Audi A8 hommage by Niels van Roij

Design Icons: Revisiting the 2004 Audi A8 (D3)’s Simple Purity

The lovely second-generation Audi A8 was built from 2002 to 2009. Called the Typ 4E internally and built on Volkswagen Group’s D3 platform, the successor to the original (D2) A8 – the world’s first volume production aluminum-bodied car – was an evolutionary design that built on the strengths of the original A8.

I remember being wildly impressed by seeing the A8 D3 on the road for the first time. It was a bright silver example on the typical wheels that feature on this quick homage sketch. The A8 D3 still is a fantastic piece of design; a lot better on many different levels compared to the current fourth-generation iteration, which will be replaced this year by the more technologically-advanced D5.

Although it was not as bold as the first generation TT, the A8 D3 still featured clean, Bauhaus-like and well-defined surfacing. In itself, the surfacing proved to be a rather complex challenge to achieve; it’s much harder to make small radii of sharp feature lines from aluminum. Measuring in at just over 5m in overall length and sitting on a 2944mm wheelbase, the car was longer than its predecessor, affording more interior space for passengers.

Audi A8 (D3) design renderings and sketches

Miklós Kovács and Imre Hasanic made the final exterior design theme selection, which was whittled down from six initial full-size exterior clay models. They did a magnificent job. Proportionally it is just right; the A8 D3 sits well on its wheels and even when fitted with smaller wheels it usually manages to look good. This is something that cannot be said for one of its German competitors: the E65 BMW 7 Series.

The A8’s well-balanced interior has a horizontally themed instrument panel, designed by Norbert Schneider, Mark Bergold and Enzo Rothfuss, who is now Audi’s head of interior design. It features great volumes, which are consistently used throughout the interior, beautiful detailing and is – again – Bauhaus in its approach. The retracting center navigation screen was a nice touch, which has carried over to the current A6 and A7.

Audi A8 D3 interior

Grouping major controls for a more driver focused identity while creating a more airy and spacious feel were early priorities for the interior design team, headed by Jurgen Albamonte. This was in part facilitated by the Multi Media Interface (MMI) designed by Jurgen Schröder (which made its first appearance on the Audi Avantissimo concept of 2001) and thoughtful color and trim selection by designers Barbara Krömeke and Melinda Jenkins.

Besides the MMI interface, the Avantissimo concept precursor also showcased innovative technology such as the Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) curve bi-xenon headlights, the retracting dashboard screen and a driver identification system with fingerprint scanner; all of which became available in the series production D3 A8. In short, the flagship defined the brand’s technological orientation, which has continued through to the current product range.

Audi S8 (2006) wore the single-frame grille design that debuted on the 2005 D3 facelift

The facelifted 2005 A8 included Audi’s then new single frame grille design — which would become a hallmark brand signifier — and introduced the sporty S8 model, with a V10 engine derived from the 10-cylinder Lamborghini powerplant. Subtle detailing distinguishes the 2006 S8 from the A8, such as the incorporated rear decklid spoiler and the four chromed oval exhaust tips.

There is quite some debate around the single frame grille, with fan boys and detractors on both sides. Although the new grille might have taken away some of the clean, horizontal approach of the original, it is also an interesting take on the Audi heritage based on the 1930s Auto-Union racers.

Audi A8 D3 with Auto Union Type C

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