Nobody likes driving in the city, but if you think it’s bad in Toronto or Montreal, try Shanghai or Delhi. Getting around in megacities populated by more than 10 or even 20 million people won’t be easy, but Audi hopes its new urbansphere concept car could at least make those journeys more pleasant.
The urbansphere was designed with extensive input from some of Audi’s Chinese customers at the brand’s design studio in Beijing. Because personal space is such a precious commodity in big cities, the concept has the most spacious and airy cabin of any Audi to date. It’s a large vehicle — longer and wider even than a long-wheelbase A8 L, which explains why huge 24-inch wheels don’t look out of place on it.
Customers asked for a “self-confident but not aggressive” vehicle, said Florian Liese, the exterior designer behind the project. The resulting vehicle looks unlike any other Audi. It has the one-box silhouette of a minivan, but it doesn’t having sliding doors. The team went for portal-style rear doors that open backwards because they offer a much more cinematic way to enter and exit. “It’s staging; it has a lot more atmosphere,” another one of the car’s designers explained. When the doors open, the car rolls out a red carpet of light, projecting onto the ground.
The interior was a major focus of course, because occupants will be spending a lot of time in there. There’s no getting around city traffic in a car, so you might as well make the most of that time. To that end, the car can be used as a new kind of highly-configurable personal space, letting rear-seat passengers relax, work, catch up with friends, or even sleep. Air suspension keeps the ride comfortable. Wood and wool are used throughout the cabin to create “clearly structure and calm zones” for passengers. With just two rows and seating only for four occupants, it’s about as close as you can get to a first-class airplane experience on the road. Liese described the whole car as a “wellbeing sphere.” It’ll even sense if occupants are feeling stressed, and then try to calm the mood by changing the car’s ambiance.
The rear seats can swivel toward each other, for conversation, or swivel outward to make egress more elegant. A privacy screen mounted behind the headrest swivels around in case you just want to sleep. And, so you don’t disturb your neighbour, each seat also has its own “sound zone” with built-in speakers. A huge OLED cinema screen pivots down from the ceiling for zoom calls or watching movies. When folded up, the screen is transparent, so as not to block the view out the panoramic glass roof. There’s also a movable centre console — which swivels up or down as required — containing glasses and a water dispenser.
Naturally, since this is a concept car, it’s designed to drive itself. The steering wheel and pedals retract when not needed, and — while you relax — an onboard AI assistant can make restaurant reservations or score concert tickets.
Given that some megacities around the world have already announced plans to ban combustion-engine cars from their downtown cores, any future city-car would need to be electric. However, since the distances travelled in urban areas tend to be quite short, maximum driving-range isn’t such an issue. Now, this is just a concept, so take these numbers with a grain of salt, but Audi claims the urbansphere could gain 300 kilometres of driving range in just 10 minutes of charging thanks to the car’s 800-volt electrical architecture. Total range would be around 750 km (as estimated on the generous WLTP test) but if you stick to low-speed city driving, Audi said the car could travel even farther. A typical commuter might only need to recharge the battery once a week, if that.
The urbansphere complete a trio of Audi -sphere concept cars. The first, which debuted last summer, was the skysphere, an electric convertible with a variable wheelbase. It transforms from self-driving grand-tourer into compact sports car at the push of a button. The second concept was the grandsphere, which was unveiled at the most recent Munich motor show. Rumour has it that concept could be an early look at an upcoming full-size luxury EV from Audi.
The only question now is which of these three sphere concepts do you want the most? Speak up and make your voice heard; Audi is listening to see how customers react.