Is this the future of luxury motoring? The new Audi Skysphere concept is an electric two-door convertible that can drive itself and even adjust its length, and it's a key indicator of what is to come from the German brand in the near future.
Set to make its public debut on Friday at Monterey Car Week, which is appropriate because the Skysphere has been designed by Audi's design studio in Malibu, California, just down the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey.
The design inspiration for the Skysphere was Audi's past, specifically the 1930s Horch 853 roadster; Horch was one of the four brands that formed the original Auto Union (hence the four rings) that later became Audi. The idea behind the Skysphere – the first of three future-defining ‘sphere' concepts the brand will unveil in the near-future – is to demonstrate how the luxury car could evolve.
“New technologies like electrification, digitalization, and autonomous driving gave us the opportunity to create an experience that goes way beyond the one that typical roadsters offer today,” explained Gael Buzyn, design project manager.
But while it draws on the past, the design and technology of the Skysphere is all about the future. For starters it has a 465kW electric drivetrain, but the Skysphere is also about pushing boundaries, with experimental self-driving functionality and it's biggest party trick – it can change its size.
According to the company the length of the Skysphere changes depending on the settings you choose. In ‘Sports' mode the wheelbase is reduced so the overall length of the car is 4.94m, and rear-wheel steering is engaged for maximum driving engagement. But, when you switch to the autonomous ‘Grand Touring' setting, the Skysphere stretches to 5.19m to create more room in the cabin while you stretch out and relax.
That's not all that happens in autonomous ‘Grand Touring' mode either – the steering wheel and pedals swivel away so you're left with no controls, and more space to relax (if you're the type of person who could relax in a car without a steering wheel in front of you).
Don't expect to see a Skysphere in an Audi showroom anytime soon, or even a shape-shifting model, but there are elements that will translate to production vehicles.
The drivetrain features an electric motor on the rear axle that's capable of 465kW and 750Nm of torque. It's paired with an 80kWh battery that gives the Skysphere a theoretical range of 500km of driving. Interestingly, the batteries for the Skysphere are modular, so they can be positioned in the ideal spot for dynamics and packaging, rather than mounted on the floor like a conventional EV. In the Skysphere the batteries are positioned behind the cabin with some between the seats for optimum weight distribution.
Audi will follow up the Skysphere with the Grandsphere later this year, which will reportedly preview what we can expect on the next-generation A8 limousine. Then in 2022 we'll get the Urbansphere, an SUV preview for the future.