- The Audi Activesphere is the latest in the “Sphere” concept series, and takes the form of an off-road oriented crossover with a coupe-like roofline.
- The highlight is the cabin, which uses augmented reality for all vehicle controls—such as navigation, climate and entertainment—instead of a screen.
- Another interesting feature on the Activesphere is the split tailgate, which sees the rear glass slide up to turn the cargo area into an exposed bed for transporting bikes and other gear.
The Audi Activesphere concept blurs the lines between automotive segments, combining a car-like sloping roofline with a defined stance and ride height. The fourth in Audi’s “Sphere” concept series—following the Skysphere roadster, the Grandsphere sedan and the Urbansphere minivan—the Aktifsphere envisions a sleek, stylish crossover that supports an outdoor lifestyle and showcases the new technologies Audi hopes to implement in the coming decade.
Like its concept counterpart, the Activesphere is electric, riding on the PPE platform that will underpin the upcoming A6 e-tron as well as Porsche’s electric Macan. The 100.0-kWh battery provides more than 370 miles of range, and electric motors on the front and rear axles combine for 436 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque. The PPE also features an 800-volt electric architecture, allowing the battery to add a range of around 186 miles in 10 minutes at 270 kW. Audi also claims the battery can go from 5 to 80 percent in less than 25 minutes.
The Activesphere stretches nearly as long as the gas-powered Audi Q8, but it’s 3.0 inches wider, stands about 4.0 inches lower and has a 1.0-inch shorter wheelbase. The concept uses air suspension with adaptive dampers and 22-inch wheels wrapped in 285/55 tires designed to tackle a variety of terrain. The wheels feature active aero—opening when off-road for cooling and closing when on pavement for increased efficiency. The camera replaces the traditional side-view mirror to reduce drag, increasing range.
The focus on off-road exploration led to a see-through interpretation of the “Singleframe” grille that has graced Audis for the past two decades, so that the driver can better detect obstacles in front of the vehicle. The bottom of the door is also glass. The 8.2-inch ride height can be raised by 1.6 inches when leaving the asphalt, and Audi quotes the approach angle at a good 18.9 degrees while the departure angle is a more versatile 28.1 degrees.
One of Activesphere’s most interesting features is the “active back.” Basically the tailgate splits, the bottom folds down like on a pickup truck while the rear glass slides up, turning the cargo area into a small bed that can fit a pair of bikes. A motorized bulkhead behind the rear seat keeps the cabin closed, and ski racks are integrated into the roof. The Activesphere is the first Audi designed with split rear doors, but the brand is coy about production possibilities.
Audi gets very experimental in the Activesphere cabin. There’s still a steering wheel and pedals, but the physical controls can be folded away when autonomous driving is activated. Straight lines dominate the simple dashboard, which includes a full-width sound bar and air vents. Red trim appears on a black background, and the center console has heated and cooled beverage storage.
You may have noticed that Activesphere supports the giant touchscreen trend. That’s because of the whole interior is screen, thanks to the widespread use of augmented reality. Four headsets—stored in a console on the roof—allow occupants to engage with what the automaker calls the “Audi dimension.” The system basically overlays information and controls what you can physically see and interact with in the real world—similar to what Iron Man uses to work on his suit in the Marvel movies, though you’ll need to wear special glasses and probably won’t be as charismatic as Robert Downey Jr.
Vehicle status, navigation and entertainment are all included in the augmented reality interface, and the system tracks the user’s eyes, calling up more detailed information if the user focuses on a particular menu or display. Gesture controls allow users to interact with the virtual controls they see just as they would with physical controls, rotating to adjust dials or tapping to click buttons.
Augmented reality can also extend beyond the cabin—when off-road, topographic maps can be projected onto the surrounding environment, while traffic information, routes and safety warnings can also be overlaid on the driver’s view of the road while commuting. Meanwhile, passengers can view their own individual feeds, adjust their climate or entertainment settings or research restaurants or activities for the final destination. Audi also says the headset can be used outside the car, either to monitor the vehicle’s condition or during sports such as skiing or cycling.
While the Activesphere’s exterior design doesn’t look too far-fetched, the sci-fi interior is definitely years—if not decades—from production. Still, the unorthodox crossover provides a glimpse into Audi’s crystal ball, hinting at what the electric brand’s future might look like and the technology Audi is developing that could change the way we use the inside of our cars.
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