New Audi ActiveSphere concept is a chunky coupe pick-up | CAR Magazine

New Audi ActiveSphere concept is a chunky coupe pick-up

Published: 26 January 2023 Updated: 26 January 2023

► Audi’s fourth ‘sphere’ concept
► It’s an off-roading coupe design study
► Features mixed-reality interior

This wild looking thing is the new Audi ActiveSphere concept. The new design study smashes together different segments in the industry – the coupe, the pick-up, the luxury car – to create a futuristic look at how a proper off-road Audi could look.

The ActiveSphere is the fourth, and last, of the ‘sphere’ concepts, following on from the GrandSphere, SkySphere and UrbanSphere. And it just so happens to be Audi head of design, Marc Lichte’s favourite of the four; ‘and not just because of the design. That in itself is awesome, but I’m crazy for outdoor activities – mountain biking and sailing particularly – I just want to spend all of my time outdoors. This is the perfect companion for that lifestyle.’

I’m confused already – what is this meant to be?

Stay with me. The ActiveSphere is a more ambitious look at what an Audi of the future could look like, brimming with cues from the brand’s lineage as well as the rest of the ‘sphere’ family of concepts.

At the front, shallow headlights (that are filled with OLEDs and flow through a continuous series of animations) flank a see-through panel in the front – almost reminiscent of the Singleframe grille arrangement seen on Audis for the last few decades.

But Lichte tells us the Singleframe will be no more in the long run: ‘From today’s perspective, the huge portfolio of cars we will see [i.e. the A6 e-Tron and Q6 e-Tron SUV] will still have Singleframes, but it will be an evolution. They’re a bridge between this generation and the next – step-by-step we will see it change. In series production cars from 2027 onwards, the Singleframe shape will change completely.’

There are tonnes of chunky design cues to be seen, with huge 22-inch wheels shod in off-road rubber and air suspension that rises to improve ground clearance. The side sills are trimmed with tough panels that slot together like a jigsaw puzzle when the car is in its lower ride height.

And it’s still a coupe – or sportback, in Audi terms, given it has rear doors – with a sleek, swooping roofline not usually seen on your average SUV. There’s mention of a TT-like shape to the silhouette from designer and head of Audi’s design centre in Malibu, Charles LeFranc: ‘The proportions are unusual, yes, but you have a very typical Audi arch in the roofline much like the TT. It’s like taking that proportion and putting a spin on it.’

Is this how the TT survives – as design cues in future models? ‘TT is part of our DNA,’ responds Lichte, ‘but look at the front end! It looks long, but it’s not actually that long… we’re able to visually extend the bonnet similar to how we did with the TT – the TT bow.’

Arguably the biggest party piece of the ActiveSphere concept is the ‘active back’. Lichte isn’t keen on calling it a pick-up, mainly because it’s not really anywhere near as capacious, but it’s useful for storing bikes, skis and so on without needing a roof rack (even if the concept features one, too). The rear glass panel slides up the rear of the car, with the tailgate folding down. There’s also a movable partition that rises up to separate the interior from the load bay area.

Speaking of the interior…

Ah, yes. It’s clean in here, using a huge number of recycled materials and a bold colour scheme. It’s strictly a four-seater, with separate and huge chairs flanking a large centre console. ‘The speaker housings, for example, are made from scraps of wood,’ says LeFranc, ‘we have barely any material that’s not sustainable in here.’

The ActiveSphere is designed to show off Level 4 autonomous capabilities, so the interior can be had with or without a steering wheel. A dashboard panel and wheel fold out from the floor in front of you when you want to drive yourself.

The dashboard is clean and devoid of almost all information, read-outs and data while you drive. Instead, the info available to you is accessed through Audi Dimensions, a whole new augmented reality-based system that overlays information to you digitally instead. The idea is that you would wear a pair of smart glasses that would have all your data in them, which can then be accessed in the car. We saw a demonstration of how the technology worked, including how to navigate up a mountain to meet some friends, or how to access music.

‘Why are we doing this? Because we want to give you some physical freedom, says Sid Odedra, head of UX at Audi, ‘we have this lounge-like space, but we also want to give you digital freedom, too. We’re not giving you less here, we’re giving you more using augmented and mixed reality.’

Of course, the technology isn’t anywhere near production ready, but the ActiveSphere’s interior concept is a direction the brand wants to go in. It’s big picture thinking right now, with the aim to sweat out the small stuff (i.e. somehow make it a production reality) over the course of the decade.

‘I can see it where we’re going to get to a point where we just have maximum exposure to screens’ Sid tells CAR, ‘and then we’re all going to want a digital detox.’ The idea of the Audi Dimensions system is to give you as much info, or as little, as you like.

Is any of the powertrain a bit more… real?

Well, the ActiveSphere runs on the new PPE platform – the new BEV architecture we’ll start seeing production cars use later this year with the new A6 e-Tron and Q6 e-Tron. The platform has an 800-volt architecture for fast charging.

In the case of the ActiveSphere, the platform has a 100kWh battery pack with 436bhp and 531lb ft at its disposal via two electric motors – one for each axle.

You can read more about the other Audi Sphere’s on their individual pages:

We’ll bring you more on the Audi ActiveSphere as soon as we have it.

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, gamer, serial Lego-ist, lover of hot hatches