a light specialist, colour and trim specialist and several other contributors. The team was overseen by a project coordinator together with Marc Lichte as Head of Design.
The designers received a lot of freedom in shaping the Audi Prologue Concept, only a few basics things were set. One of these things was that it had to be based on the A8 platform, albeit with a shortened wheelbase by 60 mm. Also the desired interior dimensions were more or less a given but everything else was up to the designers to shape.
The ultimate goal for the Audi Prologue Concept was to design a timeless, simplistic and progressive car that would set the tone for the future Audi models. A few things were particularly important to Marc Lichte in shaping the design. This included emphasizing the Audi Quattro drivetrain by lowering the shoulder line of the car, giving the car a more dynamic stance. Additionally a lower, more dynamic, front and a well proportioned roof line were also an important part of the design.
Lights play an ever growing role in defining a car’s character and design impact. In my opinion LED (daytime running) lights offer the greatest change and opportunities in car design of the last few years. The Audi Prologue Concept uses Audi’s Laserlight first introduced on the Audi R8 LMX. The system has been further developed to include even a matrix inside the big beam spots to blend out any oncoming traffic.
Laserlight offers incredible drawing distances to light out elements for the driver to see. On the being-seen side OLED technology is ideal and in the future you might see both combined on next generation Audis as they are the perfect combo. From a design perspective the slightly deeper position of the front lights give the Audi Prologue its dynamic stance in the front. And the layered LED rear lights really add a wow-effect to the rear of the Prologue.
Personally, one of the best looking Audis of all time is the S8 D2 facelift model that was built from 1999 to 2002. Even today its timeless design makes it look like a modern car. From my perspective there is one thing on the Prologue today that I don’t really like. That is the way the two hard lines towards the rear of the car look. It looks a bit like a piece of paper that was folded twice and especially exposed in the bright Californian sun it dominates the side too much. Instead I would prefer a smoother curve on the top to replace the sharp Quattro line in both the front and the back.
The interior designers of the Audi Prologue Concept could let their imagination run wild. And they did! It lead to some interesting new innovations including a 3D Cockpit and the first bendable OLED display in a car. We will tell you more on both in detail below. Audi opted for a four seat configuration finished in high quality light colored leather. The front seats are very thin and cut from one piece of aluminum. Their shapes offers plenty of support and fits even tall people nicely. We also tried the back seats, which offer a lot of head space thanks to the deep bucket seat design.
The centre console features a automatic gear selector made from one piece of aluminium that also serves as a hand rest to use the OLED infotainment screen. Inside the centre console is a compartment that can store, charge and connect two Smartphones. The dashboard looks very simple and elegant but hides an almost 1 meter long by 9 cm high 4K touch display that is separated in a driver and passenger section. This display concept builds on the idea of Gran Turismo cars used for road trips.
The Audi team used a particular road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles as example. The display on the passenger side can plot the entire route and show interesting stops and detours that can be selected. Once selected, the passenger can submit it to the driver for review. The driver can then accept or decline the alternate destination or route. When accepted it automatically updates the navigation for the chosen route. The same display can be used to select music and build an entertainment playlist.
Using nearly the entire width of the dashboard, the 4K display looks like a very clean glossy piano black panel when not in use. The centre part of the display closer to the driver jumps out of the dash and displays entertainment info like music track and album covers. Right underneath it are little holes that look like a speaker but are in fact air vents. The steering wheel is a very slick version of current Audi multi-functional steering wheels.
The interior is very bright and feels spacious – not only thanks to the light materials used but also thanks to the frameless windows that stretch the entire length of the cabin and can be opened fully.
As we mentioned previously the interior features the first bendable OLED display in a car. The display lies flat behind the gear lever when you get in the car. As soon as you start the engine it veers up and shows climate control and infotainment elements. It is full touch display and when using it you can use the aluminium gear lever as a palm rest. The system can be setup in such a way that the screen bends up as much or as little to exactly fit to the length of your fingers. The display allows for handwriting commands too!
