Lotus wants a little more civility to its sports cars. Plus, of course, electricity
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What is it? This is the Audi Prologue concept car. It’s been designed to gently ease us into the new Audi design language - and preview the much hinted at but not yet confirmed range-topping A9 coupe. Which bits are the future design cues then? The wider, narrower grille with the cambered edges is something that we’ll be seeing on future A6s, 7s, 8s - and the 9. It’s a design fact that, in the pursuit of all things premium and luxury, the wider and lower the car the sportier it is perceived. With pedestrian protection law making cars higher at the front, moves like widening and shortening the grille help keep the car looking slick. So it’s just the grille then?
Hang on. The other, slightly less obvious, design cue on the Prologue - a posh word for introduction - is the creases in the side of the car. If you look at any current Audi, there’s one unbroken line which curves upwards from the headlight, then heads all the way back to the tail light. And on the Prologue? There are now three lines down the side of the car. There’s a straight line that connects the top of the two wheel arches, then, above that, there’s a separate extra line above each of the wheels, like faint blisters. This has been done to visually highlight all four wheels and the trademark Quattro all-wheel drive system. You can expect to see lines like these on all future Audis. What about the interior? Clearly aware that the world has caught up with its class-leading interiors, Audi has moved into a decidedly minimalist space with the A9. Looking a little reminiscent of a 1980s Bang and Olufsen stereo, there is cabin-wide OLED screen split into three zones - two for the driver and another for the passenger. The idea behind the passenger screen is that they can look for route ideas and then send them to the driver’s screen with a swish of their hand. Experience suggests that all or most of these ‘suggestions’ will be met by another, less pleasant gesture from the driver. There’s also a flexible OLED screen in the centre console that rises up to meet you when you turn on the ignition containing all the usual controls. So the only real buttons or switches are on the steering wheel plus a couple on the transmission tunnel. What’s it like to drive? Despite the spec sheet promising a face peeling charge through Beverly Hills - 597bhp and 516lb ft from the retuned 4.0-litre V8 as fitted in the current S8 - there is very little that can be learned about its performance or handling at just 25mph, other than it looks cool in Rodeo Drive’s shop windows. While for some people that will be enough, the only test it really needs to pass, there are a number of other new technical bits hinting at what the upcoming A9 might boast. The first clever bit is 48V electronics. Even though the idea has been around for decades, only now is the mild hybrid idea - the starter/generator being used to add and harvest power - really starting to appear on near production models. All cars should have this. Anything else new? The Prologue has a 50mm shorter wheelbase, rear wheel steering, which makes the car’s turning circle a taxi-challenging 8.5 metres, and a new multi-link, air-sprung suspension. When can I buy one? Even though Audi has yet to confirm the production plans for the Mercedes Benz S-Class Coupe competitor, the expectation is that it will join the range for the 2017 model year. So, if current rates of depreciation for large coupes are anything to go by, expect to pick one up in 2018 for about half the new price.