For the first time, a Russian manufacturer with products from the segment of luxury automobiles presented itself at the Geneva International Motor Show 2019 with the brand Aurus and this presentation was something special. After the entire exhibition stand was hidden behind black curtains until the start of the press conference on the afternoon of 5 March and no detail was visible, it opened on time for the European presentation and CEO Franz Gerhard Hilgert, formerly a long-time employee at Mercedes-Benz, proudly showed his project and team. Now you might ask yourself, dear reader, who or what is Aurus? With this question, you are in the grear majority, even among well-informed motorists, because this new Russian brand, which appeared in its home country for the first time just last year, is just a white sheet of paper outside Putin’s empire.
First, a few words about the history of the brand Aurus. At the times of the Soviet Union, the automotive hierarchy of the leading cadres was clarified. For the absolute leaders of the state and the party there were the products of the brand ZIL (Zawod Imeni Lichatschowa) from Moscow, the oldest Russian manufacturer of trucks, buses and state limousines. At the end of the Soviet era, the 4104 was in state service, a technically hopelessly obsolete vehicle with a 7.7-liter V8 petrol engine, more than 3 tons of weight without armoring and the drinking habits of Boris Yeltsin. The second guard was allowed to use cars from GAZ (Gorkowski Awtomobilny Zawod) of Nizhny Nowgorod, former Gorki, who offered with the Chajka a slightly smaller, but by no means more modern sedan. Private customers weren’t allowed to buy neither the ZIL nor the GAZ. Pictures of both models can be found in our third gallery.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the founding of present-day Russia as a sovereign state, the leading politicians, like many colleagues around the world, used significantly more modern products from Germany, more precisely from the Stuttgart suburb of Untertürkheim, to drive themselves and their state guests through the capital. Until 2012, when Vladimir Putin personally commissioned the Kortezh project, which was subsidized by the Russian state with 12.4 billion rubles (about 167 million euros). The goal was the development of a national state limousine, which should also be exportable to Western markets at the same time. The sole responsibility of this project was transferred to the Moscow Institute NAMI, which was founded in 1918 as Russia’s oldest research center for automotive innovation. Several Russian manufacturers were in the conversation for the production, including ZIL, but they declared bankruptcy in 2013 and had to retire from the project. NAMI is today the largest shareholder of Aurus Ltd. with around 65%.
The first presentation of the finished Aurus became a top priority. After launching this national project in 2012, Vladimir Putin first presented the new sedan for his fourth inauguration as President of the Russian Federation on May 7, 2018, of course in the armored long version L700. This variant was also to see together with the shorter S600 at the first public debut of the Aurus Senat at the Moscow Motor Show at the end of August 2018. Since then, the Russian President proudly takes advantage of some chances to chauffeur foreign guests such as his Egyptian colleague Abdel Fattah el-Sisi through Moscow.
What can motorists expect from the first luxury car developed entirely in modern Russia? Admittedly, brands like Lada, Moskvich and alike are the first ones to think of, when you’re asked about Russian automobiles. The penetrating scent of plastics rises into the imaginary nose and the sticky surfaces of these materials is felt on the hands, so to speak, without actually having them in them. Now let us leave these widespread prejudices behind us, because they have long ceased to apply even to those brands mentioned above. In contrast to the first contact with the Aurus Senat, a trip with a Bentley Mulsanne, Rolls-Royce Ghost or Mercedes-Maybach S 650 is a great way to get into the right mood for the luxurious ambiente of the Russian sedan. Incidentally, this applies to the high-quality interior to the same extent as for the appearance of the Senat. The Aurus is an imposing automobile and it makes no secret of it. Even the ‘short’ S600 reaches a length of 5.63 meters and a width of over two meters. Putin’s state Limousine L700 is exactly one meter longer. Nevertheless, the Russian designers have succeeded in giving the Senat at least in the short version a well-balanced styling. The fact that one or the other view curled over the English Channel to Goodwood in the South of the UK, is already clear with a first view on the Senat. From the graphics of the headlights to the massive upright grille and the sloping line of the passenger compartment and the design of the taillights, everything reminds a lot of the British premium brand with the Spirit of Ecstasy on the grill. Nevertheless, the Aurus has its own appearance with classic lines, that radiate a mixture of nobility and solidity.
