Around 2004 things changed. Former Alfa Romeo styling boss Walter de' Silva joined Audi in 2002 and made a strong, controversial mark in the form of a new grille design. Visually, the grille appears to drape over the bumper to terminate close to the bottom edge of the car. In actuality, there are two openings, one above and another below the bumper. The bumper part of the ensemble is clad in black material and in many cases is hidden by a license plate. The overall effect is ponderous: a nose-heavy appearance on what had been fairly graceful designs. I figured at the time that Audi would revert back to a more conventional front. But it did not. De' Silva's theme has continued for ten models years and counting. Moreover, Audi is doing well in the marketplace, slowly closing in on rivals BMW and Mercedes.
The main Audi models marketed here in the USA are the A4, A6 and A8, known internally respectively as B, C and D series. To illustrate Audi grille design evolution, I'll focus on the A6.
Here is the Audi A6 before de' Silva got his hands on it. A clean, dignified design, but not very exciting. The Audi identity come in the form of the overlapping Auto Union circles on the grille.
What de' Silva did was drape the grille surround across the bumper, tying together what were two separate openings on the C5 series front end. The result is heavy looking because the shape is large and because it also draws the eye towards the lower edge of the body.
The grille has fewer crossbars, the lower edge of the facing flows, and LED lights are included on the headlamp ensemble.
Recent Audis are getting faintly hexagonal grille shapes with the slight squaring off of what were rounded corners at the top.
Auto Union was the ancestor of today's Audi. I wonder if de' Silva was thinking of these tall grilles when he was pondering the present Audi theme.