Sporty SUVs represent a relatively recent field of automotive design. Yet they are governed by a fundamental constant: A coupé-style sloping roof adds a dynamic touch to the lines of what are otherwise rather tall sports utility vehicles. But the Audi Q8 concept—the first study for an executive-class Audi SUV inspired by the primacy of sporty elegance—demonstrates yet again that Audi is going its own way. One that, for all its emotional impact, never strays from functionality—in all things great and small. What about door handles, buttons and switches in the interior? They are almost nowhere to be seen. Instead, we find digital solutions, intuitive operation and extensive use of touch-controlled displays. And lots of space. Particularly in the interior, architecture and function are increasingly combined into a single entity. Not the only way the new Audi Q8 concept whets appetites for what will hit the road in the years ahead.
“The Audi Q8 not only represents a completely new breed of SUV, it also previews in general terms how an Audi Q model will look in the future,” says Sascha Heyde, exterior design lead for the study. That’s because the Audi Q8 concept pursues a clear-cut, design-driven strategy of distinguishing between individual vehicle classes at Audi. This is exemplified by the sculpted Singleframe grille that is much broader than that of the current production models. Its look of confidence is emphasized by the octagonal shape, which is structured with six upright double bars. This new grille architecture will also shape the face of future Audi Q models. The adjoining outer air inlets have a deep and dynamic appearance—like the intakes of a turbine. “We deliberately incorporated very sporty elements to lend the SUV’s ruggedness a touch of delicate yet energetic elegance,” adds Heyde. These styling cues segue seamlessly along the sides of the vehicle. The extremely flat roof in combination with a very wide C-pillar echoes the design of the Audi Ur-quattro of the 1980s. The same applies to the strongly flared shoulders over the wheels, which have previously been used to assert the brand’s quattro genes in concept cars for the Audi prologue series as well as on current production models such as the Audi Q2. “Unlike most other SUVs, the entire vehicle is relatively flat and stands just 1.70 meters tall.
We wanted to create a coupé feeling but without a roof that sloped down too sharply,” explains Heyde. Not only does it create a design that stands out in the segment, it also benefits rear-seat passengers, the tallest of whom can fit comfortably into the rear seats. The optically very flat roof with its long roof edge spoiler extends far to the rear and combines with the exceptionally flat rear window to add dynamic appeal. A distinctive spoiler lip in the tailgate further accentuates the sporty DNA of a coupé. The light strip extending across the entire width of the rear end forms part of an e-tron light signature that points to the hybrid powertrain technology employed in the Audi Q8 concept. It serves as both the tail and brake light as well as the dynamic turn signal. Set in aluminum blades, the four outer lighting elements echo the design of the headlights. Audi is also particularly proud of the frameless doors that dispense with handles entirely. “Here too, we forged a link between an SUV and a sporty coupé,” notes Heyde. The doors open with the help of touch sensors. As soon as the door detects hand contact, it opens slightly before swinging to a predefined opening angle. “It remains to be seen to what extent we can carry this idea through to series production,” says Sascha Heyde, sounding a note of caution.
Once open, these doors afford access to the spacious, lounge-like interior of the Audi Q8 concept. Generously stretched lines lend the cockpit a sporty yet refined ambience. With its distinctly horizontal character, the instrument panel descends in steps toward the interior. The central control and display surfaces are integrated in what is known as the “black panel”—a glossy black strip framed by an aluminum clasp. When switched off, the screen is invisibly embedded in the surface, ensuring a harmonious flow of contours. When in operation, it blends seamlessly into the overall design idiom. The concept’s expressive styling is carried over into the arrow-shaped decorative inlays in the doors, where integrated delicate aluminum bars serve as door openers. From the pronounced side bolsters to the head restraints, the ergonomic sport seats are made up of segments that appear to be separate geometric entities. Once seated, you are surrounded by the “wrap-around,” which begins in the front doors and runs in a horizontal arc along the lower edge of the windshield. The surfaces are free of any interruptions by recesses or gaps.
quattro permanent all-wheel drive translates the forces generated by the Audi Q8 concept’s near-production-ready hybrid drive to the road. When cornering at the limit, it works closely with the wheel-selective torque control system—gently braking the inside wheels to further enhance vehicle dynamics and stability. The concept also draws on production solutions for its suspension. The adaptive air suspension sport—an air suspension system with controlled damping—opens up a broad range of options from cushioned cruising to taught handling. In addition, it sets ground clearance at two levels, with a 90 millimeter height difference, to the required level for every situation.