Certainly the coolest feature inside the Audi Prologue Concept is the 3D Cockpit! Located directly behind the steering wheel, the 3D Cockpit replaces the analogue instruments and uses a multi-layered display that truly looks like a 3D screen. It is a bit like a peepshow in a shoe box you used to make as a kid. The black tunnel features two-transparent and one regular mirror that show information and images from two Virtual Cockpit Displays (used in the Audi TT’s Virtual Cockpit) mounted to the top of the tunnel.
The 3D Cockpit designed by Jacques Helot is both useful and cool at the same time. The different layers can be used to prioritize information and show elements with a lower relevance – per example navigation instructions to leave the highway in 50 kilometers – further away and more important elements like your current speed or an incoming call to the first layer. In the Prologue Concept the first screen showed essential information like RPM, speed etc prominently and a image of the car further away. Although the use of two screens and tunnel will make this system more expensive than the Audi Virtual Cockpit and less likely to reach production, we truly hope Audi will take it to the next level!
It is not every day we get to drive a concept car that was literally driven fresh off the motor show floor where it celebrated its world premiere. Even less common is it to drive a car without registration or insurance, carrying a multi-million Euro price tag, on public streets. Yet that is exactly what I would be doing.
Outside the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills I was greeted by a team of Audi designers, engineers and support. The project engineer that overlooked the build would join me in the car and we would be escorted by a team of photographers and the Beverly Hills police. Due to the unique nature of the car – there is only one Prologue after all – I had to wear some funny pants to protect the interior of the car.
With the funny pants on I got in behind the wheel and waited for the GO signal via the walky-talkie. As soon as I received the green light I put my foot on the brake and hit the start/stop button discreetly located in the centre console. With a loud roar the 4.0 V8 TFSI engine came to life, more reminiscent of a classic American V8 than any other Audi we know. I engage Drive using the large and solid gear lever in the centre console and off we go.
Since the Prologue is all about design and technology, the engine is of secondary importance in this concept. For those that really must know though, the Audi Prologue Concept has a 4.0 TFSI V8 engine borrowed from the Audi S8. It produces 605 hp and a whopping 750 Nm of torque. ZF supplied the 8-speed gearbox and 0-100 km/h can be done in 3.7 seconds. Initially I was surprised to see a V8 in the Prologue Concept and not some fancy hybrid drivetrain, but Audi has a surprise there. The Prologue Concept has a 48 Volt electric system on board which allows electricity regeneration through braking for example. This makes the Audi Prologue Concept a mild-hybrid and opens the door for other applications that require 48V like an electric turbo.
Additional features include adaptive air suspension and rear-wheel steering which aids cornering capabilities and reduces the turning circle. During our drive with the Prologue around Beverly Hills it was hard to test the car’s performance potential but going by our recent experience with the latest Audi S8 I think we have little to worry about. The Prologue weighs less, has a shorter wheelbase, 20 in brake discs and has additional tech to provide a more dynamic ride.
The first part of our journey led through some small streets in the Eastern part of Beverly Hills. From here we turned right on to Wilshire Boulevard, home to some of the most exotic car dealerships in Los Angeles and a good place to show off on a Saturday afternoon. At the first traffic light we had a small opportunity to put the accelerator down (a little) and as we sped away from the lights the raw V8 sound echoed between the buildings. It felt surreal driving through Beverly Hills on a busy Saturday with a police escort front and back in a car so unique no money in the world can buy it.
But things were getting even crazier when we approached the famous Rodeo Drive shopping street. In front of the Beverly Wilshire hotel, not one, but two Bugatti Veyrons were parked as a third one drove by. Clearly this is the epicentre of hypercars in the entire Los Angeles area. People here are so supercar-spoiled that they won’t even blink when a bright orange Aventador drives by. So I was very excited to see how the crowds would respond to the Audi Prologue Concept.
