If there is one automaker that can be credited for having a futurist corporate philosophy, it’s Audi. After Tesla cleared the runway, it could be argued that Audi was one of the first major legacy automakers to make an earnest push to adopt EVs into its lineup. It all started with the e-Tron concept back in 2009, and from there, Audi made a slow drip with hybrid models until today with several BEV options available in its line up including the Audi e-Tron SUV and e-Tron GT coupe. Audi’s line up is fairly impressive, but it appears that they have no plans to rest on its laurels. To give potential buyers a peek at the company’s future, Audi has steadily released three “sphere” concept cars all of which are tailor made to address different environments and tastes of vehicle owners in the not-too-distant future.
So far we’ve seen the Skysphere coupe, Grandsphere luxury sedan, and Urbansphere which is tailor made for major metropolitan areas. A week ago, Audi gave us the first look at its newest concept: the Activesphere. As you may have deduced from the name, this concept was designed with nature-loving weekend warriors in mind. We wouldn’t blame you if you’re not sure exactly how to classify this concept. When taking in the concept’s exterior design, if you squint a little it almost looks as if an A5 sportback coupe mated with an e-Tron GT and had a very sleek baby. That baby was then cradled on a lifted suspension and has dimensions similar to the A6 sedan. However, Audi describes the Activesphere as a “luxury coupe that turns into a pickup.” Don’t worry, it will all become clear in a moment. For now, just think of it as a crossover.
One glance at the massive tires wrapped around 22-inch wheels tells you that Audi built the Activesphere to handle traveling off the beaten path when required. The Activesphere can even increase its ground clearance for more challenging off-road situations. The stance and rollers certainly do give the concept very “rugged” vibes, but the interior is still a study in futuristic luxury design. Audi told us that it wants users to think of the interiors of its “sphere” concepts as “living spaces” which is why they tend to be on the minimalistic side at first glance. It is also why the sphere concepts are all imagined with level 4 autonomy at which a steering wheel and pedals may not even be required. In the case of the Activesphere, it provides a bit of both. A dashboard and steering wheel are available should the driver want or need to take over but when not in use, it all folds away completely.
So, if the dashboard folds away, how do users interact with the Activesphere’s various features? The answer to this may just be one of the coolest things about this EV concept. The Activesphere’s UI and UX are almost completely designed with augmented reality (AR) in mind. From Audi’s perspective, by the time a vehicle like this would be ready for the mass-market, AR glasses and headsets will be more common. As such, when the user dons their AR device of choice, the Activesphere will instantly pair with it and project the UI in 3D space in front of the main user and anyone else also wearing an AR device. The UI can then be controlled with hand gestures which is basically means this car turns its passengers into Tony Stark. We’re pretty big Iron Man fans around here so we’re crossing our figures that this aspect of Audi’s vision of the future comes to fruition.
We’re also equally intrigued by the fold-away dashboard, but that isn’t the only way the Activesphere can create more space for itself. The rear glass can slide up onto the roof of the vehicle which reveals a truck bed-like cargo space complete with a tailgate that folds down. During the this transformation a second piece of glass slides up to separate the passenger space from the newly exposed rear cargo area. This is what Audi meant when it likened the concept to a pickup truck. Don’t get it twisted though, this isn’t the kind of truck bed built for hard labor and catching sacks of gravel in slow motion like you see in commercials. This bed is designed to carry high-end bicycles or maybe a moderate amount of camping and hiking gear. It also has all the proper bits needed to attach a roof rack for additional storage.
So, the Activesphere has unconventional—but interesting—looks, an interior straight out of a Marvel film, and an on-demand truck bed which is all great stuff, but what about performance? Ironically, that is probably where this far out concept is the most down-to-Earth. The Activesphere has dual electric motors which combine for 436 horsepower and 530 ft-lb of torque. Audi says its 100 kWh battery is good for over 370 miles of range. The 800-volt fast charging allows the EV to gain roughly 186 miles of range in just 10 minutes when on a 270 kW charging station. However, we are talking about a concept here so don’t get too excited. It’s promising to see Audi target that kind of performance but it may be awhile before any of its offerings can achieve those numbers.
For now, the “sphere” concepts serve as a way to peek into some of the ideas that Audi is playing with that could make their way into near-future production vehicles. Color us interested to see just how much of these high-tech features make it onto the road in the next 5 years or so.
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