Star of the Audi stand at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (Jan 8-10) is the Roadjet Concept, a distinctive ‘fastback saloon’ design study which may possibly signal the shape of things to come from Audi in the compact executive class.

Blending familiar Audi styling hallmarks with striking architecture that maximises passenger space and practicality, the Roadjet Concept is not only a variation on the compact executive theme that could see the production green light, but also bristles with new technology, much of which is likely to begin filtering down across the Audi range in the near future.

Highlights include a new 300PS, 3.2-litre V6 FSI petrol engine, a new seven-speed evolution of the widely acclaimed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) and Audi drive select – a system enabling engine, transmission, suspension damping and steering settings to be tailored at the touch of a button to suit the driver’s preference or the prevailing conditions. New car-to-car communication technology also enables the Roadjet Concept to exchange data directly with other vehicles while on the move, potentially improving numerous aspects of driving, most notably the reduction of congestion, accidents and parking problems.

The interior of the Roadjet Concept also features innovations such as an enhanced version of the Multi Media Interface (MMI) with individual monitors for front and rear passengers, a Digital Voice Support (DVS) in-car communication system and even luxuries such as a built-in espresso machine.

At 4.70 m long and 1.85 m wide, the Audi Roadjet Concept respects the standard dimensions of a B-segment vehicle, yet its height of 1.55 m and wheelbase of 2.85 m result in substantially more effective space for occupants. A higher seat position and ample legroom, shoulder room and head room in all four individual seats represent a new class best.

The latest development of the familiar 3.2-litre V6 FSI engine develops 300PS at 7,000 rpm and 330Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm in the Audi Roadjet Concept, thanks largely to the addition of a fixed intake manifold and the innovative Audi valvelift system for valve control. This unit is impressive not merely in terms of absolute performance, but also thanks to its pulling power and response, coupled with a linear increase in power all the way through the range.

The Roadjet Concept 3.2 FSI accelerates to 62mph in 6.4 seconds, reaches an electronically governed top speed of 155mph and records an impressive 27.1mpg combined consumption figure – an improvement over its production counterpart in the A4 3.2 quattro, which develops 45PS less!

The underlying technology behind the combination of FSI injection and the Audi valvelift system is already so far advanced in development that it could start finding its way into production in a few months’ time.

The Audi Roadjet Concept is the first Audi model to combine the acclaimed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) with twin clutch in conjunction with a longitudinally installed engine. DSG combines the advantages of a manual gearbox – with 7-speeds in this latest version – with the qualities of a modern automatic transmission. The driver benefits from strong and smooth acceleration without interruptions to the flow of power from the engine, coupled with impressive fuel economy.

The basis for this new development is a three-shaft 7-speed manual gearbox which offers considerable variability in the selection of the transmission ratio. Thanks to the use of a twin multi-plate clutch with electro-hydraulic control, two gears can be engaged at the same time.

During dynamic operation of the car, one gear is engaged. When the next gearshift point is approached, the appropriate gear is pre-selected but its clutch kept disengaged. The gearshift process opens the clutch of the activated gear and closes the other clutch at the same time with a certain overlap. The gear change consequently takes place under load, with the result that a permanent flow of power is maintained.

Incorporating optimum gearshift strategies, the control logic integrated in the transmission provides exceptionally rapid gearshifts that are virtually free of any jolts or judder. And by moving the gearshift lever in the manual gate or operating the standard-fit paddles behind the steering wheel, the driver can actively influence the choice of gears and the gearshift point at any time.

quattro permanent four-wheel drive is a typical feature of all high-performance Audi models. Since revolutionising the car world when first unveiled 26 years ago, permanent four-wheel drive has long since found its way into virtually all vehicle categories – and not just at Audi. Almost one in three Audi cars sold is currently a quattro; by the end of 2005, around 2.5 million Audi vehicles with quattro permanent four-wheel drive had been built.

A Torsen differential in the new Audi Roadjet Concept – with its longitudinally installed engine – automatically ensures the optimum distribution of power between all four wheels. In this latest evolution of the quattro system, the power is normally split 40:60 between the front and rear axles, but in extreme cases, up to 80 percent of the propulsive power can be diverted to one pair of wheels if slip is encountered.

The Audi dynamic suspension layout of the Roadjet Concept features the sophisticated four-link front suspension set-up acknowledged as a typical Audi feature, and the self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension carried over from the Audi A8 and A6. The 20-inch wheels with size 245/45 R20 tyres are an impressive feature.

