With full autonomy, you can sit back and relax.
"At the beginning of the design process of the Grandsphere concept, we as a team tried to answer a major question," said Audi designer Maksymilian Nawka. "How can we ensure that a day in an Audi turns into a perfect day? How can we ensure that a day in an Audi turns into an emotional and fascinating experience?"
That's a big ask for the second of Audi's three new "sphere" concepts. The first was a crazy extending wheelbase convertible called the Skysphere that premiered at Monterey Car Week, this one is called Grandsphere and the next one will be for city driving and is called the Urbansphere. Between the first two, the Skysphere is definitely cooler, but the new extended sedan is probably more impressive overall.
Audi says that the sphere name comes from the fact that "the drive system and handling are no longer at the top of the design specification," hence this car was designed from the inside out.
"At the beginning of all discussions, the focus is directed toward the interior and its design. Only after that do we design the package, exterior lines, and proportions that shape the car into a total work of art, along with the technological premises," said Audi.
The Grandsphere features suicide doors that open into an expansive cabin that gains extra space due to the lack of an internal combustion engine. Like previous Audi concepts, the Grandsphere will recognize the driver as they approach the car, and customize the cabin to their liking. "For instance, a video that a passenger was streaming on a tablet is automatically played back over the display surface in the Audi Grandsphere," says Audi.
Speaking of that display surface, we're not talking about a screen here. We're talking about a projection display that spans the width of the wood dashboard for both driver and passenger to enjoy as they're being carted around in Level 4 autonomy. It has eye-tracking software to highlight which controls are to be used. Those projections, and the climate controls on the doors, can be controlled and used through touch and hand gestures. Those climate dials move automatically if you twist your hand in front of it.
The steering wheel, pedals and gauges are hidden behind the dashboard until the driver decides to take control. The wheel then slides out and flips up towards the driver. When not in control, the driver can lean his seat back 40 degrees to watch the infotainment system, or 60 degrees to rest. Between the front seats is a chilled drink holder (and water dispenser) that pops out with the touch of a button.
The Grandsphere is big, bigger than the Audi A8 sedan. It measures 17.6 feet in length with a 10.5-foot wheelbase. Audi says it looks like a four-door GT car, and it does, but that strange break in the door glass will have to be seen in person to be judged. It has short overhangs on both ends, which led us to ask Audi about the cargo space. Since it's just a concept, the company said it wasn't fully designed, but that it will be big enough for four passengers' luggage.
The three-dimensional Singleframe grille is open, even though no cooling is necessary. It lights up with a welcome sequence and is flanked by new LED headlights that are styled like two of Audis interlocking rings, but cut in half.
"The Audi Grandsphere concept is the representative of the concept vehicle trio that comes closest to a series project. We can see that we're talking about a luxury sedan with an electric drive that will have Level 4 automated driving. It's something we're setting the stage for in the second half of the decade," said Josef Schlossmacher from Audi's global PR.
The concept houses two electric motors, one at the front, one at the rear. Together they make about 710 hp and 708 lb-ft of torque. It rides on the company's PPE platform along with the Porsche Taycan, Audi e-tron, and others. It has an 800-volt charging system, which is good for a 5-80% charge in 25 minutes, says Audi. Total estimated range is 466 miles.
The Grandsphere has a five-link front axle "optimized for EVs" along with a multilink rear. Those rear wheels also steer, allowing for tighter turns, while the whole thing rides on an adaptive air suspension. It reads the road and adjusts each damper separately in milliseconds. It uses both the front camera and navigation data to do this.
There are a ton of moving pieces to the Grandsphere, both literally and figuratively. But it all seems to come together well in this futuristic, limousine-like sedan.
"When Mark gave us the brief for this car, I knew exactly where we needed to go," said Audi designer Amar Vaya. "I knew that the car should be authentic, it should be true to its nature. It had to have something new, so we can call this story a progressive one. And it had to respect the past. But all these things don't matter if you don't capture the feeling. If the feeling isn't there, we won't get to where we want to go."
If the place we want to go is the future, we think Audi has captured it perfectly.