MOBILITY: The Audi grandsphere concept: Not yet of this world!
The private jet for the road – Audi is presenting the Audi grandsphere concept study at the IAA 2021. Like a first-class flight, the 5.35-metre-long saloon combines the luxury of private travel in the utmost comfort with a comprehensive range of experiences on board. Automated driving in Level 4 enables new dimensions of freedom: in this mode, the interior is transformed into a spacious sphere of experience without steering wheel, pedals or displays. And the first row of seats becomes a first-class lounge with maximum space, an unobstructed view and access to all the functions of the holistic digital ecosystem into which the Audi grandsphere is integrated.
As the second of three „Sphere“ concept cars from the brand with the four rings, the Audi grandsphere occupies a special position. Many of the technologies and design features brought together here will be found in future production Audi models within a few years. The Audi grandsphere concept illustrates the brand’s ambition to become a pacesetter for technological transformation and completely new, holistic mobility offerings in the automotive upper echelons.
The electrically driven Audi skysphere concept roadster – the spectacular vision of an automated GT that transforms into a self-driven sports car with variable wheelbase – already made its debut in August 2021. Both concept cars – and also the Audi urbansphere, the third representative of the trio due to appear in 2022 – are united by the fact that the entire concept is derived from the ability to drive automatically at Level 4. This is a technology that Audi is working towards introducing in the second half of the decade together with CARIAD, the Volkswagen Group’s software think tank.
Level 4: This not only changes the interior from the classic driver-oriented cockpit plus passenger seats to a spacious lounge as soon as the steering wheel and pedals retract. At the same time, it opens up new degrees of freedom for all passengers. The Audi grandsphere not only frees the driver from driving duties whenever possible. At the same time, it offers everyone on board a wide range of options for using this freedom to create individual experiences: Communication or relaxation, work or retreat into a private sphere, if this is desired. The Audi grandsphere concept transforms itself from a pure automobile into an „experience device“.
Audi’s own services and the integration of digital services expand the possibilities. With these, a multitude of service topics can be opened up around the current journey – for example, the design of a scenically spectacular route, also restaurant or hotel options. Even everyday tasks beyond the journey are taken care of. For example, the automated Audi grandsphere concept picks up its passengers with information about the current destination and independently takes care of parking and charging.
Infotainment offers are also individually tailored, such as the seamless integration of onboard streaming to music and video providers already in use. In a further step, Audi will provide personalised and exclusive offers in the future – concerts, cultural events or even sporting events to which customers are invited.
The Audi grandsphere concept illustrates the brand’s claim to define progressive luxury of the future. For Audi, this includes offering new high-class experiences, made possible by digitalisation, as well as a holistic approach to sustainability, with the goal of CO2 neutrality in the near future along the entire value chain.
Three first-class models for the future
With the three concept cars Audi skysphere, Audi grandsphere and Audi urbansphere, the brand with the four rings illustrates its vision of progressive luxury. They open up a world of experience that goes far beyond the purpose-bound stay on board, beyond the driving experience.
What is new is a design that ultimately sees the interior, the passenger compartment, as the centre and that no longer subordinates the passengers‘ experience to the requirements of the technology. This is reflected in the variable layout of the interior, the disappearance of controls, the sheer expanse of the cabin and also combines it with new service offerings.
The design process – from the inside to the outside
The name component „Sphere“ already sends out a signal: the interior is at the centre of the Audi skysphere, grandsphere and urbansphere concept cars. It is no longer the drive or the driving dynamics that are at the top of the list of requirements for this new generation of cars. Instead, the starting point is the interior, the living space and experience of the occupants on the road. Their needs and wishes shape the space, the architecture and the functions. With this reassessment, the design process itself is also changing. At the beginning of all discussions, the focus is on the interior and its design. Only then are the package, exterior lines and proportions designed, which, together with the technological premises, make the car a total work of art.
Space, form, function – the interior
The doors of the Audi grandsphere concept open in opposite directions, front and rear; there is no B-pillar. This opens up the entire expanse of the interior to the passengers as soon as they get in. But before that, the Audi grandsphere has already identified its passengers by means of gear recognition – an innovative feature – opened the doors and welcomed them with an individual presentation of the displays and ambient lighting. The positions of the driver and front passenger are automatically recognised and numerous personal comfort features – such as the adjustment of the air conditioning and the seats – are set for the respective seat. The infotainment also picks up on the last services used by the passengers and seamlessly continues the service in the vehicle. For the front passenger, for example, the video just streamed on the tablet is automatically played on the display in the Audi grandsphere. On the driver’s side, on the other hand, the projection screen automatically takes over the display of the messages read before entering the vehicle.
In the interior, the lines of the decorative surfaces and functional elements are emphatically horizontal. The open, wide interior supports the impression of unique space, and the absence of a steering wheel, pedals and classic dashboard creates a feeling of openness and space.
