Audi Q7 behind the scenes Jason 07 Feb 2006

49 comments Latest by SJ

An 8-page article about the development of the Audi Q7. Details like this blow me away:

A further development priority is water management. The aim here is to minimise interference with the driver’s view of the road as a result of dirt and water on the windows.
Dr. Jaroch illustrates this as follows: “Critical situations can for example arise if the car is following a truck along a wet road, and water spray from its wheels obscures the driver’s view. This can typically occur at speeds of between 70 and 90 kilometres per hour. Our aim in the case of the Audi Q7 was to optimise the airflow round the A-posts and exterior mirrors so that the side windows and mirror glass remain clean.”
How is this achieved? The vehicle is sprayed with a fluorescent liquid in a special wind tunnel devoted to surface contamination. Under black light, the paths taken by rain and spray and the areas where the water collects can be clearly seen.

Great car design is fascinating. So many variables to consider. It’s such a joy being in a well designed car — you can feel the thought that went into it.

49 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Tory 07 Feb 06

The sketches are so awesome.

Rahul 07 Feb 06

The car remains a powerful metaphor in our line of work.

When talking about “less” and the concept of feature bloat, it’s always compelling to suggest that yes, some client somewhere probably approached a car manufacturer with the desire for a car with 5 wheels and wings, because that would be cool and that’s what the client wants and will pay for. But given the awkwardness of that idea, the manufacturer would never make it anyway. It doesn’t “roll”. So why are we [our company] allowing our clients to make us design a flawed product simply because they’re paying us?

Obviously that argument goes in both directions, since the PR guy can always argue that given the right sum of money, any manufacturer would make a 5-wheel car with wings, even if no one could drive it.

ek 07 Feb 06

Does it share the platform with the Cayenne and Touareg?
Yes.

Rahul, the Q7 is the definition of feature bloat, so I don’t know if it would be a very good example to cite. The interior certainly is beautiful, though.

JF, vis-a-vis your “Essential vs. Non-Essential” post, this water management thing seems like the very definition of the non-essential feature.

It would be one thing if VW/Audi made bullet-proof cars, but they don’t, and are instead spending time on this sort of thing. Maybe I’m weird, but bits and pieces of my car not breaking is more important to me than extra-super-special water flow management on my windshield. But I guess that’s why I’m a former Audi owner and a current Honda owner.

To each his own I suppose!

Drew Pickard 07 Feb 06

ek - you can’t really go back and add features after you sell a car …

JF 07 Feb 06

ek, crazy in depth technical basketball shoe reviews are the pinnacle of non-essential ;) So I figured you’d enjoy a little non-essential.

Jack 07 Feb 06

Ive heard that Audi’s are a pleasure to drive/use but a pain in the ass to own.

Basically because of the regular mechanical problems with little things breaking and then the task of finding a specialized mechanic to fix them.

Any truth to this?

JF 07 Feb 06

I haven’t had any notable problems with the two Audis I’ve owned.

Marc McHale 07 Feb 06

Surely this example is an excellent one? For me it equates safety in cars to site usability and/or accessibility - patchy but hopefully you’ll see my point.

Its about going the extra little distance to make the ride (user experience) a more comfortable and safe (accessible) experience. I know the little things take time and effort, but if they are done in the right way with a standards concious hat on then they can only benifit the end users?

I maybe living in my own little world, but hey its a nice one!

Marc

Rob Poitras 07 Feb 06

you canít really go back and add features after you sell a car That holds true on any physical product made. You can always modify something midway through production which actually does happen in the auto industry. Plus there is always the next model year to add more features.

ek 07 Feb 06

I guess this is what one would call a double standard?

Complexity and overkill in cars good.

Complexity and overkill in Web apps bad.

Seems that many here would be willing to argue the first point. My guess is that people at companies like Microsoft and Adobe would be willing to argue the second (though perhaps not in those terms — they might instead describe feature bloat as “going the extra little distance”).

As with many things, it appears that everything comes down to one’s perspective on a given point.

JF 07 Feb 06

As with many things, it appears that everything comes down to oneís perspective on a given point.

It absolutely does.