The noble impression continues in the interior. Without the discreetly present Aurus lettering, the ambience would also do justice to one of the previously mentioned benchmarks without any deductions. Spacious and comfortably shaped seats welcome driver and passengers. It is striking, that Aurus has designed the Senat S600 consistently as a four-seater without a middle seat in the rear. All passengers, in addition to an opulent sense of space, enjoy the comfort of multi-adjustable individual seats with appropriate air-conditioning and massage options, both front and rear separated by a massive center console, which integrates foldable hinged tables and a cool box in the rear. The high-quality material mix that Aurus processes in the interior of the Senat stands out. In addition to extensively used leather, set off with wood inserts, moving parts, switches and their enclosures are made of aluminium.
The dashboard of the Aurus is a mixture of classic stylistic elements such as the centrally mounted analogue timepiece and the aluminium-enclosed air vents on one side, and modern modern infotainment technology on the other side. In front of the driver, a wide screen provides all necessary and secondary information. The graphic of the display instruments is kept in the classic round design. Visually, the speedometer and rev counter seem to be edged by a dainty aluminium trim, as well as fuel gauge and engine temperature readings integrated into the large display. As otherwise usual with Aston Martin, the scales of the instruments run in opposite directions. To reduce the glare, the top of the dashboard is kept in darker leather even with bright interior trim colors as shown in the exhibit at Geneva Motor Show. Fortunately, Aurus refuses to control the entire operation of the vehicle only via screens. For the air conditioning there is an easy to reach control unit above the center console available, in which the 4-zone climate control can be set up together with seat climate function and massage functions. Other comfort functions can be operated by a controller on the center tunnel, known from BMW vehicles. It offers a pre-selection of the menus via conventional buttons.
Aurus offers its customers extensive possibilities for customization. This includes the types of wood, leather and other upholsteries as well as the colors and is almost limitless. In dialogue with designers and engineers, customers can discuss their individual equipment requirements so that they meet the customer’s ideas and become virtually an individual fingerprint.
Technically, the Aurus Senat models are about as far away from their predecessors ZIL and GAZ Chajka, as the Soviet Union from today’s modern Russia. For the Senat, as the first edition of an upcoming model family, NAMI has developed a completely new platform, which includes state-of-the-art elements. A 4.4-liter V8 engine is responsible for the drive of the Russian sedan, which in combination with an electric motor at the rear axle delivers a total output of 598 hp and transmits them via a nine-speed automatic gearbox to the permanent all-wheel drive system. Thus, the Aurus Senat S600 achieves an acceleration of 6 seconds in the standard sprint to 100 kph (62 mph) and arrives up to 250 kph (155 mph) topspeed. Of course, the new Russian sedan has extensive driver assistance systems such as electronic stability control, cruise control, an automatic emergency braking system, pedestrian detection collision avoidance system, a traffic sign assistant, blind spot assist and other active accident prevention systems. The structure of the chassis and body, however, is designed for maximum damage limitation in the event of an accident, so that the Aurus can already refer to a five-star rating in the EuroNCAP crash test. Furthermore, the Senat models are connected to the ERA-GLONASS automatic emergency notification system. This means that in the event of a traffic accident, information about it is collected and automatically transmitted to emergency services. ERA-GLONASS employees can also be contacted manually at the touch of a button with the help of the infotainment system.
What’s next with Aurus, the first luxury sedan from Russia? Since last fall, the manufacturer has received the first orders and on 15 February 2019, the first two dealerships in Russia have been appointed. The first few vehicles were mounted by NAMI in Moscow. In near future, the production will move to Ulyanovsk in a new plant on the site of the offroad-car manufacturer UAZ, understandable, as Aurus shareholder PAO Sollers also owns the facilities in Ulyanovsk. The production capacity should reach about 5,000 vehicles per year in single-shift operation. On 18 February 2019, an agreement was reached in Abu Dhabi/UAE with Tawazun Holding buying 36% shares in Aurus Ltd. They will invest a total of 110 million euros over the next three years. These funds will be invested in the construction of the series production of Aurus vehicles and the marketing in international markets. Furthermore, the model family will be supplemented by a large van, which is already on the streets of Moscow under the name Arsenal, as well as a luxurious SUV.
Aurus plans first deliveries on the home market for the coming year, as well as first exports. Prices and possible importers in Western European countries haven’t been announced by the manufacturer during the Geneva Motor Show.
Images: Aurus Ltd, Kay Andresen, Matthias Kierse, Archive