Audi Activesphere’s Open-Bed Surprise |

Audi has revealed what it says is the fourth in a quartet of related concept cars, the Activesphere. This sporty fastback sedan joins the previous Skysphere, Grandsphere, and Urbansphere concept cars to showcase the company’s technical and design direction.

Audi dubs the Activesphere’s sleek roofline a “sportback” design, like that of its A7 hatchback. But where the A7 has a hinged hatch that opens to reveal a trunk-like cargo area, the Activesphere concept has a retractable window that creates an open bed like one on a pickup truck.

Activesphere rolls on Audi’s Premium Platform Electric modular electric drive system, with a claimed range of more than 375 miles and extremely fast charging times thanks to 800-volt technology. The 800-volt, 100-kilowatt-hour battery supports 270-kilowatt DC fast charging that can add 185 miles of range in ten minutes and it can charge from 5 percent to 80 percent state of charge in less than 25 minutes. The front and rear electric motors produce a combined output of 436 horsepower and 531 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Activesphere’s aerodynamic drag is minimized for maximum range through details like active wheels that feature moveable surfaces that open at low speeds to provide cooling airflow and close at highway speed for reduced drag. The car also employs rear-view cameras in place of drag-heavy outside mirrors.

Additionally, the concept car’s ground clearance is also variable thanks to the air suspension system. It can rise 1.57 inches from the regular height of 8.2 inches for off-roading and it can drop by the same amount when driving on-road for reduced drag and a lower center of gravity. The lift and the Activesphere’s short front and rear overhangs contribute to an approach angle of 18.9 degrees and a departure angle of 28.1 degrees.

As radical as the Activesphere’s open bed looks, the car’s interior is similarly dramatic. During planned Level 4 autonomous driving, the steering wheel stows away out of sight and the dashboard is free of instrumentation or display screens because the car interacts with the occupants entirely through the Audi Dimensions virtual reality goggles.

This means that information about the car only appears when it is needed, as when the battery state of charge is getting low. The virtual controls are projected in positions near the functions they support, so virtual HVAC controls hover in space in front of the car’s HVAC vents, right where the driver might expect them and audio controls appear over the speaker.

But obviously, virtual reality has capability far beyond that of replacing physical controls inside the cabin. The system can provide drivers with traffic safety information during a commute or high-resolution 3D topographical maps for off-roading.

Using glasses rather than a full-width head-up display of the sort shown by BMW at CES was a choice meant to let drivers see information in 360 degrees, and not just in the area of ​​the windshield, said Oliver Keyerleber, Head of Concept Car Projects at Audi Design. “For us, it was important to not focus on the windshield and use the entire space of the vehicle,” he said. Additionally, unlike a HUD, glasses aren’t tied to the vehicle. “It is a smart device you can take wherever you go,” he added.

When considering the entire project, Keyleber pondered the biggest challenge in developing the Activesphere. “That’s a question that I keep asking myself at the end of every project!” he said. “I can say clearly here for this project it was the package, the technical package, the job specification. With the battery and drivetrain layout to then arrive at this very elegant sportback body – a coupe-like silhouette. At the same time have an interior that gives you that maximum space and spaciousness. And of course at the same time to have this active sportback function with that pickup bed.”

It wasn’t just a matter of getting the vehicle’s components to fit in place, but also to accommodate the driver’s requirements, Keyleber continued. “To marry all these elements and still have enough space to have two fully electric bikes or golf bags or other leisure activity contraptions stored in that pickup bed. And that was the main challenge and we fought for every single inch and millimeter, that was the biggest challenge.”

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