I think there are different expectations when someone pays $49/month for a web app and $60,000 for a luxury car. But cars have certainly gotten too complex — lots of tech for tech’s sake. I think.

ek 07 Feb 06

I know that this is essentially the point you’re making, but, to extend your example, does that then mean that if I pay $3,000 for a piece of software, I should expect buggy bloatware?

Put another way, why should the owner of a $60,000 luxury car have to put up with more technical problems than the owner of a $20,000 Hyundai?

I thought rich people were supposed to value their time? Though I guess this is why Lexus is now the top selling luxury car marque in the U.S.

I don’t understand why the Germans can’t make reliable cars any more. Is an Audi/BMW/Benz that much more complex than a comparable Lexus that it should be so much less reliable? In all seriousness, is it because they’re focusing on these fringe features instead of core reliability? Or are the Germans too busy paying off their union reps with money/drugs/prostitutes to sweat the quality issues?

nb 07 Feb 06

Well, my VW is sprinkled with plenty of OOOO parts. I was actually going through the automobile today getting ready for an iPod integration tomorrow. Maybe I was lucky, but I got a new VW in Dec ‘05 and it is beautiful. I can’t say one bad thing about the quality of the build, and I’m actually going into the underbelly and taking the great majority of things apart.

I know this isn’t a car forum, so I don’t want to start up anything with that regard, but generally all cars anymore are being built in one of a dozen factories in Mexico. German, Japanese, American, they’re all “designed” in their country of origin, but rarely are they fully assembled there. And when they are, you’ll know immediately by the price premium (we’re looking at the $100k’s+ here). Just like the space shuttle, the work is generally being done by the lowest bidder. As I’m sure JF will attest, that’s just one more degree of separation from the customers and loss of control in the process.

Check your driver’s door panel or under your hood to find out what kind of (likely Mexican!) car youíve really got. :)

jm 07 Feb 06

I’m still floored that you love German automobile design to such a degree and yet your loyalties don’t extend beyond Audi to BMW’s superior design.

My Audi was a fantastic car, but not nearly as well thought out or constructed as either Bimmer. I recommend more shopping for the staff at 37s.

JF 07 Feb 06

Put another way, why should the owner of a $60,000 luxury car have to put up with more technical problems than the owner of a $20,000 Hyundai?

Oh they shouldn’t. I totally agree with you.

The specific feature I called out in my post isn’t technical in nature. It’s not software, or some weird control that could break down. It’s purely aerodynamic and physical body design.

Matt 07 Feb 06

JM,

I don’t want to start a car fight here, but I have to disagree. In my experience with the A6, A8, and A4 Cabrio, they have all been much more beautiful and well design than their equivalent-class BMW’s.

I also think an issue here is that your LIFE is in the hands of your car, meaning it’s a very different issue from a web app. I don’t know what side of the argument that puts me on, though.

-Matt

jm 07 Feb 06

I come from BMWs and had my heart set on one, but Audi blew ‘em away. BMW couldn’t hold a candle to Audi — at least in my experience (which is all I can share).

~bc 07 Feb 06

As much as you trashed Saab a bit back, this is why I buy them: it’s the detail and passion. For example, my windshield was designed to deflect a struck Elk at speed. This is an issue in serious issue in Sweden on rural roads (and that’s to say most of them), and for me, driving in the northeast US, directly relates to our experience with deer on the roads. They designed the shape of the hood and windsheild to deflect the great size and weight away from the driver… and they test for this with a giant test Elk made of bundled extra-heavy-duty wire, designed to be the shape size and weight of an elk. It’s one of the twenty such tests that aren’t required, but passionate Saab engineers think up and perform. Hopefully, they can continue to, despite the GM-related troubles they’re going through at the moment (Caddies being made at Saab plants in Trollhattan, Saabs maybe being built in Opel plants in Germany, Saab SUVs (Trailblazer) being built in Ohio - the engineers did do what they could with the task they were given)… good luck, I say…

sxates 07 Feb 06

I’m a big fan of Audi’s as well—currently own an ultrasport A4. I love the way that they’re understated, yet you can tell they have gone over every aspect of it with a fine toothed comb. Stuff like the heated mirrors that turn on when the outside temp gets

The Q7 looks great. And from what I’ve read of new and future audi models, they’re on a serious roll. BMW and Benz are really falling behind it seems.

sxates 07 Feb 06

It cut off my previous comments for some reason - must be the less-than sign…

…Stuff like the heated mirrors that turn on when the outside temp gets “less than” 40F outside. There’s no switch, it just does it. If you didn’t know it was there, it would be completely transparent. Even “simple” things like the windshield wipers have seen serious design resources. I don’t think there’s a domestic manufacturer, or even japanese, that wouldn’t just call Delphi and grab whatever’s in stock and call it good, but Audi puts more thought into it than that. That’s effort worth paying for I think.

