Audi picked the 2022 Monterey Car Week and Pebble Beach golf course to showcase its future. The three sphere cars are very different, but each makes sense given its particular thrust. The grandsphere rides on platform under the upcoming Q6 e-tron, the urbansphere is the largest Audi ever, while the skysphere is just plain cool.
The Audi grandsphere is an imposing piece. It’s 5,350-millimetres long, 2,000-mm wide and 1,390-mm tall. The outward dimensions bring a spacious and opulent cocoon for its riders in a 2+2 format. The +2 reference sees the rear riders sit on a bench seat (think padded church pew). With the conventionally-hinged front and rear-hinged back doors open it leaves a B-pillar-less design that allows the rider to step into tomorrow’s world of autonomous luxury — there are no pedals or steering wheel to clutter things when the Level 4 autonomous mode is engaged. This leaves a cabin with a first-class lounge-like feel. The clever part is when needed, the grandsphere can autonomously handle the parking and charging chores. When it’s time to drive, the steering wheel powers into position from behind a door in the dash panel.
The displays are equally different. Traditional gauges and display screens are replaced by high-resolution projections onto the interior surfaces. A simple finger gesture brings them to life. The look also changes according to the driving mode. When the driver has the reins, the projection is split between the front seat riders. Pick autonomous mode and it becomes a single projection across the entire width of the cabin. Another neat trick is found between the front seats. The centre console opens to reveal a refrigerated area and a tea/coffee station for hot drinks.
The grandsphere rides on the Audi’s Premium Platform Electric (PPE) architecture. It’s a scalable EV platform designed to work with single-motor (rear-drive) or dual-motor (AWD) models. The Q6 e-tron will be the first to utilize the structure with the A6 and A6 Avant e-tron models following down the road. In the grandsphere’s case, it houses a battery with up to 120 kW/h of power. It drives two electric motors, which produce a net output of around 710 horsepower and 708 pound-feet of torque, so it promises to be, in spite of its mild-manner outward façade, a wild ride.
While the urbansphere was originally developed for use in traffic-dense Chinese megacities, the concept works for other metropolitan centres where congestion is a becoming an increasingly bigger issue. In these cramped urban areas personal space is in short supply, so the concept offers the most interior space of any Audi to date. It, too, is based on the PPE architecture. In this case, it’s 5,510-mm long, 2,010-mm wide and 1,780-mm tall. Pushing the wheels to the corners delivers a 3,400-mm wheelbase, which maximizes the passenger space. The conventionally-hinged front doors and rear-hinged back doors open to deliver unfettered access to the cabin and its four bucket seats. The nit is the front seats do not swivel so they can face the rear seats. A simple change would make the layout more conversational.
The spacious concept acts as a lounge on wheels (or a mobile office) during the daily drudgery called the morning commute. When in autonomous mode the steering wheel, pedals, and conventional dashboard disappear. Now, the displays are projected onto the wooden surfaces below the windshield, creating a funky look.
Like the grandsphere, the urbansphere has a battery capacity of up to 120 kW/h and it drives two motors making 395 hp and 509 lb-ft of torque. The upshot is a 750-km range based on WLTP testing standard. The reality is much, if not all, of the driving will be done in an urban environment, so the battery size will likely end up being closer to 100 kW/h. This would reduce weight without really affecting the overall driving range.
The skysphere is a smart electric two-door roadster. What makes it different is the ability to vary the length of the vehicle using electric motors to slide the body and frame into one another. This allows it to be a 5,190-mm long grand tourer with Level 4 autonomous driving or a nimble 4,940-mm driver-driven sports car. When the wheelbase is shorted by 250-mm, the ground clearance is lowered by 10-mm to improve the aerodynamics and driving dynamics. On that note, it features an adaptive air suspension that taps into the navigation to smooth the ride and four-wheel steering. The latter improves agility and helps to mask the mass when in sportscar mode.
The skysphere uses an 80+ kilowatt/hour battery that’s positioned vertically behind the riders. It has enough juice to deliver a range of more than 500-kilometers based on WLTP testing standard. It drives a rear-mounted motor that twists out 603 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to whisk the 1,800-kilogram ride to 100 kilometres an hour in four seconds.
Inside, there’s a screen that’s 1,415-mm wide and 180-mm high. It occupies the entire dash and gives access to the vehicle, navigation and infotainment functions. In grand tour mode, it can be used to display content from the Internet or stream movies. It is, as this point, pie-in-the-sky, but it does show innovative thinking can produce a seductive, halo-worthy drive.
The three sphere cars are very different. The grandsphere keys on grand touring luxury with Level 4 autonomous driving. It’s also reported to be the basis for an upcoming vehicle (think A8) so expect just as much pomp and circumstance when it does arrive. The urbansphere and its occupant-focused cabin certainly makes a lot of sense with megacities and traffic congestion growing. It, too, has an outside chance of seeing production, even if only to service the Chinese market initially. The skysphere proved to be the hit of the trio. In autonomous mode it’s a large, luxurious grand tourer with a clear focus on comfort. Shorten the body and you unleash something akin to an RS5. It is the most radical and least likely to see production, but in this case two for the price of one really is the best deal.