Geneva: the land of Concepts...
Peugeot's Bobslid. Ouch...
There's nothing quite like a fresh concept study to give
you an solid insight into both the styling and technological
direction a marque is traveling in.
While only a small minority of concept cars make it to production,
and usually in a more subdued form, concept cars are an integral
part of any car makers business plan.
They are designed to gauge public reaction towards new trends
- most concepts are revealed at motor shows, after all - and
often give ample clues as to the marque's mid- to longterm
In the case of these two concepts, both are quite reminiscent
of current models - the Audi mirrors the TT somewhat, while
the Mazda concept has a 323 edge to it.
At the same time, both concepts show not only in which direction
Mazda and Audi are pointed, but also where German and Japanese
cars are heading. We check out the latest concepts from the
Geneva Motor Show, 2003...
Audi Nuvolari Quattro
Audi Nuvolari Quattro concept
Double-grille will be seen in upcoming models
Direct injection big-bore V10 makes 400+kW
Four-wheel drive plus active suspension
Opinion on steering wheel and dials is divided
Is this the future of Alfa, err, Audi?
Tazio Nuvolari was born in Italy, 1892, and Audi's decision
to name a concept study after him is a little surprising.
Not so much for the fact that Nuvolari was one of the most
prolific race drivers of the pre-WWII era, winning some 61
races - Grand Prixs included - but more for the fact that
he's Italian, and Audi is not.
Perhaps it signals a shift in the way Audi will present itself
in future? Taking one look at the new Quattro concept will
help cement this arguament.
Most who casually glance at the Audi will suggest: "It's
another TT." And while initially this is understandable,
the Audi Nuvolari Quattro is more than just a re-styled TT.
Walter deSilva, the big chief in charge of design for
the Audi group, said: "The Nuvolari quattro outlines
the direction that Audis exterior and interior design
will take. We are aware of our brands heritage and will
continue this success story in evolutionary steps."
One of Audi's trademarks, which can be clearly seen in the
Nuvolari Quattro, are the short overhangs and deeply flared
Tail and head lights, plus the new trapezoidal grille (reflecting
spy shots seen of the new A6 grille) are quite new however,
and give the Nuvolari Quattro a distinctive Italian flavour
- a little reminscent of Alfa Romeo, even.
One of the most successful examples of Audis current
styling is the TT, and the Nuvolari pays homage to this, seen
largely in the front end: The rounded shape of the front side
panels toward the bumper is a deliberate reference to Audi
The striking single-frame radiator grille, however, has also
evolved from the current design motif and has been arrived
at by linking together the two double grille segments of the
current Audi generation.
Another new feature likely to emerge in coming Audi models
are the slightly inclined, low-height main headlight strips.
They make use of an entirely new technology super-bright
high-performance light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
The LED headlights allowed the designers more freedom, since
they needed less installation space than conventional ones.
The cooled high-end lights - a whopping 18 on each side -
are located much nearer the surface of the cover, that has
also been reduced in size, the result of which gives the front
end a much more seamless appearance.
And if you thought the head lights were techno-chic, the
newly-styled brake lights come equipped with IR sensors. The
infrared sensors for the rear lights are quite innovative,
in they identify dirt on the covers and external factors such
as spray or fog.
The electronic control system increases the brightness steplessly
in response to sensor impulses if required by outside conditions.
This is an important step towards better visibility and,
ultimately, a safer journey in all weather conditions. Furthermore,
the lights benefit from the LEDs shorter response time,
taking less than one millisecond to reach full brightness.
Inside, the high centre console could eventually become a
mainstay in the Audi fleet - and it looks good too. The MMI
terminal with the central control knob and surrounding function
and control keys are located behind it and extremely easy
As far as aesthetics go, the new look Audi is pleasing, while
still offering that unmistakable 'concept' car look. Underneath
it's shiny high-gloss finish resides an impressively tooled
hi-po V10, perhaps yet another indication that Audi may add
a 10-cylinder engine to its range.
The 5.0-litre bi-turbo V10 has ample torque at
all engine speeds and a willingness to run up to high speeds,
an engine which also may have been influenced by BMW's upcoming
F1-dervied 5.5-litre V10.
The engine is a new design, capable of mobilising an impressive
441 kilowatts of power (600 bhp), with FSI petrol direct injection
making a decisive contribution to the engines performance.
Among the most impressive features of the Audi Nuvolari Quattros
ten-cylinder dual turbocharged engine, is its willingness
to rev freely and the vigorous torque flow available at super-low
It accelerates the Gran Turismo from 0 to 100 km/h in just
4.1 seconds and on to a maximum speed that has been governed
to 250 km/h. The maximum torque of 750Nm is available at an
engine speed as low as 2000rpm and remains constant over a
broad engine-speed range.
All this results in powerful, not to say supreme, forward
thrust, the ideal precondition for driving long distances
in a sporting style and also when storming up winding mountain
Moving right along, and like the current A8s frame
architecture, the Nuvolari Quattros 'Audi Space Frame'
(ASF) consists of a combination of extruded aluminium profiles
and cast parts connected tightly together, for a combination
of minimum mass, maximum strength and high torsional rigidity.
