Named to introduce various styling and interior elements that will soon make it onto production Audi models, the Prologue concept unveiled last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show is not only a gorgeous grand touring coupe, but also a technological tour de force.
It also happens to be a running, working automobile. And so we jumped out of our chairs when Audi offered us a the chance to actually drive the one-off through the streets of Beverly Hills.
The car isn’t intended to be flashy. “‘Timeless but progressive’ are the brand values we want to communicate,” said exterior designer Parys Cybulski. “We don’t want to be too up-to-date, which two years later is already outdated. We want to stay really modern and display the latest technology, but not in an over-complicated way. Stay logical, because design that survives, it has a kind of logical function.”
Unlike many new designs, the Prologue does not look like it’s moving when it’s standing still; it doesn’t have an impossibly long front end or a cabin that’s been airswept back over the rear wheels. Rather, it appears planted. “We have the real quattro, the four-wheel drive, and we want to emphasize this,” said Cebulski. “In a BMW, you can see it’s a rear-wheel drive vehicle…Audi is more central, more flattened down between the wheels…the way it stands implies that all the wheels have power.”
Critics have said that the Prologue’s less futuristic front-end does not reach far enough, but Cybulski says that is intentional: “We don’t want to break into something new, we want to strengthen that this is Audi; this is where we come from.” All together, the look is strong and beautiful, if somewhat familiar: stretch out the front end a bit and we might have a clone of the Aston Martin Rapide’s winsome mug.
The Prologue has a story to tell above the waist, too. The pillar-less windows draw clear and immediate connections to the sexy new Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe that would be this car’s most direct competitor should get the green light. Another clever trick is the use of a brushed metal “cheater” panel just inside the rear edge of the window line, giving the actual window an A5-style notch, while the outstretched chrome arch connects it to Audi’s luxury sedans. The rear window is actually concave, not unlike Chevrolet Impala coupes from the 1960s and 1970s, among other cars throughout history, and while it looks great on the Prologue, it might be tough to mass-produce without distortion.
Touching a pad on the exterior beneath the window (no show car ever has handles) grants one access to one of the most tastefully futuristic interiors ever created for an automobile. Like the exterior, it’s all about width. Dashboard controls are arranged in a left-to-right orientation rather than top-to-bottom, not unlike American luxury cars from the 1970s. Ain’t nothing retro about dashboard’s four touchscreen surfaces, though, especially its dramatic, bending OLED (organic light emitting diode) glass panel for the car’s “MMI Touch” interface, which curls up to meet one’s hand when the car turns on. This represents a stunning departure from the round controllers with touch pads and haptic feedback to the use of an iPhone-like interface.
“We want to show a new kind of interface, a new interface structure, which maybe you can imagine for our future cars,” said Redeker. “Everything is working with touch. You’re always using a touch surface for every kind of device that you have [so we want] the same style…for your devices in the car.” The horizontal layout also places certain controls squarely in front of the passenger, who has full infotainment control but also has added functionality, say, in the programming the navigation and scanning the area for interesting points of interest on a road trip.
The car also features what Audi is calling the “butler,” which identifies passengers by their smartphones and makes seating and climate control adjustments, music recommendations, and interesting side trips or detour suggestions based on their preferences. Yeah, that’s not creepy at all.
Through the aluminum-spoke steering wheel, the driver sees a three-dimensional cluster with three layered displays that shows not just vehicle speed, but the shapes of local buildings and features as one passes them. In performance mode, the gauges change to a simpler, more vivid instrument screen that would be easier to read at when hurtling the thing around a track. Finally, in road trip mode, it displays different POIs and navigation directions in 3D, which in practice is pretty damn cool.
The Prologue comes to life by pressing a button on the silver “spine” just behind the T-shaped shifter. The exhaust note is startling, ripping through the air as if a NASCAR stock car is pent up inside. We slowly (and loudly) motor out of the SLS hotel parking lot to meet our police escort for what would be a well-insulated, 25-minute cruise down Wilshire Boulevard and through the famous Beverly Hills shopping district.
Most of the Prologue’s platform comes from today’s A8 sedan, shortened by a few inches for coupe duty, and the engine is a version of the S8’s 4-liter turbocharged V-8 with an overboost function that brings output to 605 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. The rear axle comes from Audi’s next-generation D5 platform and features an up-to-five-degree rear-wheel-steering system that will appear on the upcoming A8.
Alas, the fuzz ensured that we kept speeds under 20 miles per hour, so we can tell you pretty much nothing about how it performed other than that nothing broke or fell off. We never noticed the four-wheel steering doing anything terribly remarkable; neither Wilshire nor Beverly Boulevards offered any slippery patches for us to witness quattro doing its thing; and the brakes stopped the car from 20 mph with zero drama. But gliding over the road while Audi’s photo truck circled us to document our journey, we did take note of how well screwed-together the Prologue felt — quite remarkable for a concept car. The windows worked just fine, though we left them down for that unique al fresco motoring experience such that only a pillar-less car can deliver. Please, Audi, if you do anything new in the future, bring us a pillar-less coupe.
Far more entertaining than actually driving the car was watching onlookers drop their Gucci bags and scramble for their cell phones to catch a picture of us as our motorcade passed by. We put on our “famous” faces, and people seemed to buy it, hollering and snapping away. As with convertibles, coupes with pillar-less windows seem to invite conversation from the outside world, and we were more than happy to converse as if the car was ours. This is a city of actors, after all.
So does the Prologue have a future, as its name implies? Based on public reaction in the 90120, it really should. For its part, Audi is being coy. “The purpose of this car right now is mainly to display which direction is Audi taking, mainly from a design standpoint,” said Cybulski. But, he added, “Our philosophy is to do something that can be built.”