Audi Activesphere Is an Off-Roader with No Screens, AR, and a Truck Bed

  • The latest in a series of “Sphere” concepts, the Audi Activesphere takes the form of an off-road-oriented crossover with a coupe-like roofline.
  • The highlight is the cabin, which uses augmented reality for all the vehicle controls—such as navigation, climate and entertainment—instead of a screen.
  • Another cool feature of the Activesphere is the split tailgate, which sees the rear glass slide upwards to turn the cargo area into an exposed bed for transporting bikes and other gear.

The Audi Activesphere concept blurs the lines between automotive segments, combining a sloping, car-like roofline with a decidedly SUV-like stance and ride height. The fourth in Audi’s series of “Sphere” concepts—following the Skysphere roadster, Grandsphere sedan and Urbansphere minivan—the Activesphere envisions a sleekly styled crossover that supports an outdoor lifestyle and boasts new technologies that Audi hopes to implement in the coming decades.

Like its conceptual companions, the Activesphere is electric and rides on the PPE platform that will underpin the upcoming A6 e-tron as well as Porsche’s electric Macan. A 100.0-kWh battery provides more than 370 miles of range, and electric motors on the front and rear axles combine for 436 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque. PPE also brings 800-volt electrical architecture, which allows the battery to add about 186 miles of range in 10 minutes at 270 kW. Audi also claims the battery can go from 5 to 80 percent in 25 minutes.

The Activesphere stretches almost as long as a gas-powered Audi Q8, but it’s 3.0 inches wider, stands about 4.0 inches lower and has a 1.0-inch shorter wheelbase. The concept rides on an air suspension with adaptive dampers and 22-inch wheels wrapped in 285/55 tires designed to tackle a variety of terrains. The wheels have active aero that opens when off-road for cooling and closes when on pavement to improve efficiency. Cameras replace traditional side mirrors to reduce drag and increase range.

The focus on off-road exploration has led to a transparent interpretation of the “Singleframe” grille that has graced Audis for the past two decades, so that the driver can better see obstacles in front of the vehicle. The lower parts of the doors are also glass. The 8.2-inch ride height can be raised by 1.6 inches when leaving the tarmac, and Audi quotes the approach angle at a decent 18.9 degrees while the departure angle is a more versatile 28.1 degrees.

One of the Activesphere’s coolest features is the “active back.” Essentially a split tailgate, the bottom section folds down like a pickup truck while the rear glass slides up, turning the cargo area into a small bed that can hold a couple of bikes. A motorized bulkhead behind the rear seats keeps the cabin closed, and a ski rack is integrated into the roof. The Activesphere is the first Audi to be designed with a split tailgate, but the brand has been reticent about production feasibility.

Audi gets really experimental in the Activesphere’s cabin. There’s still a steering wheel and pedals, but the physical controls fold away when autonomous driving is activated. Straight lines dominate the simple dashboard, which includes a full-width sound bar and air vent. Red trim pops against the black background, and the center console has heated and cooled beverage storage.

You may have noticed that the Activesphere bucks the trend of giant touchscreens. This is because the entire interior is the screen, thanks to the extensive use of augmented reality. Four headrests—stored in a console in the roof—allow occupants to engage with what the automaker calls the “Audi dimensions.” The system basically contains information and controls about what you can see in the real world and physically interact with—similar to what Iron Man uses to work on his suits in the Marvel movies, although you’ll need to wear special glasses and probably not as effortlessly charismatic as Robert Downey Jr.

Vehicle status, navigation and entertainment are all included in the augmented reality interface, and the system tracks the user’s eyes and brings up more detailed information if the user focuses on a certain menu or screen. Gesture control allows the user to interact with the virtual controls they see as they would with a physical control, turning to adjust a dial or tapping to click a button.

The augmented reality can also extend beyond the cabin—when off-road, a topographical map can be projected onto the surrounding environment, while traffic information, routes and safety warnings can also be placed on the driver’s view of the road when commuting. Meanwhile, the passengers can view their own individual feed, adjust their climate or entertainment settings or explore restaurants or activities for the final destination. Audi also says the headsets can be used outside the car, either to monitor the vehicle’s condition or when participating in sports such as skiing or cycling.

While the Activesphere’s exterior design doesn’t look too far-fetched, the sci-fi interior is definitely years—if not decades—away from production. Still, the unorthodox crossover offers a glimpse into Audi’s crystal ball, hinting at what the brand’s electrified future might look like and the technologies Audi is developing that could change the way we use our cars’ interiors.