Speed-dependent servotronic power steering features as standard, supplementing the precise handling of the Roadjet Concept with even more sensitive steering precision. Audi dynamic steering, which makes its first appearance on an Audi car, adjusts the steering ratio as a function of road speed, giving a more indirect ratio for a smoother ride at high motorway speeds, coupled with directional stability that is resistant to slight movements. When the Roadjet Concept is driven on winding roads, on the other hand, a more direct ratio permits high steering precision and a swifter response by the driver.

Another new feature is the electronically adjustable dampers that cover a variety of characteristics ranging from comfortably soft to sportily firm.

Audi drive select allows the driver to preselect three highly distinctive configurations for the engine, transmission characteristic, steering and shock absorbers. The result is a car that can be enjoyed in three utterly different ways.

The basic setting is the “dynamic” mode; it is activated automatically at the start of every journey, and its overall concept reflects the expectations that Audi drivers typically have of what their car should feel like to drive in terms of both dynamic response and comfort. The driver is informed which mode is currently active via the centre display in the instrument cluster.

If the driver selects the “comfort” mode by pressing the button on the control in the steering wheel, the shock absorbers adopt noticeably softer settings in order to filter out ruts in the road surface even more effectively. The Servotronic requires lower steering forces, and dynamic steering establishes a more indirect spectrum of ratios. The engine and transmission respond gently to use of the accelerator. This setting is perfect for relaxed driving over long distances, above all on straight roads such as motorways.

The “sport” mode, on the other hand, lends the Audi Roadjet Concept a more performance oriented driving feel. The shock absorbers adopt a firm response and the steering ratio is direct. The engine responds more spontaneously to the throttle and the transmission’s shift points move higher up the engine speed range: the ideal basis for active driving pleasure on winding roads.

Over and above the three basic configurations, Audi drive select provides scope for varying individual parameters between the levels dynamic, sport and comfo
rt. It is for instance entirely possible to combine sporty shock absorber settings with a relaxed, easy-action steering response.

The electronics developers have focused on safety and traffic control in the Audi Roadjet Concept, as well as on driving pleasure. It features a prototype of a future generation of information-processing systems that herald in a new era in road traffic networking specifically in countries with high volumes of traffic.

At the heart of this concept is car-to-car communication, meaning the direct exchange of information within the flow of traffic. Unlike the telematics systems of the recent past, no central service is now needed to consolidate and process the information swiftly and effectively.

The progress that has been achieved in the areas of computing power and software development have made this application possible. Even though they occupy very little space and consume very little energy, future systems will be capable of processing an array of data into practical, easily digested information for the driver that moreover paves the way for a very high standard of safety.

The reality of road traffic means that the car-to-car network can of course only be activated with a certain lead time. This hurdle is, however, manageable because virtually all vehicle manufacturers in Europe, the USA and Japan have agreed in parallel to develop a common standard for the hardware and software.

Applications have also been submitted to the authorities to use standard radio frequencies on an international scale, thus assuring the system’s proper functioning when driving abroad.

Once all new vehicles in a market are being factory-fitted with this new technology, a functioning network of car-based transmitters will be created within a few months, at least in conurbations.

Many new areas of application can then be exploited in practice. The following three examples are intended merely as illustrations of what scope car-to-car communication offers:

Example 1 – safety. A vehicle has skidded on a slippery surface on a blind bend and is hanging half in a ditch, at right-angles to the flow of traffic. It is now unable to move unassisted. Other vehicles are swiftly approaching the obstruction but their drivers are unable to see it. With the new communication technology, the stranded vehicle will transmit a warning signal which – thanks to the network established with the vehicle’s on-board navigation system – also indicates the location of the hazard. A corresponding warning simultaneously appears on the navigation screens of the approaching vehicles, indicating the location of the accident – the risk of a collision is thus substantially reduced.

Example 2 – traffic flow. Lines of vehicles are moving between sets of traffic lights on a multi-lane arterial road. The cars accelerate, only to have to brake again when the lights turn red. Such a driving style is not only fatiguing for the individual driver, but also means that thousands of litres of fuel are wasted along every kilometre of such roads in the long term, by the traffic as a whole; it furthermore significantly inflates exhaust emissions in conurbations.

