Audi has revealed the ‘Urbansphere concept, an-all electric multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) that prioritizes interior space and autonomous technology for use primarily in Chinese ‘megacities.’
Following on from the ‘Skysphere’ and ‘Grandsphere’ concepts, unveiled last year as showcases for autonomous sports cars and “progressive luxury” respectively, the Urbansphere offers the largest interior space seen in any Audi to date, one primarily for use in traffic in heavily-populated areas of the Chinese market, such as Shanghai.
The concept was produced as a collaborative exercise between Audi’s main development team in Ingolstadt and the German brand’s design studios in Beijing, the latter inspired by potential and/or existing customers in China.
Designed from the inside out, the Urbansphere is a massive 5,510 mm (18 ft) long – the largest concept to date from Audi – and 2,010 mm (6.5 ft) wide, stands 1,780 mm (just under 6 ft) tall, and sits atop a 3,400 mm (11 ft) wheelbase. Interior space is, unquestionably, the “foundation” of the design, with even the removal of B-pillars and the addition of counter-hinged doors used to promote the openness of the cabin.
The rear features just two individual seats – as opposed to an MPV’s standard one or two rear-bench setup – both of which can recline by up to 60 degrees and feature extending leg rests. Both seats can be swivelled towards each other for a more social arrangement, though the headrests, into which “sound zone” speakers have been implemented, can also be maneuvered into a privacy screen akin to a business class pod on a plane. Individual monitors have been mounted in the front seat backs, but a “large-format” roof-mounted OLED cinema screen (affixed to a brace that cleaves the panoramic sunroof in-two) can fold down from the roof lining should both rear passengers need to video conference together. Or happen to be watching the same film.
A water dispenser, with glasses, has been incorporated into the centre console between the rear seats, which also swivels upwards for ease of use. Individual switchgear and screens for climate control are part of each door’s wooden trim.
On top of this, facial scanning and voice analysis form part of the concept’s ‘Stress Detection’ system, which determines how each rear passenger is feeling and suggests ways to help them relax, including ‘private zone’ headphones and/or meditation apps. This is just part of the autonomous technology showcased on the Urbansphere, which effectively acts as a preview to Level 4 driver assistance Audi is co-developing with CARIAD, the Volkswagen Group’s software arm, and which the German brand hopes to unveil later this decade.
Significantly, in one of its showcased forms, the Urbansphere features no steering wheel, no pedals and no driver-focused instrument clusters whatsoever, thus essentially creating a fully-autonomous, “third living space” between work and home.
Though featuring many of Audi’s traditional design elements like a blanked-off ‘Singleframe’ grille, the slim headlights (“digital eyes”), and boasting a silhouette similar to Audi’s ‘90s ‘Avus’ concept car, heavy focus on the interior design has resulted in the MPV-like physique, as opposed to the latter dictating the former. An interesting addition is the “Light Canvas” matrix visor of LEDs lights at the front and the rear, which extend the full width of the MPV and are can be use to clearly communicate turn signals and brake lights, etc, to other road users.
In-keeping with its sheer size, the Urbansphere rolls atop 24-inch, six double-spoke wheels.
Built on top of Audi’s PPE platform, propulsion comes courtesy of two electric motors, offering quad-wheel-drive, which produce a combined 396 hp and 509 lb ft of torque. Though its full capacity is unconfirmed, the Urbansphere’s battery “holds more than 120 kWh,” enough for an estimated electric range of up to 750 km. Capable of being charged at up to 270 kW, five to 80 per cent of charge is available in less than 25 minutes and “more than 300 km” can be added in just 10. Interestingly, the Level 4 autonomous tech means the Urbansphere is capable not just of driving itself, but “independently takes care of finding a parking space and charging the battery,” suggesting the latter can be done wirelessly.