Eelco 08 Feb 06

Jason,

I reckon you ordered one? :-)

People who spend more money want more comfort, meaning less hassle of daily irritations: Warm seats in the winter, self closing doors or opening hoods so no dirty salty hands, electric powered stuff to not sweat to move your seat or break women nails to adjust a steering wheel. This is all about using standard functionality or features made easier. Some people buy cars for the complexity of features, yes they do. I once stepped into a Pontiac Bonneville SSE in 1993 when I studied in Mi, USA and was wowed by the airplane cockpit interior and lights… it had a ridiculous amount of buttons and led interfaces.

But still having a lot of features can mean that drivers that drive a lot of Km’s/Mi’s (like me) can tweak their car experience better. Others buy a car with lots of features because of their bragging rights.. And about quality, it is bullshit that BMW has better quality than an Audi, and that from a person who just sold his Audi and bought a BMW. It is all perception; Audi has one of the best build quality of the moment. And car model quality can even differ a lot. (US built Mercedes ML’s were of lesser quality than an E-series e.g.)

So, talking cars and quality is a subjective thing. Socially 5 out of ten Renault owners will boast their car’s quality when they are around a Mercedes owner, it is compensation behaviour.. The Mercedes owners needs to boast his car’s quality because he needs to justify his $60K investment. I have been close to the auto industry for 10 years, have seen real quality, working at a leasing company where hundreds of cars of only type alone where leased so you could really see the repair costs and break downs. Statistics count, the rest is BS.

To end this. Think about this: We bought the latest powerbook versions last november and there was this issue about the screens (everyone knows I guess). There were horizontal lines to be seen on the LCD which should not be there. I started looking at all kind of review sites and got a stomach ache of all the bad experiences with a Powerbook. What a piece of shit product I started thinking. Then I understood. People only write reviews about products when they are seeking attention of other “sufferers” of the same problem. So it was not reflecting the Apple quality but only the negative side to it. Talking cars has this same effect. Talking design, the complexity of it or usefulness of it is subjective.

Audi watermanagement? Cool marketing, cool design - useful? Maybe… Buying reason? If it scared you once, when you got that flush of water…..the sales guy can maybe sell you this feature :-)

ian 08 Feb 06

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but wouldn’t the driver’s visibility be considered an essential element of auto design? A great looking car is nice, but not if you die in it. I’m reminded of JF’s principle of embracing constraints: great design in the showroom, maximum visibility on a rainy highway at night.

ian 08 Feb 06

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but wouldn’t the driver’s visibility be considered an essential element of auto design? A great looking car is nice, but not if you die in it. I’m reminded of JF’s principle of embracing constraints: great design in the showroom, maximum visibility on a rainy highway at night.

ek 08 Feb 06

Well, I have an amazing water management device on my car … I think it’s called windshield wipers. I believe most cars under $40,000 come fitted with them as standard. Perhaps they’re optional once you get up above $40K?

What a great example of people getting so quickly and easily sucked into marketing-ese. I can’t recall ever having a critical problem with water spraying onto my windshield — at least not one that my wipers couldn’t handle, and I live in the Pacific Northwest!

Some of the fawning comments in this thread make it sound as though any cars without this feature will immediately explode on exposure to rain. Sheez, you’d think Steve Jobs had designed it!

The specific feature I called out in my post isnít technical in nature. Itís not software, or some weird control that could break down. Itís purely aerodynamic and physical body design.
That’s true, but as I’m sure you know, any feature added to a product, whether it’s physical, mechanical or in software, takes time/money — time/money that can’t then be applied to other features/attributes. Nothing comes free, whether you’re developing cars or apps.

