Auto blogWed, 19 Nov 2014 17:01:00 EST
Audi is saying auf Wiedersehen to the first-gen R8 at the Los Angeles Auto Show in the best way possible - the even more powerful, limited edition 2015 R8 Competition. This might be the vehicle's swansong, but it's going out with a bang.
Audi is sending just 60 of these supercars to the US, and the heart and soul is a beefed up version of the 5.2-liter V10 from the V10 Plus model. The mill now makes 570 horsepower, a 20-hp boost, and is mated to a seven-speed, dual-clutch S Tronic gearbox. Audi claims that the potent package shoots the Competition to 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds and to a max speed of 199 mph.
The extra ponies might be enough for some, but Audi really wants to make the Competition something special. Matte carbon fiber pieces replace areas around the car, including the rear spoiler, side slides, front spoiler, rear diffuser and center console. For contrast, the wheels and exhaust pipes are painted in high-gloss black. Ceramic brake discs should be a useful aid with deceleration, too.
Audi went Hollywood for its debut of the forward-looking Prologue concept car last night, pulling the silks back at a sprawling LA manse in the hills. The cost-no-object unveiling of the car, as well as its prominent positioning at this year's LA Auto Show, speaks to the importance with which the company views the styling you see here.
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, maharishi of development for the three-rings brand, made two important announcements at the presentation: reiterating publicly his endorsement of new styling chief Marc Lichte, and telling us that Prologue design will be found on upcoming production versions of the A6, A7 and A8.
Take a close look at that imposing face on the Prologue - an amped up revision of the single-frame shield grille that has appeared on new models like the TT already - and get used to it. Lichte called out the grille as the new face of the brand, so we fully expect its deployment across the range as the 2016 models roll out.
Le Mans icon Tom Kristensen is retiring. The Danish driver, who was an integral part of Audi's absolute dominance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, captured a record-breaking nine wins at the legendary endurance race, along with six overall victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring in a career that spanned 26 years.
"Over the past couple of months, my thoughts of retiring have been stronger, and therefore, it feels right to inform you today that I am retiring from motor racing," Kristensen told Autosport. "I still feel I am in peak physical form and possess the necessary mental toughness both in and outside of the car: it has been important for me to stop while I am still strong and able to deliver top performances at Audi."
While the World Endurance Championship's season-ending race at Interlagos on November 30 will be Kristensen's last as a driver, it won't be the end of his long-running association with Audi. According to Autosport, TK will take on a new role as an ambassador for the German marque and will work with team's drivers in an unspecified role.
If you've been waiting for Audi to roll out a new design language, you need wait no longer as Ingolstadt is displaying just that at the Los Angeles Auto Show this year with the Prologue concept you see here.
Penned by Audi's new design chief Marc Lichte, the Prologue is earmarked to introduce a shift (if not quite a complete change) in design direction for the German automaker. The trapezoidal grille sits wider and lower than on existing models, with the wedge-shaped laser headlights positioned higher above new air intakes with blade elements. The profile rests balanced across its wheelbase to visually emphasize the all-wheel drive that is part of Audi's DNA, with flared arches inspired by the legendary Ur-Quattro. The rear section is inspired by yachts, angled forward to suggest motion, with a narrow strip of LED taillights, full-width diffuser element and twin trapezoidal exhaust tips.
Inside it's all light and surgically clean, with a horizontal dashboard integrating four touchscreen displays running its full width. The system even allows the passenger to select the route for the navigation system and swipe it on over to the driver's display. The headrests on the rear seats and the "sound spoiler" on the rear shelf deploy only when needed, unobstructing the rear view when not.
With fresh entries from Lexus and Mercedes-Benz and a newer entry from BMW, Audi is in a rather precarious position with its A4 sedan, which has been on sale in its current form since 2008 (aside from its 2012 mid-cycle refresh). It's high time a new vehicle takes its place.
If Audi follows convention, the vehicle shown above will be known internally as the B9, and will ride atop the so-called MLB Evo, a new version of the modular platform underpinning the current A4 (and a whole heap of other Volkswagen Group products). That new bit of hardware should bless the next-gen A4 with a weight savings of anywhere from 175 to 220 pounds.
In terms of its looks, our spies point to a more evolutionary approach. Expect the A4 to borrow from the design being pioneered by the third-generation Audi TT, particularly around the grille, which should be more upright. The wheelbase should get a stretch while Audi will clip the overhangs of its midsizer, relative to the current sedan.
Back in 2010, Audi debuted the diminutive A1, and it's sold over half a million of them since. Now, more than four years later, the German automaker has given its smallest and most accessible model a facelift and some updated equipment.
The latest version of the A1 benefits from a range of updates, including a sharpened take on the company's familiar styling with a reshaped single-frame grille, new bumpers front and rear as well as new wheel and color choices. But the biggest news is the introduction of Audi's first three-cylinder gasoline engine.
The turbocharged, direct-injected 1.0-liter three-pot churns out just 94 horsepower, but that's still six more than the previous base 1.2-liter four offered, all the while returning better fuel economy and emissions figures. Of course, that turbo three is not the only engine on offer, joining the 1.4-liter turbo four in 123- and 148-hp states of tune and the 113-hp 1.6-liter TDI. And of course there's still the 228-hp S1 performance model. Depending on specification, the engines are mated to a five- or six-speed manual, but can all be optioned with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission as well.