Driving up Rodeo Drive in a one-off concept car certainly did trigger a lot of enthusiasm and great responses. Although the police escort and camera team probably did help get some more attention. In the middle of Rodeo Drive we stopped for a small photo op. And it didn’t take long until crowds gathered on the sidewalk and we gridlocked the traffic for several blocks. Normally not advisable but this time with the police on our side there there was little to worry about!
From Rodeo Drive we continued North towards the famous Beverly Hills Hotel and the famous palm tree-lined streets of suburban Beverly Hills. Here the police support proved their value again as they closed a road for us to take some more photos of the Audi Prologue Concept. With the sun slowly going down and the colours of fall in the background, the Prologue truly looked stunning.
The Audi Prologue Concept is finished in a special grey / silver colour that uses a light-dark flip. Which means that depending from which angle you look the car looks lighter or darker. Exterior designer Parys Cybulski also suggested a slightly darker grey with a slight gold / copper touch would work particularly well on the car.
We make a few more laps with the Audi Prologue Concept before our time is up and we head back to the SLS Hotel. The Prologue is slightly (18mm) wider than the current Audi A8, this extra width used to give the Prologue wider shoulders and a more dynamic stance. This extra width is hardly felt on the wide American boulevards but for European standards it is certainly a large car and could become a competitor for the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and Bentley Continental GT.
The Audi Prologue Concept clearly hints at a luxury two-door Audi A9 Coupe. As it is at the moment, no decision has been made to take this car into production. And even if a decision would be taken today it will take about 3 years to turn the concept we have driven today into a production car. As GTspirit we would love Audi to take this Prologue into production as a two-door coupe as we really like to see another proper two-door GT car on the market.
But the Audi Prologue Concept is more than just a teaser of what a possible A9 Coupe could look like, it is a design example for the future Audi line-up including the A4, A6 and A8. I think most people will agree that the current line-up is very similar in terms of design and even for a practised eye it is hard to distinguish the current A4, A6 and A8. This raised the question how committed the Audi design team is to changing this in the future. After spending several hours with members of the design team in LA I have to conclude that they are very aware of it and focus on diversifying the future designs without losing the Audi signature. LED light technology can play a key role in giving the various future Audi models their own identity.
The Audi Prologue Concept is the first Audi design brought to life under Marc Lichte’s supervision. The first complete production car that will carry his signature and design cues from the Audi Prologue Concept will be the next generation Audi A8. Audi already revealed that the low long nose and more dynamic stance is something that we will certainly see on the next generation A8. With the development of a new car taking several years, the designs of the upcoming new Audi Q7 and new Audi A4 due in 2015 had already been finalized and will not carry any elements from the Prologue.
From the innovations and technologies found on the Audi Prologue Concept it is pretty much a given that the 48 Volt Electric system will be implemented in (nearly) every larger model in the coming years. We would love to see the 3D Cockpit make it into production in Audi A9 Coupe or any other Audi for that matter. We love the clean interior design and the bright spacious feel inside. The combination of four seats plus sufficient luggage space is great for a luxury grand tourer.
The use of an all-touch screen interior is a major jump and it takes a lot of getting used to. From a safety perspective we prefer some elements like climate control temperature, audio volume and map zoom to be adjustable via a turning knob which we can find blind without taking our eyes off the road. The flexible OLED display is a nice gimmick but in this form not a must-have for us, it is also located a bit far down making it easy to reach but harder to see.
One of the issues we find with the infotainment and ergonomics in existing Audi models is the inconsistency in user experience between individual models. A more consistent setup across the line-up like BMW has with the iDrive system would improve the brand- and user experience.
Our first drive with the Audi Prologue Concept gave a very interesting look inside Audi’s kitchen. The new design impressed with the many three-dimensional elements around the outside and a very clean interior. The dynamic stance and lower shoulders gives the Audi Prologue Concept its very own character and the use of cutting-edge light technology and light design enhances the looks even further.
We hope the future Audi designs provide a more differentiated look on the outside and more consistent experience on the inside. Modern tech like 48V mild-hybrid and cool gadgets like the 3D cockpit are certainly things that we look forward to see and experience in future Audi models!