The unveiling of the new Audi Sportback concept in Detroit was one of the few bright flashes at the motor show writes Padraic Deane from Motown. The seamless blend of sports coupe desirability and five-door hatchback practicality that has made the A7 (possible production named ) one of the undisputed stars of the 2009 Detroit Motor Show.
The sleek five-door GT is the latest in a long line of Audi design studies, many of which have transferred virtually unchanged to the production line, and not only offers a glimpse of Audi’s future design vocabulary, but also raises the stakes technologically with a new 47mpg-plus TDI engine featuring the world’s cleanest diesel technology.
As its name suggests, the Audi Sportback concept is a variation on the theme first defined in the Audi range by the A3 Sportback with its combination of sleek sports hatch styling and five-door versatility, and signals the brand's intention - as previously demonstrated by the A1 Sportback concept – to dramatically expand its line-up of Sportback models.
The Audi Sportback concept’s average fuel economy according to the European ECE standard is 47.8mpg, and its CO2 emissions no more than 156 g/km. These sensationally low figures for a car of this size have been achieved by extensive efficiency-optimizing measures covering not only the engine but also its ancillaries.
For the first time in an Audi model powered by a longitudinally mounted engine, the Sportback concept features electromechanical power steering with a pump that consumes energy only when the wheel is turned, and not in the ‘straight-ahead’ position. This ‘on-demand’ approach also applies to the fuel pump, which uses less energy by activating only when there is a demand for fuel.
The already efficient S tronic twin-clutch transmission has also been enhanced by transmission oil heating which reduces internal friction by bringing the gearbox up to its intended operating temperature much earlier. And in a similar vein, an innovative temperature management system brings the TDI engine up to its most efficient operating temperature more quickly by diverting part of the coolant flow.
When coasting, the Audi Sportback concept – like the Audi A4 and Audi Q5 production models – recuperates energy. This boosts the output of the alternator and is used to charge the battery. This energy, which in effect costs nothing to recover, is fed back into the vehicle’s electrical system when needed. An automatic start-stop system shuts the TDI engine down to save energy, for instance when waiting at a traffic signal.
And when it is on the move, tyres optimized for low roll resistance cut fuel consumption significantly without impacting on performance.
The Audi Sportback concept show car takes the basic architecture and many components of its suspension from the brand’s latest and most successful model family: the A4/A5 model series. The new five-link front suspension makes a major contribution to the car’s dynamic character, and by moving the differential further forward and the clutch further back, the design engineers were able to reposition it 154 millimetres further forward for optimal distribution of weight between the front and rear axles.
The A4 and A5 also donate their acclaimed Audi drive select adaptive dynamics system incorporating CDC (continuous damping control ) shock absorbers whose operation can be continuously varied. The control unit selects the optimum damping force for the current driving situation, for instance firmer damping to prevent body roll and pitch when cornering fast or braking, or lower damping force where the surface under the wheels is hard and uneven.
As with the exterior, the interior of the Audi Sportback concept is characterized by the emphasis on horizontal lines and large surfaces. This is especially true of the wide centre console – stretching from the dashboard to the back – which seems to be a pure expression of function. The flat display of the MMI system is realized as a retractable system in the show car. When the ignition is activated, it extends horizontally from a slot above the central air register before moving in an elegant arc into a vertical, easy-to-read position.
The large glass roof underscores the width and feeling of spaciousness, and the sumptuous oak blockboard trim and unusually liberal use of leather – which envelops everything from the dashboard and headlining right through to the boot – emphasizes the study’s brief as a luxury grand tourer in the traditional sense. The ample shoulder, head and leg room offered by its four seats, and the generous capacity of its 500-litre load area also furthers this aim.