Looking at the current automotive landscape, especially from German makers, you quickly get the impression that less definitely isn't more. BMW alone offers its 3 Series platform in practically every segment possible, including the regular sedan and 4 Series Gran Coupe, which would seem to be direct competitors. Porsche might be the winner, though, with 20 different variants of the 911 listed for sale on its US website. However, some of this model madness might be reaching an end as companies begin cutting back spending or shifting money to other priorities.
According to Yahoo Finance, the offerings from the German automakers are up 25 percent over the past three years to over 200 models in Europe. The peak is expected to come around 2018 at 230 separate vehicles, according to consulting company PwC.
Amazingly, BMW, which is among the poster children for this model explosion, might be changing its tune. "I'm sure there will be points in the future where we look at certain cars and say, 'Maybe we need to think differently now,'" said head of sales Ian Robertson in an interview, according to Yahoo Finance. The statement certainly sounds shocking coming from a company rumored to have 23 front-wheel-drive vehicles all using a single platform on the way.
Minutes after spending time in the refreshed 2016 Audi A6 in Germany, we were tossed the keys to its enthusiast-tuned sibling, the Audi S6. In similar manner to its lesser brethren, the S6 has also been updated for the 2016 model year with a new look, a boost in power and additional technology.
Its aggressive demeanor is heralded by a redesigned signature single-frame grille, resculpted bumpers (front and rear) and new lights on both ends - the Matrix LED headlamps fitted to our European test car are impressive, but the US DOT has ensure that we won't see them (pun intended) for now. The cabin appointments have gone even further upscale, and the enhanced MMI infotainment system now runs more fluidly thanks to a faster NVIDIA graphics chip. The primary instrument cluster, facing the operator, has been redesigned to offer its own duplicate display to ease the driver's workload.
Under the hood, the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter TFSI V8 is bumped to 450 horsepower (a gain of 30), while torque remains the same at 406 pound-feet. The standard gearbox is Audi's seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch unit, sending power to all four wheels through the automaker's rear-biased Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system.
In many ways, we're living in a golden age of automotive performance. After all, it's possible to show up at a Dodge dealer, hand over about $60,000 and storm away with a 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat. Or for those who prefer a touch more luxury, the BMW M4, Mercedes-AMG C63 and latest Cadillac ATS-V offer between 425 and 503 horsepower, depending on your pick, with a bit more poshness. However, none of these powerful vehicles fit the classic definition of a two-place, droptop sports car, and according BMW head of sales Ian Robertson, that's because the segment is very much in the doldrums.
According to Robertson, two factors seriously wounded the classic sports car market. First, the global economic crisis of a few years ago put a serious hurt on sales, according to Bloomberg. Further worsening the situation, the boom in popularity of luxury SUVs and crossovers in the past few years hasn't allowed for much recovery. Even car-hungry China hasn't helped much because of the smog in many cities and preference among some of the very rich there to be chauffeured.
Combined, Audi TT, BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK sales peaked around 114,000 units a year in 2007, but they are only expected to reach 72,000 annually by the end of the decade. Robertson is pretty pessimistic about the market's comeback too. "Post-2008, it just collapsed. I'm not so sure it'll ever fully recover," he said to Bloomberg.
I officially gave up after 758 miles. The 15 or so miles leading up to this decision were spent in the right lane of Southern California's I-8 freeway, hazard lights blinking, climbing uphill at just over 40 miles per hour. After two days of sweating to the oldies (okay, a mix of SiriusXM Classic Rewind and First Wave), I had covered those 758 miles in a 2015 Audi A3 TDI on one tank of diesel fuel. And when I say sweating, I mean it quite literally. In order to maximize fuel efficiency, my co-driver and I kept the air conditioning off, even when the direct sunlight in the California desert had outside temperatures hovering around 90 degrees. I had been doing this hypermiling exercise for two days, the car was getting stinky, and I was ready to hear the sweet "thhhhhhhwack" of satisfaction that would finally come from peeling my sweat-soaked self off the A3's leather seat. Sexy, I know.
Audi had challenged me to drive 834 miles from Albuquerque, NM to San Diego, CA, on just one 13.2-gallon tank of diesel fuel. If you believe the EPA's highway fuel economy rating of 43 miles per gallon, this means I should have sputtered to a stop after 568 miles. But I went a grand total of 758 - that's 59.4 mpg - and I could have kept going. In fact, two teams made it the full 834 miles on their one allotted tank of fuel. That's over 63 mpg. That's twenty miles per gallon better than EPA estimates.
The TDI Challenge took me through three states over the course of two days, and the 834-mile journey wasn't just a simple highway cruise. I negotiated uphill climbs, long series of involving switchbacks through the mountains and elevations that ranged from 220 feet below sea level to nearly 8,000 feet above. I learned that super-crazy-efficient driving like this an incredibly challenging game that takes serious skill. But I also learned that if you're going to attempt to stomp all over the EPA's numbers, the Audi A3 TDI is one heck of a car for the journey.