The proportions of the GT concept study necessitated considerable
structural changes compared with the ASF used in the A8 luxury
sedan. The best example is the wheelbase of the 2+2-seater
Nuvolari, which is more than six centimetres shorter.
Adaptive air suspension is by no means new, but combined
with Audi's Quattro AWD transmission, it adds another real-world
feature to the 2+2 coupe.
The adaptive air suspension 4-corner air springs with
continuous damping control is the first system of its
kind in a GT that resolves the traditionally conflicting goals
of excellent handling and comfortable shock absorption on
The lowered ride height at high speeds improves the Nuvolari
quattros aerodynamics. Three pre-defined ground clearance
levels are available: normal, with a ground clearance of 100
mm; the autobahn level (from 160 km/h upwards)
with a ground clearance of 90 mm and the raised level with
a ground clearance of 110 mm, which is ideal for driving on
bumpy roads up to a maximum speed of 40 km/h.
On the other hand, you can also let the car do the thinking
for you, setting the suspension on Automatic. This way it
adjusts ride height and damping characteristics based on driving
Body acceleration, vertical movement of all four wheels,
steering angle, plus accelerator and brake pedal positions
all influence the degree of damping that is computed for every
driving situation. In theory it's a great idea, though how
well it would work on the road is debatable...
Finally, the new Audi also makes use of radar-based cruise
control. Nothing new here - Mercedes has been using the system
for some months now, but at least it's an indication that
Audi will be adopting the technology for future models.
Mazda MX Sportif
Mazda MX Sportif concept
A hint of the Mazda3? Most definitely
Twin pipes look glorious, low ride adds oomph
The lower air-dam is very RX-8-esque
Simple, clean, with lots of red back-lighting
Like Nissan, Mazda is really starting to kick some arse in
both styling and engineering departments after what can only
be described as a decade filled with boring product.
Take the new RX-8 for instance: Amazing styling, packed with
killer technology and those oh-so-cool suicide doors are a
gamble that has seemingly payed off -- expect them to be cloned
in some form by every major car manufacturer in the next half
So, Mazda has a new concept out, and like the RX-Evolv that
transmogrified into the 2003 RX-8, there's a good chance that
it's new small-car concept, the MX Sportif, will underpin
the impending Mazda3.
While not as radical as the Nuvolari, it still makes quite
a visual impact.
Mazda has taken the basic elements of the 323 and gently
massaged them to form a more striking profile, one that's
still very true to the Mazda design DNA.
The new look is more agressive than the 323/Astina; in Mazda's
words it creates a sense of "exhilarating dynamism."
Sitting on 18-inch five spoke alloy wheels, the concept wears
fairly potent (for a small car) 225/45R18 rubber.
The tail lights are very much Mazda6-inspired - chrome-edged
bulbs on a contrasting background, covered by a clear lens
- though the twin exhaust system flanking a mini-diffuser
hints at the car's - and indeed the company's - sporting intentions.
While the new styling is perhaps the biggest indication of
where Mazda's small cars are headed, adhering to the Mazda
design ethos, the future of its powerplants is also extremely
While it's safe to say that Mazda will use its rotary engines
exclusively for its top-shelf sportsters, it's the four cyliner
range that looks to be heating up.
The Mazda2 already has the most potent 1.5-litre engine in
the compact car segment, and the 2.0-litre mill in the MX
Sportif is no slouch either.
Likely to be a crucial part of the upcoming Mazda3, the MZR
2.0-litre inline four cylinder mill is part of the marque's
next-generation of engines.
The 2.3-litre job found in the Mazda6 has already been hailed
as one of the best four-bangers on the market: Expect the
2.0-litre mill to follow suit.
Featuring a reversed intake-exhaust layout (with the exhaust
system fitted at the rear), a variable intake system (VIS),
tumble swirl control valve (TSCV) and a high-flow port head,
the nat-atmo MZR 2.0-litre engine delivers 110kW @ 6000rpm
and 187Nm @ 4500rpm.
Mated to a short-throw, close-ratio five-speed manual, the
MX Sportif concept would be quite the goer, but even so, if
the techno-boffins can keep the weight of the impending Mazda3
to a minimum, the latter car could be looking at bold 0-100km/h
times, not to mention top speed values.
Mazda's new concept gives a clear indication of the company's
direction, particularly in relation to the small car segment,
and like many concepts of the past three years, this one looks
headed for factory.
Even the MX Sportif's interior looks almost production ready,
and the rate at which the company is churning out new vehicles
is quite surprising.
"Just over two years ago, when we started down the path
to rebuild the Mazda brand, we promised a core group of four
all-new vehicles that would embody the Zoom-Zoom spirit of
Mazda," said Lewis Booth, President and CEO of Mazda
"This newest vehicle, the MX Sportif, clearly shows
the direction our fourth all-new product will take
the fourth all-new Mazda in less than 18 months. Our pace
of product introductions since last year has been relentless
and quick, and we have no intention of slowing down."