With a wheelbase that grows and shrinks by 10 inches.
If the future of car design is what we see at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, it can't come soon enough. On Tuesday Audi revealed its new concept for Monterey Car Week. It's called the Audi skysphere and it looks absolutely stunning, probably even better than the Audi R8. It's also level 4 autonomous and can vary its wheelbase depending on which mode you're driving in.
We'll start with that wild bit of information. The Audi skysphere will have two modes, a Grand Touring autonomous mode and Sports, human-driven mode. When it goes into human-driven mode, the hood, fenders, and front wheels contract by 9.8 inches to effectively shorten the wheelbase of the skysphere from that of the Audi A8 to that of the smaller RS5 Coupe. It also lowers by half an inch and the driving controls like the steering wheel and pedals deploy. According to Audi, while this is just a concept, it previews a future that is just years, not decades, away.
The sleek convertible (that offers a fabric top for rainy days) reminds one of the Mercedes-Maybach concept at Pebble a few years ago, in that they both look gorgeous and about 20 feet long. The visual inspiration for the skysphere came from the Horch 853 roadster from the 1930s, which also won the Concours d'Elegance in Pebble Beach in 2009. But Audi says that inspiration was limited to the dimensions and proportions. The skysphere does not feature the Horch's 5.0-liter straight-eight. Instead its an EV, as expected, and hides most of its batteries behind the driver while 30% of the cells are located in the center tunnel.
The concept makes 624 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque from a single motor on the rear axle. That's good for a 4 second sprint to 62 mph, "if required." It weighs in at about 4,000 pounds, which isn't light, but isn't as heavy as many new EVs either. Audi says the battery's capacity should be more than 80 kWh resulting in a range of around 310 miles on the WLTP cycle, provided the car is driven in autonomous Grand Touring mode.
The skysphere features an aluminum double-wishbone suspension at the front and rear, with rear-wheel steering and by-wire steering input. That means the driver can select different steering settings for both the front and rear axle. Between the shortening of the wheelbase when the car is shrunk, and the rear steering, the turning radius should be teeny. Like the rest of the lineup, Audi's active suspension keeps everything under control no matter how rough the roads.
The Audi skysphere concept measures just 47 inches tall and looks like a low-slung warship ready to attack. It has a wide track with curved and flared wheel arches and an impressively long hood. The rear glass was developed in a wind tunnel "and combines elements of a speedster and a shooting brake with large glass surfaces in a traditional streamlined design." Two overnight bags, specially built for the trunk, take their place under that glass.
The front end was inspired by Audi's Singleframe grille, but gets a new twist. First, it changes depending on whether you're in attack mode or autonomous mode. That's an indicator to passersby too. The LED lights have welcoming effect as you walk up to the vehicle, and sometimes pulse. When the wheelbase shrinks, the rocker panels slide to the rear under the fixed door.
Inside, the steering wheel and pedals are retractable in GT mode where they form part of the under-dash panel. A 55.7-inch-wide screen runs the width of the cabin and the driver's side automatically becomes an instrument panel when the steering wheel comes out. Internet, video conferences, and streamed movies are all possible on the screen, and occupants can even connect to social media to share their journeys. A high-quality sound system completes the package with speakers hidden in the doors and rear interior wall.
The Audi skysphere is just one of three new "sphere" cars coming out in the next year. We'll see the grandsphere later this month and the urbansphere later this year.
"These concept cars feature a new design that ultimately reimagines the interior, the passenger compartment, as the center of the vehicle and no longer subordinates the passenger experience to the requirements of the technology," says Audi. "This is reflected in the variable layout of the interior, the disappearance of the controls, and the sheer expanse of the cabin. In Grand Touring mode, this not only allows both passengers to enjoy a smooth and pleasant journey, but also combines it with new service offerings."