Question: Let’s talk design. Shapes, ideas, motion, whatever. What is your favorite car—or make it cars, if you like?
Answer: Porsche 904 and Volkswagen Karmann Ghia—the coupe. Those are pure sculptures. They don’t even need wheels. I just love the shapes.
Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
Q: What about the shapes?
A: They’re so soft going out, and the Karmann Ghia has a special nose. I like the soft architecture of those cars. And they both have good proportions because they’re really slim cars.
Q: Automotive circles—and especially Audi enthusiasts—view the last-generation A5’s shape as iconic too. Walter de Silva’s design was almost universally praised. What were some of the challenges in taking on this car?
A: First, when you have that kind of iconic car, you have to open your mind. Do you go with that iconic design or do we switch totally? That was one of the first questions we had to ask. But if you have such an iconic car, why question that design? Why throw it away? We’ll keep it.
What you have to do is work out clearly what makes that car iconic and what are the key features? I have to work clearly. The A5 has a strong character line (we call that a wave) and we realized we could work it out even more clearly. That’s why we came up with that line and shadow to pronounce the line and make it more elegant. That’s really one of the iconic things.
2018 Audi S5
The second iconic thing is the C-post—a strong C-post—that’s part of the movement of the A5. That makes the A5. It also gives it its GT feeling and a little bit of Quattro feeling—our history. So that has been, to me, the two iconic moments we should really keep on the car.
On all the rest, we tried to improve the car and push it toward, let’s say, a more sporty, more masculine, more emotional design. There’s more surface treatment. We changed the front to change the impression. That’s the new shape of the nose—we made the grille lower and wider, and pulled the headlights up. There’s a lot of change going on. [The new A5] is supposed to look like an A5—but clearly the next step.
It’s tough to compare this car with the first car. It has its own character. Part of that is that the themes have to work for the convertible and for the sportback.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback
Q: That brings up a great point, which is our next question. Among the body styles—sedan, coupe, convertible, sportback—what is your favorite and why?
A: It’s the sportback. Because the sportback has the great combination of all worlds. You have an even more elegant car because of the long wheelbase, you have probably a more fluid roofline which is going to the trunk lid. It has this really cool, stretched, lazy feeling. But I have to say the sportiest proportion is on the coupe—the wheelbase is shorter, there’s two doors. The sportback is the more elegant version of that coupe idea.
Q: You’re famous for designing the first-gen R8 and its side strakes, the R18 LMP1 prototype race car for its savage speed, and now the new A4/A5. Is there a common thread throughout those cars, which have dramatically different audiences and character?
A: Actually, I have to go back to the character line. If you sketch the car from the side, you clearly want to point out the car’s features—you should be able to draw the car in two or three lines.
If you have those strong three lines, you’ve made it. Now we’re talking about an iconic car. When I look at the R8, it really started with the “Audi wave.” With the shape crawling over the front, we are really pronouncing the Quattro system. By doing that we are bringing the gravity down, bringing the cabin down, bringing the driver optically down. In the case of the R8, it was done very sporty, very dramatic. It’s the same image for the A5, we just did it in a way more elegant way.
You have a basic design theme of a car, and you can get it in different ways. You can get different outputs on the same theme.
2018 Audi S5 Sportback (European spec)
Q: What are your favorite elements on the new cars?
A: Power dome. Power dome! It’s the first Audi with a power dome. It gives it a different character on the front end. It’s way more powerful, way stronger. Compared to the A4, which has a clean hood, which is nice and it’s Audi. The power dome gives you something more. “Wow, cool, there’s something going on.”
Q: Just one?
A: The hood’s shunt line is actually hidden by the character line. It’s not on the hood, it’s on the side and it’s running under this nice element on the side. That’s important—especially on a dark car—because you have something to grab viewers optically. It’s also bringing the hood more to the back, and it’s underlining the GT feeling of the A5. That element was a tough fight to get it on the production car.