Audi has revealed the first of its trio of concepts it will show over the coming year, imagining an autonomous future where the passenger space (the “sphere”) takes paramount importance in design. The skysphere concept you see here is a two-seat roadster that allows occupants to fully enjoy the open-air experience, whether they are driving or being driven.
To that end, Ingolstadt has relied on an old show car favourite, a variable wheelbase. At the push of a button, the skysphere can be stretched some 250 mm, turning a 4.94 m sports roadster into a 5.19 m autonomous cruiser. Users can thus choose between agile handling and maximum legroom, with the wheelbase length changing from being similar to an RS 5 to being equal with an A8 L.
Bringing Audi’s design language into an autonomous and electric future, the skysphere is inspired by the elegant Horch 853 roadster from the 1930s, with a long bonnet, short front overhangs, a low front windscreen and a sweeping rear deck. The front end is dominated by an illuminated flat panel consisting of tiny rhombuses, providing functional indications as well as welcome and departure sequences.
The trademark “singleframe” grille graphic has been retained through the use of silver upper and lower frames, flanked by slim daytime running lights and underlined by a deep chin spoiler. The split bonnet, another cue lifted from the Horch, opens up to reveal the components for the electric drivetrain, the electronics and mechanicals for the variable wheelbase and space for two golf bags.
Along the side, you’ll find the sleek curves of the flared fenders and the prominent side skirts that dig into the rear wheel arches, while the rhombus pattern is repeated in the full-width taillights, looking like a sea of rubies. The transparent rear deck with its pair of buttresses hide two specially-designed overnight bags, held in place using criss-cross straps.
Inside, there’s a 56-inch touchscreen that spans the entire width of the dashboard, along with another vertical display on the centre console and touch pads on the doors to control the air-conditioning. The rest of the cabin, including the two heavily-bolstered chairs, is upholstered in turquoise microfibre and faux leather and features certified sustainable eucalyptus wood and a hidden high-quality surround sound system.
The real theatre happens when the car is shortened. The front end and side rocker panels move rearwards, covering the transparent decorative panels ahead of the doors. The driver’s section of the interior display, the oblong steering wheel and the flush pedals also all pop out and the passenger seat moves rearward to give the driver the dominant position. The lighting signature also changes, particularly at the front.
Thereafter, the driver takes full control of the electric powertrain. In a departure from Audi tradition, the motor is situated at the rear of the car, sending 465 kW (632 PS) and 750 Nm of torque solely to the rear wheels. Despite the massive size, Audi is claiming a weight of only 1,800 kg, with the 40:60 front-to-rear weight distribution providing ample traction and allowing the skysphere to reach 100 km/h in four seconds.
Suspension is made up of forged and cast aluminium double wishbones all around, plus a steer-by-wire system, rear-wheel steering and triple-chamber air springs. For a sportier ride, the individual chambers can be locked out, while the ride height can be lowered by up to 10 mm to reduce drag, especially at high speeds.
This, together with the intricate flat-faced 23-inch wheels and the 80 kWh battery, provide a claimed WLTP range of more than 500 km. Audi says that the skysphere is capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, allowing it to not only drive itself but also pick up passengers and handle charging and parking on its own.
Following the car on the company’s debut schedule will be the grandsphere concept due to be shown on September 2 ahead of the Munich Motor Show, which is set to preview the replacement for the flagship A8. The urbansphere concept will make its world premiere next year.
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