Audi has taken the wraps off its fourth concept vehicle in the 'sphere' series. Called the activesphere, the crossover vehicle looks for all the world like a potential rival to the Tesla Cybertruck. Audi is adamant that it has no intention to bring a pick-up to market, but the activesphere does continue the company's look at the high-tech car interior of the distant future, while previewing the electric powertrain of its 2024 A6 e-tron line-up.
Mixed reality headsets instead of controls
All the 'sphere' concepts explored car cabin design, but the activesphere takes it all one step further by using mixed reality headsets for the driver and their three passengers. These superimpose information and virtual switchgear on the real-world view of the car's interior and the view out, allowing Audi's designers to dispense with more or less all supplementary controls and display screens in the cabin.
The driver, for example, can see all information usually contained on the instrumentation in front of the steering wheel, and much more besides. Cleverly, the system doesn't overburden the headset wearer with data, but if they focus on a specific piece of information, then more is provided. Likewise, various controls - such as those for the climate control or infotainment - are shown virtually via the headset, allowing the passengers to use hand gestures to make adjustments as necessary. What's more, the headsets could theoretically be used outside the car, too.
Audi continues the lifestyle shpiel by suggesting they'd be of use on a ski slope or bike trail. It calls this concept Audi dimensions and it might not be as far-fetched as it initially seems.
Elsewhere, the activesphere's cabin is airy and spacious, with seating for four. The wraparound chairs appear suspended, as part of a chunky central spar that runs from front to back. That doubles up as a 'bar' for hot and cold drinks.
In front of the driver is an unusual steering wheel in the shape of a rounded rectangle, but of course there's a fully autonomous driving mode that takes this out of sight. Interestingly, this setting also opens up the view through what would usually be called a 'grille' at the front of the car.
Off-road design inspired by allroad quattro models
Although that front end is striking, it's not the most headline-grabbing aspect of the activesphere's exterior design. It initially appears to be a rugged crossover-coupe, featuring large 22-inch alloy wheels, chunky off-road tyres and raised ride height mixed with a distinctly sporty rear window line and curvy roof. Thanks to the use of air suspension, the ride height is variable to suit both off-road and on-road use - and there are even approach and departure angles quoted. Audi says it features design details from its Sportback models and its allroad quattro cars, but has coined a new term for it - the "active Sportback".
Within it is what Audi calls the "active back", where the rear glass slides up and the back of the car folds down to create a load bed. At the same time, a bulkhead deploys between this and the passenger compartment. There are brackets and grooves integrated into the floor of the load area and tailgate to hold sporting equipment such as bikes in place, and there's a cleverly hidden ski rack built into the roof, too.
Electric power coming soon
Despite the similarities at the back with the Tesla Cybertruck, Audi maintains that it is not planning to get into the pick-up truck market anytime soon. Nonetheless, the activesphere has some relevance to showroom-bound Audis of the near future in the shape of its electric architecture. It uses the 'PPE' platform system under development in cooperation with Porsche, designed to underpin the next generation of large, premium electric models, the first of which are expected to be revealed before the end of 2023.
For the record, the activesphere uses an 800-volt electrical system to allow fast charging and has a range of over 600 kilometres thanks to a 100kWh battery pack contained within the floor. Combined peak output from the two electric motors is quoted as 442hp and 720Nm of torque.
Although it's only a four-seater, the activesphere measures nearly five metres long and over two metres wide, with a near-three-metre-long wheelbase. Audi has confirmed that these dimensions will be carried over to the next-generation A6, which is expected to be offered in electric 'e-tron' guise from launch in 2024. Here's hoping there's an allroad quattro model with room for a couple of mountain bikes...