New Audi skysphere showcases future design and split-personality concept

The skysphere is the first of a trio of new concepts from Audi, previewing a future autonomous electric roadster with a split personality

This is the new Audi skysphere concept - the first in a trio of 'spheres' concept cars that preview the brand’s next-generation design direction. 

The skysphere is an all-electric luxury two-seat roadster that’s been designed around the concept of giving its occupants two different experiences, helped by its variable wheelbase set-up.

The skysphere has two different driving modes. The first is called ‘Grand Touring’, and in this setting the steering wheel and pedals retract and the skysphere drives autonomously using its level 4 tech. 

The second mode – ‘Sports’ – sees the steering wheel and pedals returned to their conventional position and the skysphere’s wheelbase shrink by 250mm, reducing the car’s overall length from 5.19 metres to 4.94 metres. The ride height also drops by 10mm, while the infotainment screen splits, with half of the display focused more on the driver.

Audi skysphere: chassis and powertrain

The skysphere is not based on a production Audi platform, but the car does feature adaptive air suspension and a steer-by-wire system that controls the front and rear wheels; rear-axle steering is part of the chassis set-up to improve agility. 

As the steering system is not connected to the wheels directly, it allows quick changes between sportier and more comfort-focused set-ups to further enhance the difference in character between the skysphere’s two driving modes.

Power comes from a battery that “is expected to be more than 80kWh” for a claimed WLTP range of 500km (around 310 miles). The battery feeds one electric motor mounted on the rear axle producing 623bhp and 750Nm of torque; Audi claims that the skysphere weighs around 1,800kg, which results in a 0-62mph time of 4.0 seconds.

The brand has not yet revealed any information on charging technology, but has confirmed that the skysphere is based on an 800v electronic architecture – similar tech shared by the firm’s A6 e-tron concept that is based on the VW Group’s PPE platform.

This car’s battery accepts a maximum 270kW DC rapid charge supply and can recharge its battery from five to 80 per cent in just 25 minutes, so we’d expect similarly swift times for the skysphere’s smaller battery.

Design

The skyphere is a 100 per cent digitally created design. Audi’s German design centre collaborated with a newly opened design centre in Malibu, California, through digital meetings and shared software programmes.

Inspiration for the skysphere comes from the Horch 853 roadster of 1937, with Audi’s new concept paying tribute to that model, including its long bonnet and rear-biased cabin.

However, there are short front and rear overhangs, while the aerodynamic 23-inch alloy wheels give it lots of presence and highlight its low-slung design. This is reinforced by the side profile, with sliding rocker panels to enable the adjustable wheelbase. At the rear there is a storage area for weekend bags held in place with straps beneath a clear screen.

Due to its electric powertrain and the reduced cooling requirements, at the front there’s a large digital singleframe display, featuring LEDs that can show visual effects and act as a communication device. The panels also change depending on driving mode, with a different light signature.

The display dominates the two-metre-wide model’s front end and can show welcome sequences on unlocking the car, as well as animations when changing driving mode and when the wheelbase is altered. It’s joined by an LED panel at the rear that functions in a similar fashion.

Rear-hinged, wide-opening ‘suicide’ doors give easy access to the cabin, and while the skysphere has been presented in open-top form, we’re told that there is a deployable roof for protection from the elements.

There are Art Deco-inspired design elements inside, while the skysphere is trimmed in sustainably produced microfibre fabric. Environmentally friendly eucalyptus wood and imitation leather continue the sustainable theme when it comes to interior materials.

The skysphere will be joined by the grandsphere concept that is set to be unveiled at the Munich Motor Show next month. It will preview a new luxury limousine that could inspire a future Audi A8 model, while the urbansphere concept coming in 2022 will show Audi’s future impression of a city-focused SUV.

The ‘sphere’ tag in all three models’ names refers to Audi’s intentions to “place the space that surrounds the passengers (‘sphere’), and which becomes an experience for them – the interior – at the centre of its designs.”

Now read our review of Audi’s newest electric vehicle, the Q4 e-tron Sportback… 

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