“It is a maxim of ours, an element of our design DNA, to generate a feeling of lightness while creating as much space as possible,” explains Mattijs van Tuijl. He coordinated the various design disciplines that were called on to shape the interior of the Audi Q8 concept. In the new design, for example, this is achieved by abandoning the conventional structure of the center console and grouping elements together. The dashboard, which appears to float, interacts with the materials and finish to achieve the desired lightness of being. “We’re always looking for that extra millimeter—how we can combine parts and components to gain more space within a defined area, or at least create that impression.” With the Audi Q8 concept, the team of Audi designers that includes Sonja Forstreuter plays a key role.
Optimizing the user experience is a maxim that is firmly anchored in the four rings’ corporate strategy. And that applies in particular inside the car. The focus here comes in the shape of three letters: GUI. This refers to the digital graphical user interface in the total of seven displays used in the Audi Q8 concept, which makes it a direct interface with the customer. “Going forward, my Audi ID profile will adjust every Audi to my preferences and personalize my user interface by synching it with my smartphone, among other things. I will receive proactive suggestions. For instance, my Audi will ask if I want directions to my calendar appointment. At the same time, voice interaction will play a greater role. Even third-party apps will integrate seamlessly with the MMI dashboard that I can configure for myself. Everything must be simple and intuitive to operate,” says GUI designer Sonja Forstreuter, summarizing one of the Audi design principles. “Digital technology gives us flexibility in displaying content.” This quickly becomes apparent, for example, when it comes to controlling the air conditioning system. Only when a passenger gets into the vehicle does an air conditioning menu open for him or her in the center console’s control display. This approach of reducing to essentials in the digital displays is less distracting to the driver.
Apart from the switches for the hazard warning lights and parking brake, traditional buttons are almost completely absent. “Here, too, we are naturally bound by statutory requirements. But we wanted to apply our philosophy wherever we could. For instance, the switch for the headlight functions is reinterpreted and fully integrated into the digital environment,” explains van Tuijl. It goes without saying that the proverbial Audi “click” that provides haptic feedback and a sign of quality craftsmanship has been retained. “Wherever customers interact with Audi in the future, they will enjoy a consistent user experience. This will be apparent across all media, from digital devices such as smartphones and smart watches all the way to the vehicle itself,” adds Sonja Forstreuter. “Going forward, Audi products and digital services will no longer be confined solely to the car—which, as a mobile device, will become part of a digital ecosystem. Everything will revolve around the life of the customer as a user. These days, the primary focus is still on the task of driving. But if tomorrow’s cars are able to use piloted driving for longer distances and people no longer have to drive themselves, we will be working on completely new interfaces,” says the GUI designer.
In this context, one of the technical highlights in the Audi Q8 concept springs to mind: The new contact-analog head-up display projects important displays onto the windshield in the driver’s direct field of vision, seemingly placing them in the real environment. A navigation arrow, for example, appears in the same position as an actual arrow on the road, and notifications from the driver assistance systems merge the virtual and physical worlds. “Take navigation and driver assistance—these are available directly in the driver’s primary field of vision. We make the data available to drivers where they need it, mapped in real-life traffic using augmented reality,” explains Forstreuter. “Even in these times of increasingly smart driver assistance systems,” adds Mattijs van Tuijl, “we continue to focus on the driver when designing architecture. He or she sits in the center, with the individual control elements arranged within easy reach.” This is also in line with one of the four rings’ design principles: Functions should be found where they are needed.
Intelligent simplification combined with emotionalizing functionality—this is one way to sum up the work of the Audi designers and engineers. Dr. Dietmar Voggenreiter, Member of the Board of Management for Sales and Marketing of AUDI AG, puts it this way: “The Audi Q8 concept demonstrates the strengths of our brand in the areas of both technology and design. With its next-generation display and control solutions, we are bringing connectivity to life in whole new ways.”