This feeling is also emphasised by the large glass surfaces, the wide-span windscreen and the transparent roof. The same applies to the special geometry of the side windows: their upper half is strikingly angled – the greatest width is only slightly above eye level. A trick that Audi demonstrated for the first time in 2017 in the futuristic AI:CON concept car and which is now being taken to series production.
The change in the comfort zone is radical: while the boss sits in the back of the traditional luxury saloon, first class now moves to the front, to the first row. Because this is no longer necessarily subordinate to the driving function and the controls. In Level 4 driving mode, the steering wheel and pedals disappear, and the front area of the cabin, in all its spaciousness, with a perfect view through the large front and side windows as well as maximum movement possibilities, becomes the actual free space.
The interior appears particularly wide when the two front individual seats are moved all the way back. The Audi grandsphere is a 2+2 seater. An upholstered two-seater bench with the backrest pulled around to the side is integrated into the rear wall as a seating option, while the two front armchairs are designed for first-class comfort and space.
The seat and backrest of the two belt integral seats are visually separated from each other. The side bolsters of the backrest are discreetly angled to provide support in curves. The possible positions of the seats are optimised for the respective application:
In an upright position, the Audi grandsphere can be perfectly controlled ergonomically – if desired and outside level 4 zones. With a backrest angle of 40 degrees, passengers can relax and take advantage of the infotainment system. When the backrest is finally folded back to 60 degrees, a perfect resting position is achieved. The backrest head can be angled forward by 15 degrees. Integrated into this area are outlets for filtered and air-conditioned – even scented if desired – air, as well as loudspeakers that allow a private sound zone – inaudible to other passengers.
Between the front seats – normally invisibly hidden under a metal trim – is a compact, cooled on-board bar with two glasses and a beautifully designed bottle for soft drinks. This, too, is a sign of the Audi grandsphere concept’s first-class aspirations.
Without fittings, without screens: displays and operation
Surprise when looking around the natural-coloured, pared-down interior of the Audi grandsphere: Neither batteries of round instruments nor black screens for virtual display concepts can be seen before the driving functions are activated – the much-cited digital detox in its purest form.
Instead, clearly structured and calm zones of materials of the highest quality. Wood and wool, synthetic textile fabrics and metal can be seen as wall coverings, seat coverings and as floor carpets, pleasant to the touch. Many of these materials, such as the hornbeam veneers, come from sustainable cultivation or are made from recycled raw material. There is no leather in the Audi grandsphere – this, too, corresponds to a progressive understanding of luxury, which always includes inseparable sustainability.
Another surprise when the vehicle comes to life at a simple fingertip: there are displays – albeit in the form of projections on the wooden surfaces below the windscreen. Depending on the driving mode – manual with steering wheel, or in Level 4 – distributed across the entire interior width or segmented separately for driver and front passenger. All the information needed during the journey is displayed in high resolution and is easy to read.
And alternatively – in automated driving mode – the projection surface can also be used as a Cinemascope screen for infotainment content, or as a screen for video conferencing. In addition, a sensor bar is integrated below the projection screen for quick switching of content – from music to navigation, for example. This shows all functions and applications that are active in the car. Icons for the respective menus light up.
A special, highly innovative control element is located near the door cut-out on the interior trim: the MMI touchless response. If the driver sits in the active position behind the steering wheel, far forward in the interior, he or she can use this element to haptically select various function menus via a rotating ring and buttons and click through the respective levels. A simple, intuitive method of operation.
If, on the other hand, he/she tilts the seat back far back in Level 4 driving mode, he/she does not have to do without this comfort item. This is because a combination of gaze detection and gesture control is then used. A sensor directed at the eye detects the direction of gaze when the control unit is to be used. And the passenger only needs to make analogue hand movements – without having to lean forward – that are similar to those in haptic operation and can thus operate the system just as well – even completely without touching it.
The following applies to all operating modes – eye tracking, gesture or voice control, handwriting input and touch -: the Audi grandsphere concept adapts to the respective user and learns their preferences as well as frequently used menus – and on this basis can not only meaningfully supplement rudimentary commands, but also make individual suggestions to the user.
Control panels are also integrated into the armrests of the doors. In this way, the vehicle always offers the passengers the invisible touch surfaces by means of a visual indication of their position. VR glasses, which can be used in conjunction with infotainment options – for the Holoride system, for example – are also integrated into the door armrests on the left and right.
Dynamic monolith – the exterior design
5.35 metres long, 2 metres wide and 1.39 metres high – the dimensions of the Audi grandsphere concept clearly identify the saloon as a representative of the automotive luxury class. The wheelbase of 3.19 metres marks a best value that even puts the long version of the current Audi A8 in the shade. More surprising than these figures suggest, however, is the visual impression on first encounter. For the Audi grandsphere does not appear as a classic saloon at all, but rather as a tautly styled four-door GT with lines taken from the wind tunnel. And it does without any décor or superfluous flourishes.
