Audi Skysphere Concept Is Two Cars In One, Featuring Flexibility

  • The Audi Skysphere, a rear-wheel-drive electric convertible concept, is the first of a trio of Audi concepts in the coming months, all with a -sphere name. 
  • As Audi Design Studio chief Gael Buzyn told Car and Driver, one of its attributes is the ability to extend or shorten its wheelbase by 9.8 inches.
  • It's intended as both a semi-autonomous grand tourer—it has Level 4 self-driving capability—and a driver-centric sports roadster.
The Audi Skysphere concept car has a long, low hood and rear-mounted cab as the theme, a theme that has attracted car enthusiasts for a century or more. This is filtered through Audi's technological worldview, with a touch of emotion. With the push of a virtual button and with the help of electric motors and telescopic structural elements, the entire front end of the Skysphere can be extended or contracted, from an autonomous, long-wheelbase, stable wagon to a short 9.8 inches and 0.4-inch driver-centric low-inch convertible sports car.

Even the interior has changed. When the passenger seat moves backward, the steering wheel and pedals come out of the partition, and the driver part of the instrument panel moves forward to serve as the instrument panel. Yes, this is a real transformer.

Gael Buzyn and the team of Audi Design Studio in Malibu drew inspiration from the proportions and uses of the Horch 853 in 1931. They conceived and designed the Skysphere concept, the predecessor of Audi, a long and luxurious roadster with compact cab. Both cars also drive the rear wheels, but unlike the inline eight-cylinder Horch, the Skysphere concept car is equipped with a 623 horsepower electric motor and a battery pack, of which 30% is located between the passengers and the other 70% is located in the rear compartment. Behind the wall, a 40:60 front and rear weight balance is produced. Audi said that at a single speed and 553 pound-feet of torque, there is theoretically enough propulsion to make Skysphere reach 62 mph in 4.0 seconds.

Buzyn points to the active aerodynamics of the front and rear of the car, which remain off in GT mode but open in sport mode. Although they have not been used in concept cars yet, they can create a path for air to pass under the car and out of the rear diffuser, effectively creating a venturi tunnel for downforce.

Despite the sportiness of the silhouette and the lack of obvious cargo area, there is actually room for a custom luggage case, under the glass and directly above the rear drivetrain components, and space for two custom golf bags under the long hood, too.

Buzyn said that the interior is a subtle tribute to Art Deco architecture, but Skysphere is also equipped with a full dashboard screen that can be separated, backed or approached to the driver based on usage patterns, and a large touch screen for armrests. Otherwise, the gorgeous and simple interior also focuses on semi-automatic commuting comfort and sports driving support. The basic theme is to continue Audi's technological frontier into a more technological future, but at the same time, it is committed to preserving the sensibility and joy of a good car.

However, more important than the details of the Skysphere concept is generality: it tells us about the future of Audi, especially as new models become more and more autonomous. The concept depends on the realization of at least level 4 autonomous driving technology, that is, the ability to drive fully autonomously without any manual intervention under limited, predetermined environments or conditions. Although this level of autonomous driving is still under development in terms of technology and legislation, if your car can one day turn into a sports roadster, once you let it take you out of the city and spend a fun weekend frolicking in the mountains. Its desirability will increase.

According to Audi, when Skysphere is in a more economical travel mode, the 80.0 kWh battery pack will provide Skysphere with approximately 310 miles of European WLTP cycle range. Don't expect to see the mass-produced Audi Skysphere, but all aspects of it are expected to appear in Audis in the near future.

Meanwhile, Audi will also reveal two other concepts, the Grandsphere and the Urbansphere, in coming months, all designed for an autonomous future. Desirable, sure, but how much of it can really happen? Could we really have one car from commute to canyon, even in the presumably dystopian metropolises of 2033 and beyond? Maybe. I didn't use to think so, but now, I’m not so sure.