Auto shows, especially the international ones, are experiencing something of an existential crisis these days. Their very purpose (and expense) are being questioned as automakers now introduce new products on a year-round cycle through a variety of channels and platforms. And when they do schedule an auto show premiere, the internet invariably scoops the reveal, pulling off the sheets ahead of time. The latest sign of auto shows’ waning influence happened just this week, with Mercedes-Benz announcing that it will be a no-show at Detroit in 2019.
Still, some auto shows know who they are, and auto manufacturers play to their strength. We’re talking specifically about the Chicago Auto Show, and Audi. Chicago is arguably the nation’s largest consumer auto show. People actually attend to check out cars and trucks they’re interested in buying, if you can imagine that. Chicagoland is a huge market for Audi, so it maintains a significant presence at the show.
As is typical for Audi, it scheduled no premieres in Chicago this year. But, in a departure from its usual full-line display, it utilized its considerable real estate at McCormick Place to showcase an increasingly important part of the brand: Audi Sport.
Audi lined up the current range of U.S. Sport models like race cars poised on a grid: R8 Spyder, RS 3, RS 5 (a debut for Chicago, if not a premiere), TT RS, and RS 7 Performance. An SQ5 and an S7 reinforced the sport theme, and, not to be outclassed, a goodly selection of Audi’s mainstay models rounded out the remainder of the exhibit.
The Misano Red pearl S5 disrupted the display with the energy of a solar flare. RS trim lays extra sinew on the already-muscular flanks of the S5, and the gloss black insert running the length of the extended side sills underlines it all in bold. Aggressive, multifaceted 20” wheels resembling inverted spear points do their part as well, upholding the Audi tradition of alloy artistry.
RS models are about as extroverted as Audi gets, and seeing the whole fleet together is impressive. Their performance credentials are unquestioned, yet the cars are executed with grace and style and an almost obsessive attention to detail. Fortunate are the owners who can acquire them and wring out their potential. But the glow from their halo adds luster to the entire Audi lineup, by design.
Audi has promised a steady stream of new products from its re-invigorated Sport division. The Audi Sport display-within-a-display at the Chicago Auto Show signaled just how serious Audi is about bringing sport to everyday driving. And, virtual reality notwithstanding, there’s still nothing like pressing your nose up against the gleaming sheet metal on an auto show floor.