Audi has taken the wraps off the first of the three ‘sphere’ EV concepts. Unveiled at the Monterey Car Week in Pebble Beach, California, the Audi Skysphere concept gives us a first glimpse of the brand’s next generation design language. The Skysphere is an electric two-door convertible that was developed around the principles of Level 4 autonomy, which means the car can drive unaided on roads equipped with the necessary infrastructure.
- The Skysphere concept has a variable wheelbase
- Previews Audi’s next-generation ‘progressive luxury’ design language
- Doubles up as both an autonomous grand tourer and driver-focused sportscar
- Powered by a 624hp electric motor mounted on the rear axle
Audi Skysphere: design and styling
The Skysphere is designed as a pure-electric vehicle but maintains an extended front bonnet reminiscent of traditional grand touring machines. Gael Buzyn, the head of Audi’s Malibu design studio, who led the work on the concept, said this was to add a “classic sense of prestige”. He added: “An electric powertrain gives us a lot of freedom, so we can do a lot of [different] things, but that wasn’t the exercise here.”
A key inspiration for the dimensions and proportions of the Skysphere was a version of the Horch 853 roadster that was produced in the late 1930s by one of the four firms that merged to form Auto Union.
The concept has a variable wheelbase, which works by extending the bodywork ahead of the A-pillar to offer two different driving experiences: one as an autonomous luxury grand tourer, the other a more focused sports car.
The Skysphere is 5,190mm long in its extended form, sits on large, 23-inch wheels and weighs around 1,800kg. In Sport driving mode, the wheelbase is shortened to 4,940mm and the ground clearance reduced by 10mm to offer a more engaging driving experience. The extra length is created through an extendable section in front of the A-pillar.
While its dimensions are retro, the Skysphere’s design is forward-looking and serves to closely preview the next-generation of Audi’s ‘progressive luxury’ design language. It retains Audi’s single-frame grille. Instead of providing cooling air to an engine radiator, however, the surface of the grille is made from white LEDs that can display moving light sequences, including functional systems such as indicators. Another LED panel runs the width of the car’s rear.
The ‘engine bay’ is used to house the electric drive components, including the charger and converter, while the boot has been designed to accommodate two custom-designed golf bags. Like most bespoke electric cars, the concept features short overhangs, with the wheels pushed as far as possible towards the corners.
Audi Skysphere: interior and technology
Audi is promoting interior design as a key priority for its ‘sphere’ concepts in order to showcase the possibilities enabled by autonomous vehicles. In the case of the Skysphere, Audi has created an interior that is designed to offer both grand tourer levels of comfort in autonomous mode and a more driver-focused experience when called for. Buzyn said the aim was to offer a feeling of space that previously wasn’t possible in a convertible.
The interior design is inspired by 1930s art-deco architecture. The seats are upholstered in sustainably produced microfibre and are designed to offer comfort comparable to those in a first-class cabin on a plane, and in autonomous mode the steering wheel and pedals retract into the dashboard. The interior trim is finished in eucalyptus wood and authentically produced imitation leather.
The dashboard is dominated by a futuristic touch-sensitive surface that measures 1,415mm wide and 180mm high, and which is used for all of the vehicle controls and infotainment systems. When the driver-focused Sport mode is selected, the instrument panel adjusts the controls and screens to best suit the driver.
Audi Skysphere: powertrain and platform
Audi insisted that, as a pure concept, the Skysphere isn’t based on a specific production car platform, although it likely showcases some of the possibilities of the Volkswagen Group’s forthcoming SSP architecture.
The Skysphere is powered by a 624hp electric motor, that’s mounted on the rear axle and sends all of its power to the rear wheels. It delivers 750Nm of torque and can achieve 0-100kph in a claimed 4.0sec.
The battery modules are mostly sited behind the cabin in order to optimize the centre of gravity, although further modules are placed in a central tunnel between the seats. Audi said battery capacity “is expected” to exceed 80kWh, enabling a theoretical range of 496km on the WLTP cycle. There are double wishbone axles at both ends of the car, with a steer-by-wire steering system that enables different ratios and settings to be programmed easily.
The Skysphere also features the latest version of Audi’s adaptive air suspension system, which uses three independent air chambers and is key to offering the versatility of handling required for both sports and autonomous modes.
Audi’s future plan with the Sphere concepts
While Audi insisted that there are currently no production plans for the machine, the firm did say a vehicle like the Skysphere concept “will become a platform for experiences that expand horizons beyond the mere ride in just a few years”. While the Skysphere may officially be a pure concept, the flexible SSP architecture being developed by the Volkswagen Group would allow for a similar GT.
Up next will be the Grandsphere concept, which previews the forthcoming ‘Landjet’ A8 successor, and will be shown at September’s Munich motor show. Meanwhile, the Urbansphere concept, which is set to be unveiled in 2022, will preview an autonomous SUV that is also likely to reach production as part of Audi’s new-era product line-up.
Audi in India
The German carmaker recently launched its first all-electric model in India – the e-tron SUV and e-tron Sportback – and following the launch of the RS5, Audi has a slew of new SUVs lined up for launch this year. This includes the all-new Q3 and facelifted versions of the Q5 and Q7 SUVs. Audi also has an all-new version of the A3 sedan coming up later this year.
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