Audi activesphere concept: part luxury crossover, part pick-up truck revealed | Top Gear
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Wednesday 29th March

Audi activesphere concept: part luxury crossover, part pick-up truck revealed

Yup, it’s a crossover that becomes a pick-up, complete with augmented reality glasses and integrated ski rack

Published: 26 Jan 2023

You’ll want to take a look at this: it’s the Audi activesphere, the fourth and final concept in a series that started with the skysphere roadster, grandsphere GT and urbansphere MPV. Only this one’s a crossover, pick-up truck, AR headset and personal ski lift all rolled into one.

Let’s get the numbers out of the way early doors: the activesphere is electric, obviously, with motors on each axle for 435bhp, 531lb ft and 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds.

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There’s a 100kWh battery good for 372 miles of range, and the car’s 800V architecture allows for charging rates of up to 270kW; enough for 300km range to be pumped back inside in under 10 minutes, in other words.

Good, now we can focus on what the activesphere actually is. Which is many things. It’s a four-door crossover-coupe (new Manta vibes, anyone?) that sits on 22-inch off-road wheels, with approach and departure angles of 18.9 and 28.1 degrees apiece (plus adaptive air suspension) for off-road utilitarianism.

Basic ground clearance is 208mm but there’s 40mm of adjustment either way: in off-road mode the floor reveals its ‘offset vertical studs’ (check the gallery above) as a visual warning that it’s about to perform an emergency exit from the beaten track.

Which is where the activesphere’s creators see it being used most: there’s a ski rack integrated into the roof (“I hate roof racks, they destroy the aesthetic” Audi design boss Marc Lichte tells us), and the tailgate folds back to reveal a pair of e-bike ports for trail riding. Meanwhile a motorised bulkhead emerges to seal the cabin from the elements (again, go to the gallery folks), making this a part-time pick-up. Neat, right?

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It’ll come as little shock that this snowsport and biking facilitator is the work of the Audi Design Studio in… Malibu, California. Design manager Charles Lefranc informs TG that the look they’ve gone for is known internally as ‘sculptural Bauhaus’ or ‘sexy Bauhaus’. And no, they haven’t trademarked either.

“It’s an aesthetic we've had in mind for quite a bit of time because we came to a point where it was time to refresh the styling the brand showed, you know?” says Lefranc. “Especially on the street now, it tends to be a little bit fussy, lots going on. And now we’re trying to simplify things.

“Still trying to get the essence of what Audi is: simple volumes interlocking with each other, but yet all the transitions of surfaces are very soft and very sculptural. The bones under the skin are very structured, as an Audi. As a German brand. Yet all the draping has this sexy, sculptural feel.”

At 4.98 metres long, 2.07m wide and 1.60m tall (the wheelbase measures 2.97m), the activesphere cuts an imposing figure in the metal and features some tech that we’ll see “soon”, like the customisable light signatures fluttering across the micro LEDs.

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It also features tech we won’t see for a long time, which brings us to the cabin. The activesphere is capable of Level 4 autonomy, and when the driver cedes control to the computer the steering wheel, pedals and dashboard all fold away into the floor. Leaving you to browse the contents of the central drinks cabin, as well as the many augmented reality graphics.

Each passenger gets a set of AR glasses (as modelled by yours truly in, you guessed it, the gallery above) which overlay relevant graphics onto the various surfaces of the car. So driving info ahead of the driver, AC control by the vents, 3D maps and terrain analysis in the space vacated by the dashboard. You can even browse your albums in the roof column, and everything is at your fingertips too, so no more arduous reaching to change radio stations.

No word yet on when this kind of tech might reach production. But we’ve already seen buttons largely ditched in favour of touchscreens, is this the final nail in the coffin for physical switchgear?

“No, no, definitely not,” head of UI/UX design Sid Odedra assures us. “Everything’s getting packed into screens and going digital. If you ask me, it needs to be curated to have a perfect balance. We need to orchestrate the interior so certain controls remain physical, because when you’re driving there’s certain controls you want to do blind, right?

“More tactile controls are still very relevant. We can also make these controls smart, but there is that connection between the feeling of a beautiful button or a dial within the car.”

So, lots to digest there. Everything from metamorphosis worthy of the Transformers franchise to tech that wouldn't look out of place in Tron: Legacy. Anyone got a favourite feature?

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