Inspired by the Horch 853 roadster from the 1930s and showcasing today’s cutting-edge technology and all-electric drive, the Audi Skysphere is the first of three new concept cars from Audi that showcase the brand’s take on the mobility of tomorrow.
11 August, 2021
For those who fear that the cars of tomorrow will be soulless, homogenised vehicles designed largely for mass mobility – take heart. The stunning Audi Skysphere concept, unveiled as part of this year’s Monterey Car Week in Pebble Beach, points to a very different future, and should be more than enough to assuage the fears of car enthusiasts around the globe.
Futuristic and striking in its design, the Skysphere concept pays homage to the brand’s rich past, inspired as it is by the Horch 853 of the 1930s. Taking this grand tradition and luxurious presence, the designers have reinterpreted it with Audi’s cutting-edge technology, electric drive and level 4 autonomous driving to accommodate the changing needs of the modern ‘motorist’. The Skysphere concept represents the evolution of beautiful automotive design, incorporating the very latest automotive technology. It is the first of three concept vehicles Audi will unveil over the coming months that offer a look at the future direction of vehicles from the brand.
With its obviously sporting design language, the Skysphere concept caters to the performance end of the market with its dual personally delivering both a classic Grand Tourer experience and that of a luxury sportscar. It will be joined by the Audi Grandsphere, which is more the modern interpretation of the luxury limousine and will soon be revealed in Munich. The third in the series is the Urbansphere, which has been designed around the needs of those living in mega cities, and will be unveiled early next year.
Conceived by the team at the Audi Design Loft in Malibu, the Skysphere concept is not just a modern interpretation of a company classic with electric drive.
Greatly influenced by the strong car culture of California as much as by the company’s past, it embraces the best of everything, according to the Design Loft's manager, Gael Buzyn.
“New technologies like electrification, digitisation and autonomous driving gave us the opportunity to create an experience that goes way beyond the one that typical roadsters offer today,” says Buzyn.
The Skysphere takes the best of the past and melds it with the best of now and throws in a liberal dose of ‘the future’. It showcases new and emerging technologies and points to a future where autonomous driving will allow passengers to relax and enjoy long trips in absolute comfort while making the most of their time, but where they can also decide to get behind the wheel themselves and enjoy the driving experience.
Thanks to a unique variable wheelbase, at the touch of a button, the Skysphere literally transforms itself from an autonomous grand tourer, measuring a stately 5.19 metres in length, to a pure, drive yourself, sportscar of 4.94 metres. The rocker panel, which is attached to the front of the car, slides to the rear under the fixed floor, creating effectively a new car both visually and literally. To put that in today’s Audi terms, that’s the difference between and Audi A8L in GT mode, to an RS 5 in Sport mode. Literally the best of both worlds.
Driving this extraordinary vehicle is an electric motor on the rear axle delivering 465kW of power and an enormous 750Nm of torque to the rear wheels. With the battery modules positioned behind the cabin providing plenty of weight towards the rear wheels, this results in the 1800kg Skysphere rocketing from standstill to 100km/h in four seconds.
In fact there are several ‘battery modules’ providing the charge to the vehicle, with additional modules located between the seats (again for optimum weight distribution). Overall capacity of 80 kWh gives the Skysphere a range of more than 500 kilometres – at least in autonomous grand tourer mode.
Comfort and performance are both delivered in abundance, depending on the desired mode, with the latest iteration of Audi’s adaptive air suspension, which drops the already low body a further 10mm both for greater agility in sports mode and for greater aerodynamics on longer trips.
In addition, the beautiful, aerodynamically designed 23-inch wheels shod in 285/30 rubber are selectively raised or lowered to compensate for undulations in the road’s surface, producing a ‘magic carpet’ ride at cruising speeds. But when Sport mode is engaged, the suspension firms up and in concert with the fully adjustable four-wheel steering, delivers razor-sharp handling to thrill the most ardent performance fan and make full use of the car’s tremendous performance potential.
Despite its obvious nods to past automotive design, the Skysphere concept owes a great deal to the wind tunnel for its svelte design. The rear end in particular, with its large glass area was developed to reduce drag – the natural enemy of the electric vehicle – and while the expansive bonnet is no longer required to house a traditional internal combustion engine, the storage room it provides has been utilised for other things. It now houses the electric drive components as well as the actuators and mechanical components used to control the adaptive wheelbase.
It has also been utilised to hold two bespoke golf bags, while the space under the glass rear section has also been set aside completely for storage, with two specially designed overnight bags secured in the space with crossed straps. Another nod to the past, beautifully reimagined for today.
Constant elements such as automotive lighting also reach new heights on the Skysphere concept, with the whole front and rear ends transformed by the presence of myriad LED elements that act not just as lighting but also serve a communications role.
Up front, the Audi rings are portrayed in illuminated, three-dimensional form on the new interpretation of the Singeframe grille, surrounded by LEDs that can create any number of visual effects. When the wheelbase of the car is changed for example, the LEDs in front and on the rear display a specially composed dynamic sequence and the light signature also changes and sends a clear message to those outside the car as to the Skysphere’s operating mode.
Inside, the spacious interior which is made possible by the long and adjustable wheelbase, is at the disposal of the Skysphere’s occupants. Accessed via the large, rear-hinged doors, the interior is light and spacious, with luxurious seating upholstered in sustainably produced microfibre fabric and offering extraordinary legroom depending on the car’s operating mode. Environmentally certified eucalyptus and synthetically produced imitation leather are also used to create the luxurious finish of the interior that is quite unlike the modern idea of a luxurious interior and worlds away from what you’d expect in a sportscar.
Designed at it is for level 4 autonomous driving, the interior is imagined as much as a relaxation space as a car interior – with occupants able to stretch out and enjoy the ride when the car is looking after the driving duties.
Retractible steering wheel and pedals mean even greater interior space, with the effect being described as ‘similar to the sort of freedom and legroom experienced when flying first class’.
This is the time to make full use of the extensive infotainment systems and connectivity. Large touch screens (1415mm wide and 180mm high) are used to operate the vehicle and infotainment systems, and in the Grand touring mode, this can be used to display content from the internet, video conferences or streamed movies.
Sound system reproduction is of course state-of-the-art and audio acoustics within the cabin are designed for best results whether the soft top is up or down. Even the shape of the headrests is such that they prevent turbulence and wind noise.
But when the mood takes you, or you happen upon the right piece of road, the Skysphere transforms inside and out into the driver’s car of tomorrow. With sport mode engaged, not only does the wheelbase adjust accordingly, but the interior transforms into the perfect driver’s cockpit, with the steering wheel, pedals and all control panels moving into the desired position to best suit the driver.
With the car’s driving dynamics, suspension and handling likewise transformed, the driver can make the most of the Skysphere’s incredible performance. Truly the very best of both worlds.
And that is perhaps the best way to summarise the Skysphere concept – its dual personality and ability to physically alter its dimensions and characteristics, quite unlike anything we have seen before.
If offers a breathtaking look at the possibilities opened up by technology and electric drivetrains, but without turning its back on the striking design elements that have long captured the imagination of car enthusiasts.
No ‘space ship’ designs or homogenised people moving machines here. The Skysphere concept is automotive design at its most seductive and inspiring, and automotive technology at its cutting-edge best. Win, win.
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