Audi has saved the most intriguing—and arguably, most American—of its four sphere concepts for last: an electric pickup.
Well, sort of. The Activesphere concept is “a master of metamorphosis,” as Audi puts it—a coupelike hatchback with an elongated roofline, in which the entire rear section folds horizontally, then opens up to a cargo bed that’s large enough for e-bikes or perhaps an ATV. A flush ski rack is integrated into the roof structure, and the suicide-style rear doors mean there’s no middle pillar.
The sphere concepts, presented over the past couple of years, include the Skysphere sports car, Grandsphere flagship, and Urbansphere city-themed aerovan. Altogether the four—one for each ring in Audi’s logo—create a vision of the brand’s future electric vehicle design that also incorporates automated driving.
Design-wise, the Activesphere concept would be the easiest to visualize as a production model. It presents a unique middle ground between sleek and stocky, harnessing what Audi has with the A7 hatchback and shifting it into its electric E-Tron lineup while giving it a rugged Allroad treatment.
“The Activesphere is unique,” said Gael Buzyn, the manager of the Audi Design Studio in Malibu, California, where the concept was designed. “It is a new type of crossover that cleverly combines the elegance of an Audi Sportback, the practicality of a SUV, and true off-road capabilities.”
A new look as E-Tron EVs become the core
Longtime Audi fans will likely at first glance lock onto one of the big record-scratches of the design: The singleframe grille, a brand mainstay, is gone, in favor of a smoother look, albeit with a jagged undercut that lends the design a bit of personality.
The Activesphere is 196.1 inches long by 81.5 inches wide and 63.0 inches high, and it rides on a 116.5-inch wheelbase. As Audi officials pointed out, that’s roughly the size of the upcoming A6 E-Tron—and, perhaps, a more America-savvy take on the A6 E-Tron Avant.
Like that model, the Activesphere is built on the 800-volt PPE platform, and it rides on an adaptive air suspension. Front and rear electric motors make a combined 436 hp and 531 lb-ft of torque. There’s a dedicated off-road mode.
A modularized battery pack with a capacity of about 100 kwh takes advantage of the full width between front and rear axles for a lower height. Audi says advances in charging—developed further from the E-Tron GT and Porsche Taycan—will allow a 5-80% charge in less than 25 minutes, or about 190 miles of range recovered in 10 minutes.
Audi claims a range of more than 373 miles, but it that’s likely on the more lenient WLTP cycle and this is only a concept car.
Cabin built around “mixed reality” moments
Switch to Level 4 automated driving capability and the interior gets reconfigured as a lounge. Four individual seats are suspended as if they’re attached to the dominant center console running the length of the cabin. Overall, the interior design is very clean, and it takes on some of the themes in the Grandsphere but steps deeper into a future of “mixed reality” interface moments.
That interface depends largely on the idea of mixed reality headsets that the driver and passengers will wear to experience the cabin and surroundings and interact with the vehicle. A mix of hardware, software, and super-fast processing and data connections will be needed to make it all work.
In Lounge mode, gesture control will take care of most controls, while the transition to driver control, with the steering wheel reappearing and the interface and info transitioning to become driver-focused, is the “hero moment,” Audi notes.
Will this “crossover study” make it to production? Audi says all of these sphere concepts include some ideas and design themes that are meant for production. As for which ones, the Activesphere is likely hauling a load of them.
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