I donít think thereís a domestic manufacturer, or even japanese, that wouldnít just call Delphi and grab whateverís in stock and call it good, but Audi puts more thought into it than that. Thatís effort worth paying for I think.
Spoken like a true Audi owner!

C’mon now, that’s just a downright lazy statement to make. Have you seen a Lexus lately? Or an Acura? Or an Infiniti? Or, hell, even a Toyota or Honda? I have, and I can tell you that the Japanese are consistently out-designing the Germans and everyone else when it comes to interior controls and functionality.

I think Audi still does the most beautiful interiors, but Lexus and Acura are doing the most functional and ergonomic control interaction experiences.

Rahul Sinha 08 Feb 06

I just want to add to chorus of happy Audi owner voices.

BMWs look bizzare now; Bangle may have been over-maligned, but somehow “class” seems to have vanished in his search for a new and distinct brand image.

What Audi has over Lexus/Acura is the same quality VW has over Toyota/Honda; while the latter wonderfully engineered, the “little things” are always found in the former. The little red LED that shines light over your hand if its in the central console area w/o making you lose your night vision, the tiny shelf for the car’s manual just under the steering wheel.

I’ve had my A4 for over 3 years, and its been great. I’m thinking of trading in for a decked out A3; easier to park and with the same engine as its larger counterpart, it should an entertaining drive.

-RS

Josh 08 Feb 06

Regarding the essential vs. non-essential comments:

Wasn’t the context of that remark a version 1.0 product?

Cars are hardly version 1.0. They are a very mature product category, thus different types of design thinking tools need more emphasis.

Essential vs. non-essential is a (possibly) useful razor when you’re defining a new product. It’s of limited value in a conversation about a mature product category, especially one in the luxury segment of that category.

After all, what’s essential about a $40k car?

Jupiter 08 Feb 06

ek, you have wipers on your side windows?

Michael S. 08 Feb 06

Designing the A-pillars to divert water is just good design. It doesn’t require any moving parts or added complication (after R&D) so it won’t break, and the driver doesn’t have to think about it.

Add anything else the driver doesn’t have to think about: auto volume change depending on speed, auto heated side view mirrors, etc. These things reduce annoyances and distraction without taking away from the driving experience.

Michael S. 08 Feb 06

And I think the question of it being essential or not is moot. It adds to the experience without adding a button to push.

Chris N 08 Feb 06

You’ve gotta love German auto companies. I feel the same way in a BMW. You really get the feeling that they have thought of everything, while keeping it convenient and simple.

Matt 08 Feb 06

EK, if they designed some device that sucked the water spray hitting your car and shoved it out the back, I could see your point, but this is from a purely design perspective, no moving part, nothing to learn, nothing fails.

And I call BS on your rain comment. I live in Seattle and during that month of rain, there were times on the freeway where my wipers didn’t do as good a job as they could have, and I was left without visibility for a few tenths of a second.

ek 08 Feb 06

ek, you have wipers on your side windows?
Oh, they’re talking about the side windows! Then that’s even sillier than I thought — is dirt build-up on the side windows a problem with present-day Audis? It’s not a problem I’ve had with any car I’ve driven, from a Kia rental car that I drove through a torrential downpour on I-5 to my old allroad (though the allroad did have an issue with the side windows refusing to defrost (on the inside) in cold weather). Or is this one of those things that everyone does, but Audi decided to call out in this particular press release?

And I think the question of it being essential or not is moot. It adds to the experience without adding a button to push.
Well, at least one of the nixed features cited in JF’s “Essential vs. Non-Essential post required no user interaction, so why, all of a sudden, is that the deciding factor on whether or not this is a worthwhile feature to include?

I understand the points people are making here — what I’m trying to do is play devil’s advocate and show that it’s very easy to be hypocritical about this simplicity in development mantra.

Everything’s non-essential and bloat-inducing until you want it, and then it automagically becomes essential and elegant.

I think people who blindly adhere to dogma, no matter how du jour it might be, are missing the point, which is that, ultimately, a product must meet or exceed the expectations of its audience. Sometimes a bare bones solution is the best way to achieve that, but plenty of times it isn’t.

