Audi's new vision for future electrified driving is the Activesphere concept, a tall electric coupe that can transform from a sporty and autonomous, long-range highway cruiser to a go-anywhere off-road pickup in moments thanks to its mighty morphing body.
The Activesphere is the fourth in a series of Sphere-themed concepts that includes the Skysphere roadster with its variable wheelbase, the Grandsphere large D-segment sedan and Urbansphere compact MPV with big interior space. None of these concepts are literally spherical in shape, the suffix refers to Audi's meta-concept of design "spheres," where the vehicle's interior space and even structure shape around the occupant's needs.
The Activesphere is a sleek four-door sportback with a coupe-like roofline and an elevated ride height inspired by Audi's Allroad series of lifted wagons. Measuring 196 inches long by 81.5 inches wide with a longish 117-inch wheelbase, the new concept's footprint is roughly similar to that of the A6 E-Tron concept, but, with an overall height of 63 inches, it's notably taller.
Up front, Audi's signature singleframe grill has been replaced with a transparent glass panel that allows passengers to look down and see the road passing beneath their feet. The glass cut-outs in the concept's doors and its almost completely glass roof help the already spacious cabin feel even more open.
Audi Activesphere Is a Transforming All-Terrain EVSee all photos
Like the Skysphere concept, which could stretch its wheelbase on demand to shift between sport and grand touring modes, the Activesphere is something of a transformer itself. The concept can raise its chassis by 1.6 inches in seconds, increasing its 8.2-inch ride height to 9.8 inches for enhanced off-road performance. This isn't just a simple suspension lift either. The Activesphere's body also stretches vertically, exposing a more beefy lower sill design and boosting the approach and departure angles of 18.9 and 28.1 degrees, respectively.
The concept rides on large 22-inch wheels with moveable segments that can close to improve aerodynamics for high on-road velocities or open for improved ventilation at low off-road speeds. Chunky Pirelli Active Tread 285/22 R22 provide contact patches suitable for roads and trails.
Even the sportback hatch is reconfigurable. The rear storage area is able to transform into a small pickup truck bed on demand thanks to a fold-down tailgate, a rear window that slides forward to sit flush with the roof and a midgate divider that flips up to separate the cabin from the bed. Integrated mounting points and tie-downs allow the small bed to accommodate a pair of mountain bikes or a couple sets of golf clubs. When closed up, the Activesphere's roof also integrates mounting points for ski or snowboard racks.
Augmented reality, automated driving
The Activesphere's cabin is remarkably minimalist with four, independently suspended seats and a wrap-around dashboard that integrates a powerful soundbar, but is almost completely devoid of screens. There's only a small, single-line display that shows speed and battery charge -- not even a steering wheel can be found in the Activesphere's default state. The only physical controls are a pair of small knobs that seem to double as door handles.
Audi was able to get rid of the physical screens because the Activesphere uses virtual displays that you view through mixed reality glasses and hand-tracked gesture controls. Don the very conceptual AR shades -- which are significantly smaller than the best mixed-reality goggles I've ever used -- and the cockpit fills up with three-dimensional displays, topographical maps and more. The physical controls also blossom with extra layers of virtual function; you can even "grab" the controls and move them virtually to wherever in the cabin you like.
Audi envisions this as a Level 4 autonomous concept, capable of driving itself without the need for a steering wheel. Simply plot your course in the mixed reality interface and the concept will get you where you're going. However, the automaker also understands that there are times where you might want to drive yourself, so the Activesphere can deploy a steering wheel when needed for piloted driving. Mixed reality also plays a role when the human is in control, displaying detailed information about the concept's performance.
Quattro electric drive
The transforming chassis is wild and the mixed reality cabin is, for now, more sci-fi vision than reality, but the electric powertrain that underpins the Activesphere is based on real, production-ready tech. The concept is constructed on a modified version of the Premium Platform Electric electric vehicle architecture that Audi shares with Porsche.
Dual electric motors -- one for the front axle and one for the rear -- make up the concept's independent Quattro electric all-wheel drive system, cranking out 409 horsepower (305 kilowatts) and 531 pound-feet of torque combined. With a large 100 kWh battery pack to draw from, the Audi estimates around 373 miles of range for the concept. Charging should also be quick thanks to the 800-volt architecture's ability to gobble up a DC fast charge at 270 kW -- quick enough to add 186 miles with a 10-minute session or a 25-minute boost from 5% to 80%.
For now, Audi is just letting its designers stretch their conceptual legs. We may eventually see this tall-coupe silhouette or certain design details in upcoming production and concept cars, but the automaker currently has no plans to build a vehicle based on the ideas presented in the Activesphere.
"We at Audi never say never, but the Audi Activesphere is at the moment a pure concept vehicle and no decisions have been made regarding series production," Josef Schlossmacher, Audi Communication states when asked before going on to say that "at the moment there are no other projects [in Audi's portfolio] with such a pickup body."
In the meantime, the upcoming Audi A6 and Q6 E-Tron models and the Porsche Macan EV will be the first production electric vehicles to ride on the PPE platform. We expect to learn more about those production debuts later this year.