Audi wants to conquer Chinese cities with the ingredients of a long-distance electric car in shuttle format. We took a seat in the Audi Urbansphere in advance.
What do you think of when it comes to visions of urban mobility? Small, autonomously driving single-seaters that relieve overcrowded cities, are super efficient and follow the motto “less is more”? Maybe even on two or three wheels? yes you can But you don’t have to, as Audi shows with the Urbansphere, which the Ingolstadt company is presenting at the Beijing Auto Show.
The Urbansphere is intended to complete the trio of the Sphere concept car family and follows the two previous studies: The Listen to the Skyspherewhich was presented in August 2021 and the Audi Grandsphere, which was first shown in September 2021. While the Skysphere focused on the sporty aspects of the brand and the Grandsphere worked on the topic of travel, the Urbansphere is – unsurprisingly – intended to cover the urban terrain. Although that cannot really be deduced from the technical data, despite the rear-axle steering.
With a length of 5.51 meters through the city
Because with a length of 5.51 meters, the car is longer than a VW T7 Multivan, which measures almost five meters. Even the long version of the Audi A8 is only 5.19 meters long. With a height of 1.78 meters and its doors that open in opposite directions, the study is eight centimeters taller than the most impressive production Audi, the 1.70 meter high Q8. And when it comes to width, the concept car tops the A8, Q8 and T7 with 2.01 meters: Audi’s largest production sedan is 1.95 meters, the top SUV model is almost 2.00 meters and even the spacious VW bus is only 1. 94 meters – all without exterior mirrors, of course. The mighty 24-inch wheels of the Urbansphere do the rest for this performance.
In China, space means luxury
But why does a city car need a traffic area of more than 11 square meters and where to park? The answer to the first question is as banal as it is captivating, the second follows later: the car is so big because it makes the interior more spacious.
The car was not developed for Europe, but for the needs of Chinese customers, who, as is well known, do not move through narrow old town streets, but through the traffic jams of overcrowded megacities. “We developed the car together with our Chinese customers,” explains Norbert Weber, Head of Interior Design at Audi, “and specifically asked what customers understand when it comes to luxury. The answer was space and a sense of spaciousness.”
This was also taken as an opportunity not to design the car from the exterior to the interior, as is usually the case, but vice versa. With the Urbansphere, the interior was designed at the beginning and then an outer skin around it. So that it doesn’t look quite so bulky, the designers had to resort to a few tricks. The so-called Quattro cheeks, i.e. the wheel arches on display, are far less recognizable than can be seen on the A6 or the other members of the Sphere family. The hood is also relatively short. A component that both Skysphere and Grandsphere were by no means stingy with.
Cosmetics ensure more dynamics
“This was the only way we could achieve a wheelbase of 3.4 meters and at the same time create so much space in the interior,” explains Philipp Römers, Head of Exterior Design. In order to conceal the massive, monolithic van format, a chrome trim strip was stretched over the side line about 15 centimeters below the glass roof line, which makes the profile of the Urbansphere look a bit flatter and more dynamic.
The front and rear are characterized by large LED surfaces. At the front, the vertical lines of the huge single frame have been implemented using LED strips flanked by a matrix LED surface. The vehicle should use them to communicate with its surroundings. Something similar can also be found at the rear. This function is important because the Urbansphere, like its two brothers in the Sphere family, was designed as an autonomous vehicle (Level 4) in which the occupants do not have to take on any driving tasks on most journeys. This would also solve the question of finding a parking space. The autonomous car just drives on and simply does not park.
6 seats but no sharing car
With its six seats and the automated driving function, the Urbansphere would have the perfect prerequisites for an efficient sharing concept in the city. Almost an autonomous luxury shuttle for the urban upper 10,000. That’s pretty much how it feels when you take a seat on the comfortable seats in the mobile lounge. Everything is very dignified, cuddly and it doesn’t take much imagination to think of the right fine wines and haute cuisine appetizers.
If the Audi designers have their way, the city car is aimed at private and business customers who sit in the second row and usually have their chauffeur and assistant with them, and maybe their family at the weekend too. There are two jump seats in the back, two regular seats in the front, but they enjoy significantly less legroom than the passengers in the middle who are to be spoiled.
Collapsible, transparent giant display
There, in the second row, the water dispenser known from the Grandsphere is housed in a height-adjustable center console, which is intended to make longer stays in the car more comfortable and homely. In addition, the occupants of the middle row have access to the cinema screen, a huge, transparent OLED display that takes up the entire width of the vehicle and can be pivoted in vertically from the roof area.
Films should be shown on it, but video conferences can also be held on it – if necessary also in split-screen mode. If the screen is not in use, it can be folded up under the glazed roof area. But you still can’t see unhindered out of the windshield. In China, real luxury is evidently understood to mean looking at the backrest of the staff – even if you don’t need to because the car is driving alone.
Relax, privacy and entertainment
Even then, the passengers in the second row don’t have to do without a screen entirely: In the front seats, slightly smaller screens are integrated into the backrests, on which the passengers can work separately.
To make it really comfortable, the seats can be tilted up to 60 degrees and a leg rest can be extended. Together with the fluffy carpet, the posh interior and the sense of space of a presidential suite, time will certainly fly by – even if the others are sitting in a traffic jam outside. And if the cozy ambience is not enough: in the so-called relax and entertain mode, the journeys should also be made more pleasant by meditation apps. For more privacy, there is also the option of extending a cover from the headrest, which isolates the occupants from the other passengers and allows the private sound zone in the headrest to be used even better.
Gesture control and eye tracking
Since you can hardly reach the controls of the MMI touchless response in this reclining position, these can also be operated by gesture control supported by an eye-tracking system and react to the commands with cheerfully wriggling graphics.
The MMI touchless response controller is also available to the passengers in the first row; instead of a large cinema screen or other displays, the infotainment is presented there via a projector that illuminates the elegant hornbeam veneer, similar to the Grandsphere. As in the previous study, the pedals and steering wheel can also be extended in the Urbansphere and folded away so that they are barely visible in autonomous driving mode.
City car with a range of 750 km
The fact that the Urbansphere, as an automated city car, cannot entirely do without these elements of classic automobile construction underpins the drive concept. Based on the PPE platform, the 120 kWh battery should enable ranges of up to 750 kilometers. Thanks to 800 volt technology, such as in the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Ttron GT, there is a charging capacity of up to 270 kW and within 10 minutes drive energy for a distance of 300 km can be recharged, in 25 minutes the charge should be from 5 to 80 percent. Everything analogous to the Grandsphere.
Also rather untypical for a city, Audi relies on all-wheel drive for the Urbansphere. The wheels are driven by an electric motor on each of the front and rear axles, with the front axle likely to use an asynchronous machine to reduce friction and which can be deactivated when coasting. Together, the two electric motors have an output of 295 kW and a system torque of 690 Nm.
Coupled with the air suspension, it all sounds more like a motorhome for long distances that should also be on the road in areas that are not Level 4 compliant.
Unlike the two predecessors of the Sphere family, the Urbansphere is therefore much more willing to make compromises and is not tailored to the application as precisely as the sporty Skysphere, which even has to do without a roof.
With the Urbansphere, Audi presents the third and final member of the concept car family and rounds off the trio well. For European viewers in particular, it will hardly be clear what added value the Grandsphere offers compared to the Urbansphere. Because the more space with the same range and make the supposed city concept absolutely suitable for travel.
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