At the same time, the Audi grandsphere consistently translates the specific conditions of the electric drive into typical proportions – a short overhang, a flat bonnet and the windscreen projecting far forward as the front boundary of the large interior. Nevertheless, unlike many e-cars, it does not appear futuristic at all, but on the contrary emphasises classic ideals of beauty. The upper edge of the bonnet is drawn as a horizontal line far into the side of the body, suggesting a long engine compartment – the hallmark of a GT. At the rear, this line continues at the same height above the rear wheel arch, encompassing the entire cabin and emphasising its size.
A second horizontal line originates from the lower edge of the bonnet and runs around the entire cabin below the side windows. It divides the door surfaces into horizontally oriented shoulders and the underlying convex vertical line above the sill. The wheel arches are gently yet strikingly modelled – in typical Audi fashion.
The slender rear behind the massive C-pillar echoes classic streamlining. And the dynamically sloping curve of the roof line identifies the grandsphere as a representative of the Audi Sportback tradition. All the lines, all the surfaces seem to relate organically to one another, combining to form a monolithic body.
The wheels of the Audi grandsphere concept are 23 inches in size and quote an icon of the 90s – Audi Avus. The six double spokes signalise lightweight construction and stability at the same time, reminiscent of functional motorsport wheels and the Bauhaus tradition of brand design.
Visible technology – the light
At the front, there is a new interpretation of the Audi brand face Singleframe: it is shaped as a flat hexagon. The inner surfaces, which lie behind a transparent cover, are illuminated indirectly from above when the car is in motion – a striking, extremely sculpturally structured look.
The headlamp units above the single frame appear narrow, like focused eyes. The light units quote the brand logo of the four rings: they enlarge and isolate the intersection of two rings to form a pupil – a new, unmistakable digital light signature. Depending on their function as daytime running lights or as dynamically staged indicators, the size of the illuminated areas can be adjusted to suit the traffic situation, thus making an unmistakable statement in favour of safety. The same graphics are also found in the rear light units – another significant feature of Audi lighting design.
Drive and charging
The technology platform of the Audi grandsphere – the so-called Premium Platform Electric or PPE – is designed exclusively for battery-electric drive and thus fully exploits all the advantages of this technology. The central element of the PPE is a battery module between the axles, which provides around 120 kWh of energy in the grandsphere concept. By using the entire vehicle base between the axles, Audi is able to achieve a flat layout for the battery.
Together with large wheels, this results in a basic proportion that is perfect not only for styling. A high degree of interior length and thus legroom in both rows of seats is one of the central advantages. In addition, the elimination of the transmission bell housing and the gimbal tunnel increases space comfort in electric cars.
Nevertheless, the Audi grandsphere does not do without the quattro drive that is essential for the brand. This is because the concept car has one electric motor each on the front and rear axles which, by means of electronic coordination, implement the all-wheel drive as required and in a perfect balance of driving dynamics and economy. The two electric motors of the Audi grandsphere concept mobilise a total output of 530 kW and a torque of 960 Newton metres.
Fast charging, long range
The heart of the drive is the 800-volt charging technology. As in the Audi e-tron GT, the technology ensures that the battery can be charged in a very short time at fast charging stations with an output of up to 270 kW.
This strategy allows charging times that come close to a classic refuelling stop for combustion-powered cars. Just ten minutes are enough to take on board drive energy for more than 300 kilometres of driving. In less than 25 minutes, the charge level of the 120 kWh battery can be increased from 5 to 80 percent.
Together with a range of more than 750 kilometres – depending on the drive variant and power – the Audi grandsphere concept is uncompromisingly suitable for long distances. And it keeps pace with internal combustion cars in terms of range and charging speed, making it the perfect all-rounder for everyday motoring.
In terms of dynamic qualities, the Audi grandsphere concept – as is typical for an electric car – even outshines its combustion engine rivals. Thanks to the high torque available from the very first revolution, acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h can be completed in barely more than four seconds; the top speed is limited with a view to range.
Air suspension and active chassis for maximum comfort
The front wheels are connected via a five-link axle specially optimised for electric vehicles. At the rear, a multi-link axle, like the front one, is made of aluminium. The steerable rear wheels ensure excellent manoeuvrability despite the long wheelbase. The Audi grandsphere concept luxury touring saloon features Audi air suspension – a single-chamber air suspension with adaptive dampers. While it can be used for dynamic driving when required, under normal conditions it guarantees sedan-like comfort without any noticeable body movements.
The reason: in the Audi grandsphere concept there is an active suspension system. The high-tech system can pull each wheel up or push it down separately via electromechanical actuators in a matter of milliseconds. This makes it possible to actively control the position of the body in any driving situation, thereby greatly reducing body roll or dive when accelerating or braking. Thanks to the front camera, which detects larger bumps, the regulation is carried out with foresight. The topographical data of the navigation are additionally used to integrate curve radii, inclines and declines into the system’s anticipation.
BRAND: Audi AG
virtualdesignmagazine Michael Hiller
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