Noah 08 Feb 06

The Q7 has tons of amazing technology in it… it’s too bad Audi is headed down the cursed SUV bandwagon path too. I actually prefer simplicity in a car, just like a web app. Cars that do too much for the driver are causing horrible drivers to get away with being even more horrible (inattentive, oblivious, clueless, and unskilled) drivers.

I love my 2001 Audi S4, but (except for the A3) Audi doesn’t make much right now that interests me. And jumping onto the ridiculous SUV bandwagon isn’t going to help matters.

Dan H 08 Feb 06

I think most of the Essential vs. Non-Essential point was strongly related to v1.0 of a product. Audi has made plenty of cars already, so they’re largely re-using car plans from their previous models and making a new version. Just like code re-use.

I bet “magic water repelling design” was on the “maybe next time” list at Audi for quite a while before they decided to do it for this Q7.

pwb 08 Feb 06

I actually think a new cal model is closer to a 1.0 product than you think. I have an ‘01 allroad (first model year) that clearly has a number of design defects that made it into production.

pwb 08 Feb 06

I actually think a new cal model is closer to a 1.0 product than you think. I have an ‘01 allroad (first model year) that clearly has a number of design defects that made it into production.

Steve 08 Feb 06

Agreed. If you take the product/car as a stand-alone item, it is version 1.0. After all, web applications have been around for years. Newly designed/released products are still version 1.0. Relating the design of every car to being the product is not an accurate way to decide if the product is ready to be released.

Nick 08 Feb 06

It’s strange how people are equating “attention to detail” with “bloat”. The car has only one body, whether it is designed with water management in mind or not.

Gary Boodhoo 08 Feb 06

I’m not especially fond of cars and eagerly await relocating to an area where car ownership is a liability. Still, I can appreciate eye candy as much as anyone else. But good design? How can the design of any car be considered “good” when the thinking has gone into a disposable and non-sustainable fetish item which arguably does more harm than good? Granted… the practical nature of the automobile is hard to debate. What I really question is the idea of car ownership.

From a purely selfish perspective I resent the money I have thrown away on insurance, gas, maintenance and car payments. On a broader scale, I resent the seeming convenience of this particular 20th century technology that has allowed many (most?) metropolitan areas in the States to provide only the most marginal alternatives to car ownership.

The Q7 feature list isn’t uninteresting, but the product itself is the epitome of selfishness. I mean… it doesn’t even run on hydrogen!

Anonymous Coward 09 Feb 06

…it doesnít even run on hydrogen

I’m sure they’re working on that, too. There’s already a hybrid version scheduled.

val 03 May 06

I have an audi A6 and a audi 100 both with quattro all wheel drive and I can say that disign and technology wise the Germans are light years ahead of any japanese or american pieces of junk!Honda/Acura are nice,hate Toyota and Lexus because they are just copying everything the germans invent!This is a fact!Mercedes came up with Pre-Safe,Lexus copied it and called it Pre-Collision!Shame on them,same goes with design, but if you follow and steal from the best,you will always be second!!!
AUDI-Never Follow!

SJ 13 Sep 06

After 5 minutes of driving off the dealers parking lot we have expereicned nothing but problems with our new Q7. From the oil light going on (after 15 minutes of purchasing) to several instances with the check engine light also turning on. Audi is doing nothing to stand behind their product and I would highly recommend to stay away from the Q7. We are extremly disappointed with our new purchase. WARNING TO CONSUMERS.

SJ 13 Sep 06

After 5 minutes of driving off the dealers parking lot we have experiecned nothing but problems with our new Q7. From the oil light going on (after 15 minutes of purchasing) to several instances with the check engine light also turning on. Audi is doing nothing to stand behind their product and I would highly recommend to stay away from the Q7. We are extremly disappointed with our new purchase. WARNING TO CONSUMERS.

SJ 13 Sep 06

After 5 minutes of driving off the dealers parking lot we have experienced nothing but problems with our new Q7. From the oil light going on (after 15 minutes of purchasing) to several instances with the check engine light also turning on. Audi is doing nothing to stand behind their product and I would highly recommend to stay away from the Q7. We are extremly disappointed with our new purchase. WARNING TO CONSUMERS.

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