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Shanghai dawn for German concept cars

The importance of the Chinese car market has never been more overtly acknowledged than this week, when both Audi and BMW showed concepts of future models at Shanghai's car show before anywhere else. 

The Concept CS from BMW and Audi's Cross Coupe show car are indications of where the German companies are going in the next few years. Show cars are designed to test the waters, and to check reactions as to whether they're on the right track or not. In previous years, many makers have written-off the mainland Asian car shows as representing "i mature" markets, regarding them as irrelevant as far as sounding out on new models was concerned. Now that BMW and Audi have shown-off their new designs for the first time at the Shanghai Car Show, rather than at the Detroit, Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, Geneva or Frankfurt salons, it looks likely that other makers will also use the Chinese venue for market opinions.

Showcasing a new design philosophy for BMW, the Concept CS is based on a bespoke platform, and offers a "vision of the future" BMW design, rather than a first look at a new product. It is a four-seat premium vehicle in the shape of a four-door coupe, a genre recently resurrected by Mercedes-Benz's CLS model. Audi's Shanghai offering is also a four-door coupe design. However, the Cross Coupe is intended to be driven both on and, occasionally, off the road. The BMW Concept CS was created by BMW's design development unit in Munich and comes with several exterior and interior design touches that could make their way to future models. Body width increases towards the rear to emphasize sporting pretensions and the car's wide track.

The Concept CS is a full 400 millimeter wider and 67 millimeter longer than a standard wheelbase BMW 7 Series, while its roof line is just 1367 millimeter – 124 millimeter lower than the BMW 7 Series. Behind a reworking of the classic double nostril BMW grille, designed to improve air flow to the engine, is the 5-litre V10 taken from the M5 and M6 models. From the side, the Concept CS features the traditional Hofmeister kink on the C-pillar. The car has dual corona ring headlights, featuring new LED reverse projection technology. Rearward facing lights project a beam onto a smooth reflective surface, which in turn conveys a precise beam on the road ahead.

The technology is designed to provide light without dazzling oncoming motorists. The car's flared wheel arches house 21-inch light alloy wheels and its shoulder line has a break at the rear quarter, with a trailing shoulder line repeating the curve of the rear wheel arch. The door handles are fitted flush to the window ledges so the bodywork remains clean and without interruption. Inside, the traditional air vents found on centre consoles are gone, instead replaced by slender gaps which distribute air. The same openings also provide for discreet lighting. A driver-oriented cockpit is consistent with BMWs ethos of building drivers cars, while a fresh look at ergonomics makes for superior comfort.

Ceramics have also been introduced to an BMW interior for the first time for the instruments and console area, while the driver and other three occupants are cocooned in sports seats with a height- adjustable collar element. BMW says the Concept CS is a design study, however, it is likely that key elements of the car will appear on forthcoming new models. Audi's Cross Coupe is a combination of sports car and sport utility vehicle. The silhouette is typical Audi; the design study at Shanghai was painted in liquid silver, haking back to previous sporting models produced by the Ingolstadt brand. The proportions and the large 20-inch alloy wheels are designed to point towards the offroad potential of the Cross Coupe quattro.

A new feature for the car is a fabric folding roof, which, when open, gives optimum levels of headroom and fresh air. The hood is opened and closed electrically. The Cross Coupe on show had a transversely mounted four-cylinder inline TDI engine with co millimeteron-rail fuel-injection and piezo injectors. With a power output of 154kW and 400Nm of torque, it gives the vehicle a sporty performance while maintaining efficiency. The 2.0 TDI is designed to use 5.9 liters of diesel per 100 kilometer. The diesel particulate filter and Bluetec system reduce soot and nitric oxide emissions to Euro V standards and beyond. The Cross Coupe uses Audi's stock-in-trade quattro permanent four-wheel drive system. It uses a Haldex clutch to ensure that traction is precisely distributed according to the situation, while a sporting Audi S tronic dual-clutch, semi-manual gearbox executes gearshifts in a matter of milliseconds.

Numerous electronic systems support the driver. The Audi drive select system makes it possible to pre- select three configurations for the engine, gearbox, steering and adaptive shock absorbers. The result: a car that can be enjoyed in three different ways. Besides a standard "dynamic" drive mode and a "sport" setting, the Cross Coupe also has an "efficiency" driving program where the engine map and the shift points are contrived to support an economical driving style. The system also deactivates energy-hungry components. While both German offerings were received well in Shanghai, it is not know when they will reach production. The Audi Cross Coupe appears to be the closest to production, and it is believed that the new Audi could well claim the Q5 nomenclature, placing it as a junior Q7 model and one that would slot into the growing crossover sub- segment trend. The BMW could possibly emerge as the company's new 8-series model, a far cry from the heavy two-door coupe of the early '90s, but a good name for a CLS chasing coupe. (