What Could Be the Most Versatile Audi?
Over the past couple of years, Audi has been using its “sphere” concept cars to show how the company will be adapting to the future of electrified mobility. Each of these high-end luxury concepts targeted a different use case. The Skysphere was an indulgent two-seat roadster; the Grandsphere was a look at the future of the luxury sedan; and the Urbansphere was a large people-mover for those wanting to be driven.
The latest, and final, of these concept cars is the new Audi Activesphere, a four-door crossover for drivers with an adventurous spirit. Shaped like a coupe, but able to convert into a variety of body configurations, it’s arguably the most versatile Audi ever, and is a preview of the company’s vision for future crossovers and SUVs. Looking at the Activesphere, that future includes an raised ride height, huge wheels, and an elegantly-shaped body that can transform into a pickup truck at the touch of a button.
Audi Activesphere: Design and Drive
Audi says that the Activesphere crosses all boundaries, with a drive system and suspension that make it equally comfortable both on- and off-road, and with the ability to operate semi-autonomously to relieve the stress of driving in traffic. It was conceived at the Audi Design Studio in Malibu, California, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Coast Highway – a road that connects the worlds of surfing and outdoor recreation to the bustle and glitz of Los Angeles. In its shape-shifting variability, the Activesphere is designed to join those two worlds.
This is a big vehicle, which should suit American tastes. Long and wide, the Activesphere sits on a long wheelbase, which provides maximum interior space for passengers and allows for appealingly shot overhangs at the front and rear. Huge 22-inch wheels equipped with 285/55 tires are designed to tackle all terrains, and feature movable segments, which open up for maximum ventilation off-road, while closing up to form an aerodynamic disc on-road. The ride height is also variable, and can be increased by over an inch for traversing off-road obstacles, or lowered for better efficiency and range on the freeway.
Probably the coolest part of the Activesphere’s body are the glass surfaces you see all over the body, lending it a transparent, airy feel. Audi’s signature single-frame “grille” has become a transparent panel giving passengers a better view through the front of the car, and there are glass panels on the lower parts of the doors to dissolve the boundary between the natural world and the interior. The roof and tailgate are also huge glass panels, letting plenty of daylight into the interior. Traditional plastic SUV body cladding has been reimagined as high-gloss “arctic teal” on the lower surfaces.
Out back, the Activesphere combines the sleek rear tailgate of its sportback models, the off-road feel of its all-road models, and some new features to make it incredibly versatile without sacrificing any elegance. The lower, vertical segment of the rear end folds horizontally to open up a large cargo bed called the “active back” that features brackets that can easily fasten down surfboards or e-bikes, of other lifestyle gear. A motorized bulkhead deploys from behind the rear seats to isolate the cabin from the elements when the rear is in pickup mode. Up top, a roof rack is completely flush when not needed, but extends when required to hold skis or other objects.
From the Inside Out
As innovative as the Activesphere’s exterior is, like the other Audi “sphere” concepts, the design of the vehicle actually started from the inside out. Its interior was created before the exterior – and only then were the package, proportions, and lines of the exterior created.
Access to the Activesphere’s interior is through wide-open doors with no b-pillars. Vertical and horizontal surfaces meeting a right angles dominate the architecture. Most of the surfaces are in black, anthracite, and dark grey, with the seats and door panels in contrasting lava red. The seats themselves are formed of separate bottom, back, and shoulder surfaces to look light and elegant.
Like many concept cars, this model imagines situations where it will drive itself. In autonomous mode, the dashboard, steering wheel, and pedals disappear, which opens a wide space in front of the driver, all the way to the glassed-in front end. The dashboard works like an extra-large sound bar, and also contains full-width air vent. When the driver wants to take the wheel, the dashboard and steering wheel swivel out from a flush position below the windshield.
If the driver wants to take over the wheel, the dashboard, along with the steering wheel, swivels out from its flush position below the windshield – each driver can adjust the ideal ergonomic position individually.
Built on an all-electric architecture, the Activesphere has no transmission tunnel, but it does have a large, floating center console which offers a huge amount of storage space as well as an on-board cooled or heated beverage holder. Its top cover is transparent, providing a view of the bottles and glasses. There’s also a console on the roof, where four augmented-reality headsets are kept within easy reach for all occupants. They provide users access to a huge array of functions and information while keeping the cabin clean.
800-Volt Drivetrain and Range
While the Activesphere is just a concept and you won’t be able to buy a production version anytime soon at your local dealer, it is actually built on technology you will be able to buy.
Activesphere is built on the latest generation of Audi’s PPE, for “Premium Platform Electric,” which will be used as the basis of its production models starting in 2023. Designed from the start for electric drive, it maximizes interior space and provides up-to-date technology that can be applied to different sizes and different vehicle types.
In the Activesphere concept, the elongated platform has a large 100-kWh battery and uses the entire width of the car between the axles to house the battery, making it incredibly space-efficient. The battery powers electric motors on the front and rear axles to deliver 435 horsepower and 531 lb-ft of torque.
The PPE platform is built on an 800-volt architecture, which ensures that the battery can be charged very quickly – in this case at up to 270 kW – at Level 3 fast charging stations. At maximum charging speed, it takes just 10 minutes to suck in enough electrons to drive an additional 186 miles. Total range, Audi says, is 380 miles.