You can't tell, but in these photos, I'm wearing what can only be described as an ultra-white cloth spacesuit. Before opening the large driver's door of the Audi Prologue concept outside of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, Audi requested that I don a super-attractive onesie so as to not let my flannel-covered human flesh touch the untreated leather surfaces of the Prologue's interior. I tied the spacesuit around me just above the waist, let my Converse poke out the footholes, and promised to hold in any sneezes. After all, I was being granted a serious privilege. I was about to drive the multi-million dollar, only-one-in-the-world Prologue that had just stunned crowds at the Los Angeles Auto Show days earlier.
What you're looking at here is a preview of Audi's next-gen exterior and interior design.
This isn't the first time Audi has bravely let the media sample its conceptual wares. In 2010, the German automaker granted us access to its incredibly enticing Quattro concept, probably hoping that the media would rave about the thing enough to convince the higher powers to actually green-light and build it. (We're still waiting on that one, of course.)
You could argue that this same logic was applied when allowing me to drive the Prologue – it's no secret that Audi has been dreaming of a range-topping A9, though company officials told me that there is currently no decision on whether or not to produce such a car. But that's not really what the Prologue is about. As its name suggests, what you're looking at here is a preview of Audi's next-generation exterior and interior design, in a fully baked, fully functional package. Suit up, and behold the future.
"Timeless but progressive." That's the key takeaway of the Prologue's aesthetic, according to exterior designer Parys Cybulski. The focus here is on beautiful, yet modern, simplicity. A design that looks both contemporary and forward-thinking at the same time, and something that will still look up-to-date in several years' time. After all, while the Prologue won't necessarily spawn its own production model, its elements will be incorporated on the next A6, A7 and A8.
While the Prologue won't necessarily spawn its own production model, its elements will be incorporated on the next A6, A7 and A8.
Up front, the most prominent feature is, of course, Audi's single-frame grille, seen here with a larger breadth than anything else in the brand's lineup, though its closest resemblance is seen on the new TT. The point of positioning the grille lower and wider than before is to convey a more planted stance. Longer, slimmer headlamp clusters with full-laser lighting do wonders here, too, as do the simple creases and character lines that flow up the hood and taper off at the sides.
Another key thing to recognize with the design is the stance at all four corners – "more Quattro," says Audi. Rather than creating a shape that conveys the illusion of rear-wheel drive, sort of like Mazda's "up on its haunches" Kodo language, Audi worked to pen something indicative of the brand's signature all-wheel-drive system found underneath. Think of the old Ur-Quattro – four pronounced wheels, power all the way around.
This message is also driven home with large, 22-inch wheels, and a profile view that shows a car planted on the road. The shoulder line has been lowered compared to current Audi models, and the rear end slopes downward to reveal a clean, sophisticated rear end – comparisons to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe are not unwarranted here. The same goes for the pillarless coupe design – Mercedes has nailed this on its coupes, and it's nice to see Audi doing the same thing while preserving its own unique character. Specifically, there's the metal panel within the window frame, which on the passenger side, houses the electronic fuel filler door (that's a trick bit of tech – check it out in our handful of videos below).
Comparisons to the Mercedes S-Class Coupe are not unwarranted here.
Everything tapers off nicely at the rear, with a barely noticable, concave curvature to the rear window. Look closely, and you'll also notice the three-dimensionail taillamp shape and the way the rear reds extend horizontally across the entire rear of the car. That taillamp design is mimicked in the exhaust outlets, pushed to the corners of the rump. I love the rear view of this car, especially with the pillarless, window-down look seen here. If you think the S-Class Coupe is a pretty gal, this Audi will give you even more to talk about.
If the exterior's minimalist approach to elegance doesn't immediately wow you, the Prologue's interior will. Here, Audi says the Prologue shows "the future of interfacing with the car," with clean, sculptured surfaces, and a lack of buttons, knobs and even traditional air vents, all in an effort to "tidy up the interior." That's right, even the air vents are gone, instead incorporated into the panels (check out that textured bit of metal brightwork below the center console, and to the left of the steering wheel). It's really slick. And I'm just getting started.
