With barely enough time to catch your breath from the Audi skysphere concept, Audi whips the covers off another design study – the Audi grandsphere concept opens up new realms in luxury personal transport that are closer than you think.
3 September, 2021
When it was unveiled to the world just under a month ago, the Audi skysphere concept was met with widespread enthusiasm for its captivating blend of heritage inspired design and new technology. A modern grand tourer with autonomous drive that can literally transform itself into a self-drive, high-performance sports car was and is an irresistible vision of tomorrow.
The first of the Audi ‘Sphere’ concept series (there will be three), set the bar extremely high, drawing heavily on the brand’s illustrious past and the Horch 853 from the 1930s in particular. It is a beautifully executed modern interpretation of a classic, reimagined for the modern age and boasting the very latest technology. The skysphere is a showcase of motoring in the future, its state-of-the-art electric drivetrain and unique variable wheelbase, not to mention that capacity for autonomous driving and groundbreaking interior design painting an exciting and enticing picture of what mobility will become.
Put simply, it kicked goals as a vision of what high-performance motoring with autonomous drive thrown in, will look like. So, the pressure has been on in the lead up to the second ‘Sphere’ design study – the Grandsphere concept – to similarly inspire with its take on tomorrow.
With its world premiere, the Audi grandsphere has more than lived up to that expectation, unveiled over night as another Level 4 autonomous look at future mobility, this time aimed more at the large, luxury end of the market.
Measuring 5.35 metres in length, two metres wide and 1.39 metres high, it physically lives up to the ‘grand’ label, its wheelbase of 3.19 metres affording occupants a vast, luxurious interior space in which to relax and one that showcases how interiors of tomorrow will differ from the traditional automotive interior. Indeed, everything about this vehicle is ‘grand’ and makes a big impression from the first glance, from the 23-inch wheels, to the huge sweeping windscreen, expansive glass roof and the long self-opening doors hinged front and rear to open out to reveal the cavernous, modern interior unhindered by a B-pillar.
Like the skysphere, the grandsphere is a stunner, and while it is designed more as a large, luxury conveyance than a high-performance vehicle, there is no doubting its sporty styling and the impression of speed and performance its sleek muscular exterior exudes. Its Audi DNA is obvious from first glance, and yet it is a great departure from any other Audi on the road. Elements such as the single frame grille are still there but with a high-tech, modern interpretation that uses light to impart a three-dimensional look. Then there is the completely new light treatment – called the Audi eye for pretty obvious reasons – which gives the front end a sharp, distinctive look – the treatment mirrored in the tapering rear end, perfectly tying front and rear together.
Although a four-door, the grandsphere sports a profile more like that of a large coupe, with elements of the Audi Sportback treatment evident in the sweeping roofline, while the bulging, muscular flanks accentuate the huge wheels in what might be described as a modern interpretation of the Audi quattro blisters’.
The grandsphere does indeed continue the brand’s proud quattro tradition with two motors providing drive to all four wheels – one mounted on each axle – and a power output of 530kW and 960Nm of torque. That’s enough to see off the standing race to 100km/h in just over four seconds and with up to 750km in range depending on the drive mode. Add to that active suspension which separately pulls up or pushes down on each wheel via mechanical actuators, making it possible to actively control the state of the chassis in every driving situation. Using the front camera to recognise undulations in the road surface, these adjustments happen predictively and instantly and make for a superb ride regardless of driving style, conditions or road surface.
Comfort and speed comprehensively taken care of.
Then there is the 800 volt charging technology which allows the battery to be charged with up to 270kW at fast-charging stations, which means that in just 10 minutes it can be topped up to travel more than 300km. Or in under 25 minutes, the 120kW capacity battery can be charged from five to 80 percent of charge.
This speed of charging and range on a full battery put the grandsphere on a footing with conventional internal combustion vehicles, but the presence of autonomous Level 4 technology opens up a whole new world when it comes to how you spend your time on those long journeys or even the shorted ones while negotiating slow traffic.
This combination of electric drivetrain and autonomous drive are at the very heart of the grandsphere concept, opening up – literally – a whole new realm in interior design and function. Of course you can still drive the grandsphere yourself if you like – a steering wheel and associated control elements and pedals sliding seamlessly from the expansive dash area on request – but for the most part, the interior configuration and design are geared towards a different way of spending time ‘on board’.
The comparisons between the grandsphere’s large, luxurious interior and a first class aircraft cabin paints an accurate picture. The flat floor thanks to the absence of the transmission tunnel coupled with a long wheelbase result in the aforementioned impressive interior dimensions and the use of that space for maximum passenger relaxation represents a quantum shift in what personal transport will mean in the future.
Gone are the familiar controls and even touchscreens of contemporary vehicles, replaced with large swathes of space upholstered and beautifully finished in wood and wool, synthetic fabrics, metal and glass to the highest standards.
In keeping with the eco-friendly nature of the grandsphere there is nary a piece of leather to be seen, rather materials are a combination of natural fibre and recycled materials.
This is no ordinary vehicle interior, with large areas that are interactive and become huge, wraparound screens for displaying route navigation, screening movies or offering up any number of entertainment options. In the worlds of the designers, the grandsphere literally ‘transforms from being strictly an automobile into an experience device’.
Work or play, how you spend your time in this luxurious, yet minimalist interior is limited only by your imagination. Connectivity is another key technology employed to allow occupants to interact with the outside world in any number of ways while the grandsphere is taking care of diving duties.
Variable seating allows you to sit and read or relax and sleep. Speakers are integrated into the interior so that they are inaudible to other passengers and allow for private listening, while a compact onboard cooler with two glasses is neatly concealed between the two front seats, serving an obviously practical purpose as well as adding to the luxurious overall feel.
Then there are innovations like the MMI touches response, which allows a reclining passenger to operate an otherwise out of reach control using a combination of eye-tracking and gesture technology – literally looking or gesturing to the desired rotation of the knob without actually touching it.
Of course there is also voice command, handwriting modes and all of the command options we have become used to as well, and the grandsphere adjusts to the individual user and learns his or her preferences and frequently used menus so that it can even make suggestions based on commonly used functions.
Control panels are also integrated into the door armrests with optic indicators to show the position of invisible touch surfaces, while virtual reality glasses in the armrests can be used in conjunction with the various infotainment options.
The technology challenges the very notion the contemporary car. The grandsphere picks up its passengers with information about their current destination and independently handles parking and charging duties. Once onboard, customised infotainment options are available like online streaming services and video providers that have been used previously, and in future, exclusive options will be made available like concerts or even sporting events that customers are invited to.
There is a lot to unpack when it comes to the grandsphere. A visually powerful design has well as a fast, engaging tourer, that also completely reimagines how time in a car will be spent. Not matter how used we become to the fantastic becoming possible, this vehicle still represents such a departure from the ‘here are now’ that you find yourself shaking your head in wonder. But much of the technology on the grandsphere concept will become production reality as early as 2025 according to Oliver Hoffmann, Member of the Board of Management for Technical Development at Audi.
Although the the grandsphere is by no means a ‘one-on-one pre-production model, many of the elements present, including being Level 4 enabled, will become series production reality come 2025 through the Artemis project. Other elements will be rolled out in the array of new electric vehicles following that as the Audi e-offensive continues, says Hoffmann, meaning that what now stretches the imagination will become the state-of-the-art in the foreseeable future. Which in turn begs the question, just what will be possible in 10 or 20 years time?
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