A couple of weeks back I spent a glorious week with an Audi A8 L 3.0 TDI – a technology lover’s dream. One of the many things I was marvelling at was the eight speed automatic gearbox, thinking it was only a few years since I was enthralled by the novelty of seven-speed autos in BMW 7-series, Mercs and Jags, and how 10 years ago five speeds were the norm, with the odd four-speeder still around to give us something to grumble about.
But last week, ZF launched its 9HP nine-speed automatic, designed principally for transverse engines, but also adaptable for hybrid and four-wheel-drive. ZF reckons the new transmission can save up to 16 per cent in fuel consumption, compared with six-speed automatics, suggesting it can cut engine speeds to 1,900rpm at 75mph, down from 2,600rpm for a six-speeder. Where next? CVT suppliers would argue that you need an infinite number of ratios and that more gears shifts us in that direction. I can hear a faint cry of “We told you so”, from Torotrak’s Leyland HQ.
Audi They Do It?
It’s easy to be dazzled by new car technology and lose sight of the basics. For instance, cars have got progressively heavier with the demands of safety and emissions legislation. The Audi Q3 we’ve driven elsewhere tipped the scales at 1,585kg in TDI Quattro S tronic form. That’s still no lightweight, but given the four-wheel-drive system and construction designed to deal with the stresses and strains of off-road work, it is arguably lighter than it would have been a few years ago.
Audi point to the bonnet and tailgate, both formed in aluminium and weighing 8.8kg and 10.8kg respectively, claiming that these would weigh twice as much in steel. Hot-formed high tensile steel is used for 13 per cent of the body, another weight saving measure because rapid cooling in the pressing process helps to give it the high tensile strength.
And speaking as we were of being dazzled by technology, the Q3 is lit inside and out (if you go for the xenon plus headlamps) with LED lighting. The LED daytime running lights use 10 watts of power – conventional bulbs would use around 42 watts, with just two watts each for the rear lights, if these are LEDs. And of course, lower electrical demand translates into better fuel consumption.
Audi has used LED lighting inside for some time, but in the Q3, the Bose sound system option comes with LEDs marking the outline of the bass/mid-range door speakers. Audi reckons this, along with the door, headlining, footwell, vanity mirror, storage compartments and air vent thumb wheel LEDs, is unique among compact SUVs.