Audi design chief Stefan Sielaff has said the firm will never design retro-looking cars, describing such a move as "dangerous".
Sielaff, speaking to Autocar during our exclusive studio shoot of the new Audi A7 Sportback, described the A7 as "a new niche and a new idea". He said it only referenced classic Audis such as the 100 Coupe with minor details and it was not a retro-inspired car.
Autocar asked Sielaff about the A7’s design and what to expect from future production Audis.
What are the origins of this car?
The A7 has been on the go for quite a long time, actually, because the idea was not on a [product] cycle plan. It was created by Walter de’Silva, I would say at least five years ago, and if the car is not planned from the very beginning then a little bit of time is consumed in convincing everybody that it could be an interesting product.
In any case, we had to the put the A7 on hold for a while because the strategy is a top-down strategy, so first we had to get the new A8 on the market, which happened this year. The next step is the A7, and then the step after this will be the A6. There is really a logic in the cycle plan — so the A7 had to wait until the A8 was on the market.
Is this a design-led project more than a market-led project, then?
Yes, definitely — as it was with the R8 and, many years ago, the TT. Walter was like one of the dogs looking for truffles, hunting for a new niche and a new idea. This is always part of our job as designers: to show things that are not in the portfolio.
What was the biggest challenge in taking the A7 from concept to production car?
We have to have pedestrian safety in the front but we wanted a very low, slim nose; that was tough. We also have a really big hatch in the rear; we had to work closely with engineers on the mountings and hinges for that, and also on headroom, and how you enter in the rear of the car.
The roofline was one of the biggest challenges. On such a big coupé you cannot say, “Okay, it’s fine in the back but only for two little people.” That won’t work. At least you have to have a certain amount of space for two grown-ups. But on the other side, we wanted to have this flowing roofline. We didn’t want a bulge or a bump at the rear hinges.
And you’ve referenced Audi’s 100 Coupé from 1970 in the rear treatment?
We only did it with this detail. I’m confident that when you look at the car, you’ll not give us the criticism that “Oh, you did a retro car.” Because this is what we really don’t want to do. It’s just a nice little game to integrate this idea from the 100 Coupé, and to relate to things in our heritage.
Can we expect to see more heritage references like this in future Audi models?
Well, you can reference other cars, as long as you are not over-exaggerating things. For example, the second-generation TT had to look like the TT again, despite the fact that the first TT was an icon. It was difficult enough, but it became possible. Everyone who saw the second-gen car said, “Okay, this is the new TT”, and that was the target.
But doing retro is a dangerous game, because you will always have the problem that as soon as you have done such a retro car, you have to think of the next generation, and the generation after that. What are you going to do? Because you can’t get out of it. It will always be close to what you have been doing before.