Car-to-car technology means that the cars are not only able to establish a network with each other, but also pick up information from static transmitters such as the traffic lights’ control systems.

The phases of each set of traffic lights can thus be transmitted, giving drivers an opportunity to anticipate more accurately how much acceleration is necessary or appropriate. The same applies to impending congestion: using data from cars further ahead, the systems can recommend what speeds drivers should adopt in order to keep the traffic flowing.

Example 3 – service. When driving through a city centre, a driver has selected the local shopping centre as the destination for the navigation system. There is a chronic shortage of parking spaces around that destination. Here too, the new technology is able to help: the mobile system uses the coordinates for the destination to link up with the parking spaces management system for the area around the destination. If a nearby vacant parking space is reported by static facilities, such as at a multi-storey car park, the navigation system can automatically take this into account and simultaneously reserve the space in that car park. The driver is guided to their destination by the shortest and most convenient route, instead of having to drive round in circles endlessly hunting for that elusive parking space.

The number of variations on these examples is almost limitless, illustrating the huge potential of the new technology in promoting safety, flexibility and efficiency as the volume of traffic on our roads increases.

The Audi Roadjet Concept interprets the architecture of the Audi interior in a new way. The instrument panel envelops the driver’s and front passenger’s seats in a wide, horizontally split arc. The controls and displays in the dash panel and on the centre console come across on the one hand as organically integrated and on the other as neatly structured and functional.

The four individual seat pans feature integral head restraints, and divide up the interior into four separate zones. Between the rear seats there is a system of rails that can accommodate options that include a storage box with centre armrest, an espresso machine or a baby carrier facing to the rear.

The rear seats themselves can be adjusted along diagonal rails; when opened out into their frontmost position, a centre child’s seat can be installed obliquely behind the rear seats if required. This centre child’s seat is guided on rails on the movable luggage compartment floor. It can be folded over and easily removed to the rear.

The load area can be further enlarged by folding the rear seat backs forward. The electrically operated movable load area floor pivots automatically to the rear, beyond the bumper, facilitating loading of the vehicle. The rail system integrated into the load area floor incorporates lashing points that can be used to secure the child seat or lash down items being carried, before the load area floor is moved forward again electrically, back into the vehicle.

The convenience function on the remote control enables the driver to extend the load area floor at the same time as the tailgate is opened.

The load area floor can be set to two positions inside the vehicle. Its lower position produces the maximum load area capacity; its normal level results in a level load area.

Both the comfortable, relatively upright seat position with ample legroom and the ample shoulder room and headroom at all four individual seats set new standards. Deluxe automatic air conditioning with newly developed air vents also significantly improves passenger comfort, providing draught-free, individually variable climate control for every occupant.

A Bang & Olufsen sound system purpose-developed for the Roadjet Concept combines 14 speakers – including the extendable tweeters on the instrument panel – and an amplifier output of more than 1,000 watts to produce an acoustic experience that is without equal in the automotive world. If desired, the front and rear passengers can also listen to music via Bluetooth headphones.

The audio system also supports a new function that allows the occupants to talk to each other without needing to raise their voices even when the car is travelling at high speeds. A technology by the name of Digital Voice Support (DVS) picks up the occupants’ voices via microphones and reproduces them via the amplifier and speakers. Reproduction is controlled to take account of both the relative position inside the car of the person speaking and the level of noise being generated by the vehicle.

The Multi Media Interface MMI has been reconfigured in the Audi Roadjet Concept. In addition to the central 10-inch display in the instrument cluster, there are separate displays and operating units for the front and rear passengers – including a 7-
inch display on the backs of the front seats for the rear passengers. An entirely new technology makes its debut here: the front passenger views information on a back-projection display on the instrument panel, which also allows them to watch TV while the car is moving. To avoid distracting the driver, this display is screened off by a shield that extends automatically out of the instrument panel.

The Roadjet Concept does not have traditional sun visors; instead, this function is performed by the use of Vari-Light technology along the upper edge of the windscreen: the degree of transparency of the glass – and therefore of light screening – can be varied electrically, thus enabling the driver to prevent any undesirable glare.

There is a further convenience feature in the rear centre armrest. On the Detroit showcar, it incorporates an espresso machine complete with water reservoir, stable cup holders for four cups and accessories. The occupants can now always enjoy a fresh cup of coffee whenever they wish, for instance during a break or while sitting in a tailback.