Rounding out the Audi sphere concept studies, the urbansphere represents something of a departure for the brand in its approach to e-mobility designed specifically at megacities.

19 April, 2022

First there was the Audi skysphere concept – a stunning roadster design inspired by the Horch 853, and bringing not only the cutting-edge technology of all-electric drive and autonomous capabilities, but also a variable wheelbase that changed the very nature of the car depending on its use.

Then there was the grandsphere concept. Large and luxurious as the name would suggest – Audi’s vision of large luxury mobility in the future, designed for the absolute comfort of its occupants. Again offering level 4 autonomous drive and a level of connectivity designed to make the interior resemble more a first class aircraft cabin for those travelling onboard. 

Now, Audi has unveiled the third and final ‘sphere’ model, the urbansphere concept, and while the name goes some way to describing its intended target, the execution represents a departure from some of the concept studies of recent years aimed at the bustling city centres around the world.

Audi’s design studios in Beijing and Ingolstadt worked together closely to jointly develop the Audi urbansphere concept car,” says Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board Management at AUDI AG.

But although the urbansphere was designed with a country like China in mind – its huge, megacities presenting their own unique challenges for mobility in the future – this is a vehicle that will suit any teeming metropolis around the world.

Built using the Premium Platform Electric (PPE), like the other sphere models, autonomous level 4 is a given with the all-electric urbansphere, as is a level of comfort, sophistication and technological advancement in keeping with the brand’s philosophy of progressive design integrated with leading-edge technology. But where previous ‘big city’ models like to the Audi AI:ME and the Audi AICON were small and compact for their city life, the Audi urbansphere is in fact the biggest vehicle Audi has designed to date.

Measuring an impressive 5.51 metres in length, 2.01 metres wide and 1.78 metres high, it is a large vehicle by any standard. 

Its wheel base of 3.40 metres allows for a cabin size that offers unparalleled space and provided designers with a unique opportunity to design this vehicle from the inside out – placing the needs of the occupants before any other consideration.

With its absence of a B-pillar and rear hinged back doors, the whole side of the urbansphere essentially opens up to welcome you on board, the seats swivelling towards the opening for ease of access and a literal red carpet of light is projected onto the ground to light your way. This is a premium experience from the very outset.

One of the ideas behind the urbansphere’s design is that it represents an extension of the customer’s living and working space as much as being a means of transportation. 

Given that it is designed with autonomous level 4, the urbansphere will allow passengers to use their time ‘on board’ differently to the way a ‘traditional’ passenger would. 

The vehicle then, becomes a place to work, relax, or interact with other passengers as well as with the outside world through seamless connectivity. Given Audi’s own options and the ability to integrate digital services from other providers, the possibilities are practically endless.

“To make e-mobility even more attractive, we think about it holistically and from the customer's needs,” says Duesmann. The urbanshpere then, becomes a central part of an entire ‘ecosystem’ – an ‘experience device’ as much as a vehicle.

In autonomous mode the urbansphere collects its passengers from their homes, finds its own parking spaces around the city and takes care of recharging while its owners are at dinner or shopping or at work. It effectivity gives back a level of freedom not possible with current vehicles, where occupants can decide how they spend their time on board.

The design allows for four individual seats in two rows in the main ‘cabin’ with a wide range of adjustment options. In ‘relax’ and ‘entertain’ modes, the backrest can be tilted up to 60 degrees while leg rests extend at the same time and seats can be physically turned to face each other if passengers should want to chat. If privacy is the desired mode, then ‘privacy collars’ built into each headrest swing into place to shield the occupant from their neighbour.

Each seat has its own sound zone with speakers built into the headrest area and individual monitors are also built into the backs of the front seats.

But should passengers want to use the infotainment system together, a large-format and transparent OLED screen pivots vertically from the roof area into the zone between the rows of seats, effectively turning the interior into the perfect viewing environment. In many respects, the interior has similarities to that first seen in the Audi grandsphere concept.

Clean and completely uncluttered, the design of the interior uses natural and recycled materials and integrates controls and displays directly into dash surfaces, completely doing away with conventional screens. Knobs and controls are almost completely dispensed with and in the few occasions they are used, feature eye control so that even a passenger fully reclined can adjust say, air-conditioning with their eye movement when a physical control is out of reach.

Whether eye-tracking, gesture or voice control, or touch, the vehicle adjusts to the individual user and learns his or her preferences and frequently used functions, allowing it to actually make suggestions as it becomes acquainted with each user.

With MMI touchless response, small control panels integrated into the armrests on the doors and VR glasses for use with infotainment options like the holoride system, the interior is completely geared towards the comfort and convenience of the passengers. 

It literally becomes another living area – just one that is also able to transport its occupants from one location to another – in absolute comfort and safety.

Visually the urbansphere comprises familiar Audi elements with newer elements to give it its own unique character. Front on the look is immediately recognisable as Audi, albeit with the the addition of the Audi ‘light canvas’ which effectively uses the largely Singleframe grille for dramatic lighting functions which are also able to communicate to other road users. 

The dynamic lighting effects can be used to signal to other road users in order to improve road safety, while low and high beams are implemented via light segments in the outer sections of the Singleframe with a similarly functioning matrix LED surface is located in the rear.

The lighting units to the right and left of the Singleframe look narrow, like focused eyes and echo the logo of the brand with the four rings – creating a new, unmistakable digital light signature as seen on the previous sphere concepts. 

The illuminated surfaces can be adapted to the traffic situation, environment, or even the mood of the passengers, and as a daytime running light, the gaze can be focused or open, and the iris can be narrow or wide. 

Aside from the practical lighting and communications applications, the lighting display also adds to the unique look of the urbansphere.

In silhouette, the urbansphere is a departure from the svelte design of the sky sphere and grand sphere, but has elements of a large Audi Sportback in the design. 

Huge 24-inch wheels are perfectly in keeping with the overall dimensions of the vehicle and the large glass areas, which include an enormous sunroof add to the sleek exterior design as much as providing an open and light interior space.

Whether taking care of the driving duties itself or being driven (like both the other sphere concepts, steering wheel and pedals appear from the front dash surrounds for manual driving), the urbansphere is designed with the highest levels of comfort in mind. Audi adaptive air suspension gives unparalleled ride regardless of the road surface and steerable rear wheels provide excellent manoeuvrability despite the generous 3.4 metre wheelbase.

Driven by two electric motors capable of delivering a total output of 295kW and a system torque of 690Nm, e-quattro is a standard feature although the motor on the front axle can be deactivated as required to reduce friction and energy usage. 

With its 800 volt charging technology, the urbansphere’s 120 kilowatt hour battery can be charged with up to 270 kilowatts at fast-charging stations, with enough charge for 300 kilometres delivered in just 10 minutes. Although designed primarily for use in urban centres, this is a vehicle that nevertheless boasts a range of over 750 kilometres from a single charge, giving it tremendous versatility for all uses.

Where so many concept vehicles tend to the more fanciful, dream machine model, the Audi urbansphere concept exhibits a level of practicality that begs the question – how close to a production-ready vehicle could it be? For Audi, it is the result of taking customer wishes on board and coming up with a vehicle that satisfies those accumulated requests. 

Certainly for now, it remains another concept design, but one that exhibits numerous elements that will no doubt find their way into vehicles of the – not too distant – future.