Audi says the Prologue shows "the future of interfacing with the car."
Just about every function in the Prologue is controlled by a touch surface, save things like the hazard lights and engine start button, which are housed on a narrow metal strip that runs through the center armrest all the way into the rear of the cabin. Design aside, the Prologue is a stunning technological marvel, showing how Audi imagines drivers and passengers will interface with cars in the future. Rather than screens that pop out of the dash, there are flat, touchscreen surfaces, the most remarkable of which is the bending OLED (organic light emitting diode) panel found just before the shift lever, which curls up toward your hand upon start-up. Audi has long said that the shifter in the A8 was designed in a way that the driver could rest his arm on it and control the MMI touchpad, and the same logic applies here. But rather than one small pad for inputting text for navigation or internet search, the whole panel is a vivid color display, allowing the driver to control, well, everything.
This all blends well with those flat surfaces – the only pronounced bit inside the car is the three-dimensional instrument panel in front of the driver, with reconfigurable, layered surfaces that offer a sort of next-generation look at the interface recently launched in the TT. It looks like the future, for sure.
Audi has also created a sort of "virtual butler" component to the onboard infotainment. This functionality recognizes occupants based on smartphone connections, and can automatically adjust things like seating and climate control preferences, and can even suggest music or stopover points on navigation routes depending on that person's specific preferences. What's more, there are touchscreen surfaces specifically placed in front of the passenger, where shotgun riders can search for destinations, plan road trip routes, and more, and then send the information directly over to the driver's instrument panel. It's sort of weird, this all-seeing, all-knowing tech, but it's incredibly fascinating nonetheless. Audi hasn't really explored future applications of this outside of the Prologue concept, but it's easy to see how this could even reach for chauffeured, or autonomously driven vehicles. Rear seat occupants could control everything and simply pass information up to the driver. Because talking is just, you know, so last millennium.
Audi has also created a "virtual butler" component to the onboard infotainment.
After giving me the full tour, inside and out, Audi let me loose on the streets of Beverly Hills in its concept. Well, kind of. I was given a police escort, and was sandwiched in between a camera car and support A4 full of handlers. So while the Autoblog experience in the 2010 Quattro concept was pretty riveting, mine was... slow. I never crested 25 miles per hour, and the only observations I can offer about ride and handling are that, yes, it rode and handled. The brakes worked. The throttle kind of worked. It, you know, drove. I can confirm that the Prologue sounds really great, the 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 underhood allowed to breathe without legally necessary silencing, and the sight lines are pretty good, too.
The aforementioned engine isn't anything new to Audi fans – it's the same unit found under the hood of the S8, though with an overboost feature that allows the powerplant to crank out 605 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. That "more Quattro" thing applies here, too, with some functionality that you'll see in the not-too-distant future. The revised rear axle allows for rear-wheel steering of up to five degrees, and this will be featured on the next A8.
The excitement for the Prologue is indeed there.
But taking the Prologue in while parked at the hotel was only half of the story. This thing looks stunning on the road, and everyone – everyone – notices. I'm sure the flashing police lights, Chevrolet Suburban with photo director Drew Phillips hanging out the back and loud engine noise were cause for a few stares on their own, but when folks on the street saw the Prologue, they immediately reached for their iPhones. One enthusiast in a 3 Series even pulled over and waited while we adjusted our photo setup, just to capture his own video of the Audi driving by at a blistering 20 mph.
The excitement for the Prologue is indeed there. It's incredible to behold, inside and out. And while its future as an A9 coupe is still unknown, Audi's officials said the intention with the Prologue was to create something that could certainly be built – just like the Quattro from years ago. But nevertheless, the bits of the Prologue that will see the light of day should only further cement the German automaker's place as a luxury and technology powerhouse. The future looks bright, indeed.