Given the sheer density of traffic in the world’s largest cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, does the world need another large SUV? Audi thinks so, releasing images of its new Urbansphere electric concept utility vehicle Tuesday.
Audi designed the Urbansphere for traffic-dense Chinese cities, although the automaker conceded the concept could be used in any major metropolitan area.
“In order to meet the demands of our Chinese customers, Audi’s design studios in Beijing and Ingolstadt worked together closely to jointly develop the Audi Urbansphere concept car,” said Markus Duesmann, chairman of the Board Management at Audi AG.
A look at Audi’s future
Designed to be “a third living space during the time spent in traffic,” the Urbansphere can serve as a mobile office or lounge thanks to its automated driving systems. Uniquely, the steering wheel, pedals, and instrument panel can be hidden when automated driving is in use.
The Urbansphere joins the Skysphere roadster and Grandsphere sedan concept vehicles as Audi examines the transformation it sees coming as automakers combine cutting edge technology with more traditional luxury features.
Built using Volkswagen Group’s Premium Platform Electric platform, Audi says the Urbansphere’s cabin is the largest it has ever made. It boasts a 133.9-inch wheelbase and measures 217-inch long, 79 inches wide and 70 inches tall. Those generous proportions pay big dividends inside.
The inside story
Being a luxury vehicle Audi fitted just two rows of seats offering space for four. The seats swivel, so passengers can face each other while talking. A privacy screen is mounted behind the headrest to conceal a passenger’s head for those who want a little privacy.
Each seat also has speakers mounted in the headrest for viewing the monitors placed in the back of the front seats. Rear seat passengers can also access the cinema screen, a cabin-wide transparent screen that folds down from the ceiling.
The cabin is filled with innovative touches, such as the center console that swivels upwards and contains a water dispenser and glasses. Or the software that uses facial scans and voice analysis to determine how passengers are feeling.
The car responds by offering suggestions for relaxation, such as a meditation app that’s accessed through the car’s screen and headrest speakers. And the interior materials are made from sustainable sources.
Moving the metal
When it comes time to travel, two electric motors provide 395 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels.
Power comes from a 120kWh battery pack, which offers 466 miles of range. It recharges using 800-volt technology, so it can be charged from 5% to 80% in less than 25 minutes, according to Audi.
Uniquely, the motor on the front axle can be deactivated to reduce energy consumption when coasting. As you might expect, it also features Audi adaptive air suspension — a single-chamber air suspension system with semi-active damper control.
Many levels of autonomous driving
Audi intends to sell a Level 4-capable vehicle to consumers within the second half of the decade. The system is being developed by CARIAD, Volkswagen Group’s software business.
Level 4 is considered a fully autonomous driving, although the driver can still take control as the car still has an instrument panel. However, the car handles most of the driving.
Currently, no automaker sells a Level 4 vehicle, although Mercedes-Benz does offer a Level 3 vehicle in Germany as does Honda in Japan. Level 3 autonomous vehicles aren’t yet legal in the United States or China.
Most automakers are still offering advanced Level 2 systems, with Tesla’s Autopilot, and Cadillac’s Super Cruise being the most advanced. Other Level 2 systems include Ford’s BlueCruise, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist 2.0 and Hyundai’s Highway Driving Assist.
In the end, however, it’s unclear how an SUV that measures 217 inches long yet only holds four people can be considered a solution to traffic congestion. What’s easier to imagine is many of its features being offered on future Audi vehicles.