Audi’s concept car for this year’s Shanghai motor show is an autonomous, electric homage to the brand’s legendary A2 model. Or so we’re told.
On the surface at least, there doesn’t appear to be much terribly wrong with Audi’s AI:ME concept car. It’s not an SUV for a start; its autonomous functions aren’t reflected by the lamest concept car trope of the past few years (swivelling seats), and it – supposedly – pays homage to no less than Audi’s bravest failure, the misunderstood A2.
However, as always, a surface is but a thin layer, whereas what lies beneath is an altogether more meaty matter. And the meat of this AI:ME is hardly scrumptious.
Take its overall appearance: It’s a rather generic EV compact concept car fare, to such an extent that nobody would bat an eyelid if it didn’t sport the four rings, but the signet of, say, Hyundai or one of the more accomplished Chinese marques on its non-bonnet. Obviously, Audi would claim that its intricate/overwrought headlight matrix, ‘textured’ front graphics and ‘quattroesque’ haunches above the wheels stand for New Audi the same way as clean graphics and fastidious attention to detail stood for old, Bauhaus Audi.
The difference between the two was though that the original A2 set itself apart from all other brands and encapsulated the qualities on which Audi’s then-design leadership relied: Severe stylistic coherence and representation of quality through design. Today, under current chief designer, Marc Lichte, Audi design simply blends into the overall mainstream of car design anno 2019.
AI:ME’s concrete pièces de résistance would clearly be the overall ‘dynamic’ stance that’s so obviously of the utmost importance in a city vehicle – 23-inch-wheels and a width of no less than 1.9 metres see to that. Not to mention the kink in the side windows, which not only adds significant manufacturing complexity, but also means the air conditioning fitted to AI:ME better be of the very reliable and powerful variety.
This feature eventually resolves into the most obvious nod to the Audi A2 found on AI:ME: a kicked read window, onto which a rear spoiler is fitted.
Notwithstanding the fact that AI:ME lacks the original car’s Kamm tail, or that its rear spoiler was fitted to the lower part of the A2’s rear window, it’s rather hard to fathom how this outright ‘sporty’ city car, with its huge wheels, aggressive graphics and pseudo-athletic stance could in any way ever be considered some kind spiritual successor to the austere, intellectual, upright A2.
Now that car certainly wasn’t without mannerisms (far from it), but its professed simplicity was a rather artful attempt at conveying sophistication. AI:ME, on the other hand, takes as many tropes currently en vogue as fit between its two wheels and dials them up to 11.
So above all else, AI:ME illustrates just how utterly astray the Audi brand is. The reason for this isn’t just the mediocrity of the concept car, but the fact that memories of Audi design in its prime are evoked by those needless, pointless, vacuous A2 references. For it shows just how the people in charge right now fail to grasp the stylistic qualities that turned Audi from purveyors of motor cars for retired geography teachers into the envy of the rest of the industry.
What is most impressive about all of this is how quickly hard-earned consistency and excellence in automotive design can be lost. What took decades to build is getting torn down within a few brief years.
Quite some achievement.
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