Audi wants to conquer Chinese cities with long-distance electric car components in the form of a shuttle. We took a seat in the Audi Urbansphere beforehand.
What do you think when it comes to urban mobility insights? Small, single seater autonomous driving that eases congestion in cities, is ultra-efficient and follows the motto of “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, presented by Ingolstadt at the Beijing Motor Show.
The Urbansphere aims to complete the trio of the Sphere concept car family and follows the two previous studies: the Audi Skysphere, introduced in August 2021 and the Audi Grandsphere, which premiered in September 2021. While the Skysphere focused on the sporting aspects of the brand and the Grandsphere’s work on the travel theme, The Urbansphere, unsurprisingly, aims to cover urban terrain. Although that can not really be deduced from the technical data, despite the steering of the rear axle.
5.51 meters long across the city
Because at 5.51 metres, the car is longer than the Volkswagen T7 Multivan, which measures almost five metres. Even the long version of the Audi A8 is only 5.19 meters long. With a height of 1.78 meters and opening in opposite directions, the study is eight centimeters taller than Audi’s most impressive production car, the 1.70-meter Q8. And when it comes to width, the concept tops the A8, Q8 and T7 with a length of 2.01 meters: Audi’s largest production sedan is 1.95 meters, the top SUV is about 2.00 meters and even the spacious VW bus is just 1.94 meters tall – all without External mirrors, of course. Urbansphere’s powerful 24-inch wheels 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 cliched as it is captivating, and the second follows later: the car is so big because it makes the interior more spacious.
The car was not developed for Europe, but to meet the needs of Chinese customers, who, as is known, move not through narrow Old Town streets, but through traffic jams in crowded megacities. “We developed the car together with our Chinese customers, and we specifically asked what customers understand when it comes to luxury. The answer was space and the feeling of spaciousness,” explains Norbert Weber, Head of Interior Design at Audi.
This was also used as an opportunity to not design the car from the outside in, as is usually the case, but the other way around. With the Urbansphere, the interior is designed first and then the outer shell around it. In order not to look too bulky, the designers had to resort to some tricks. The so-called Quattro cheekbones, i.e. the wheel arches on display, are much less recognizable than would be seen on the A6 or other members of the Sphere family. The hood is also relatively short. An item that both Skysphere and Grandsphere were by no means scarce.
Cosmetics guarantees more dynamics
“This was the only way we were able to achieve a wheelbase of 3.4 meters and at the same time create so much space inside,” explains Philip Romers, Head of Exterior Design. To conceal the truck’s massive, monolithic shape, a chrome trim strip on the sideline has been extended about 15 cm below the glass roof line, making the Urbansphere’s shape appear flatter and more dynamic.
The front and back feature large LED surfaces. In the foreground, the vertical lines of the massive single frame were implemented using LED strips surrounded by the surface of the LED matrix. The vehicle must use it to communicate with its surroundings. Something similar can also be found on the back. This functionality is important because the Urbansphere, like its two brothers in the Sphere family, was designed as an autonomous vehicle (Tier 4) in which its occupants do not have to perform any driving tasks on most trips. This would also solve the issue of finding a parking space. The self-driving car only drives and does not stop.
6 seats but no car sharing
With its six seats and an automated driving function, the Urbansphere will have the ideal prerequisites for the concept of active participation in the city. Almost a stand-alone luxury shuttle for the top urban 10,000. That’s pretty much what it feels like when you’re sitting on the comfy seats in the mobile lounge. Everything is so respectable and beloved that it doesn’t take much imagination to think of the right fine wines and gourmet hors d’oeuvres.
If Audi designers have their way, the city car is aimed at individual and corporate customers who sit in the second row and usually have their driver and assistant, and perhaps their families on the weekend as well. There are two jump seats in the back, and two regular seats in the front, but they have a lot less legroom than the passengers in the middle who have to spoil.
Giant transparent foldable screen
There, in the second row, the well-known Grandsphere water dispenser is housed in a height-adjustable center console, which is intended to make long stays in the car more comfortable and lively. In addition, middle row passengers can access the cinema screen, a massive, transparent OLED screen that occupies the entire width of the vehicle and can be moved vertically from the roof area.
Movies must be shown on it, but video conferencing can also be held on it – if necessary also in split-screen mode. If the screen is not in use, it can be folded under the glazed ceiling area. But you still can’t see unobstructed from the windshield. In China, true luxury obviously means looking at the backrest of the employees – even if you don’t need to because the car is driving alone.
Relaxation, privacy and entertainment
Even then, passengers of the second row do not have to do without the screen entirely: in the front seats, slightly smaller screens are integrated into the backrests, with which passengers can work separately.
To make it really comfortable, the seats can be reclined up to 60 degrees and the leg rest can be extended. Combined with the soft rug, plush interior, and sense of space of the Presidential Suite, time will surely pass – even if others are sitting in a traffic jam outside. And if the relaxed atmosphere isn’t enough: in the so-called Relax and Leisure mode, trips should be made more enjoyable with meditation apps. For added privacy, there is also the option to extend a cover from the headrest, which isolates the occupants from other occupants and allows better use of the special sound area of the headrest.
Gesture control and eye tracking
Since you can’t access the MMI’s non-touch response controls in this lying position, it can also be operated via eye-tracking-assisted gesture control and interact with commands in playfully shimmering graphics.
The MMI Non-Touch Response Controller is also available for first-row passengers; Instead of a large cinema screen or other screens, infotainment is presented there via a projector that lights up an elegant hornbeam shell, similar to the Grandsphere. As in the previous study, the Urbansphere’s pedals and steering wheel can also be extended and folded so far 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 completely do without these classic car building elements, supports the driving concept. Based on the PPE platform, the 120 kWh battery should allow ranges of up to 750 kilometres. Thanks to 800V technology, as in the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Ttron GT, there is a charging capacity of up to 270 kW and driving power can be recharged in 10 minutes for a distance of 300 km, in 25 minutes the charge should be from 5 to 80 percent . Everything is analogous to the world of Grandsphere.
Audi also relies on an all-wheel drive system unusual for the city, in the Urbansphere. The wheels are powered by an electric motor on both the front and rear axles, with the front axle possibly using an asynchronous machine to reduce friction and can be disabled when skidding. The two electric motors combined have an output of 295 kW and a system torque of 690 Nm.
Combined with the air suspension, it feels like a long-distance motorhome that should also be on the road in non-level 4 areas.
Unlike the previous two predecessors of the Sphere family, the Urbansphere is thus more willing to compromise and isn’t built for application quite like the sporty Skysphere, which should operate without a roof.
To the hydrogen car – can refuel quickly.
For a battery electric vehicle – it will soon provide enough range and will not need to charge more than the combustion engines to refuel.
With the Urbansphere, Audi presents the third and final member of the family of concept cars and finishes off the triple well. For European viewers in particular, it will not be clear what added value the Grandsphere offers compared to the Urbansphere. Because the more space the more the same scale and makes the supposed city concept well suited for travel.