► Audi's autonomous GrandSphere concept
► BEV has 710bhp, 460+ claimed range
► Expected to replace the A8 saloon
Audi's built a private jet for the road. This is the GrandSphere, a massive, autonomous battery-electric concept car that's designed to push the brand out of business class and into luxury car territory.
The new concept car establishes a new design direction for Audi and introduces just how it'll deliver Level 4 autonomy in the years to come. While it's just a concept, the GrandSphere is expected to replace the A8 saloon from around 2025.
Read on for your full GrandSphere debrief.
Tell me about that design!
The five-door neo-GT GrandSphere, which will eventually replace the A8 saloon, measures 5350mm in length (making it just a touch longer than a Bentley Flying Spur), is a full two metres wide, crouches down to a sports car-like 1390mm lowness and unfolds a massive wheelbase of 3190mm.
From the front, the 'singleframe' grille (a marker of every Audi for the past decade at least) takes on a different design, sitting like a stuffed black plastic fish behind a large transparent panel. The enormous windscreen merges seamlessly with an equally enormous panoramic roof, the once edgy quattro blisters finally evolved into proper muscle cords and, heading rearward, the slim rear lights carry BMW Z8 and Jaguar F-Type overtones.
Matching the overall grandeur are the dominant 23-inch wheels inspired by the 1991 Audi Avus design exercise. They're shod with Pirellis, and the rims can be fitted with drag-reducing clip-on carbon fibre aero blades. While the show car boasts suicide rear doors and a pillarless entrance to generate that coveted theatre lounge effect.
'I've designed hundreds of cars, but I have never been as proud of my work as I am right now at the introduction of the GrandSphere concept,' Audi design boss, Marc Lichte, tells CAR.
'Normally, when we design a new model, we start with the exterior,' explains Lichte. 'This time, however, the car was designed from the inside out.'
So... what's the interior like, then?
Enter the huge cockpit through the rear-hinged doors into a leather-free space brimming with recycled materials and wood veneers are from hornbeam trees of 'sustainable cultivation.' The seats recline enough where you feel like you're dozing on a long-haul flight after the second glass of claret.
Don't feel like taking a nap? Then check out instead the full-width projection zone formerly known as dashboard which provides on-demand access to, say, a video conference, plays a movie, takes you on a tour of your destination or displays a virtual surface of choice. Like the current A8, the next-generation model can of course also double-act as good old-fashioned driver's car.
During the quick yet complex conversion process, a multilink steering column unfolds from its recess at the bottom of the A-post, the black caoutchouc-wrapped quartic steering-wheel rises to its vertical position, and behind it appears an oblong monitor which replaces both the classic in-dash instrumentation and the secondary head-up display.
But will it ever be real?
It will. Audi is expected to replace the A8 with this, albeit with some changes. 'Around about 2025, we want to have a new vehicle positioned in the luxury car segment,' says head of exterior design, Philipp Romers, 'we want to bring as many of these design elements into production as possible.'
Need more proof? We asked Romers' boss: 'concept is not really the right word, because what you see here is very, very close to the real thing,' says Lichte. 'About 80 per cent of the design is straightforward carryover, including the radically reimagined interior. Only the front end will change by adopting certain elements of the SkySphere.' The production version is also expected to remain loyal to front-hinged doors and reinforcing B-posts, rather than having the rear-opening rear doors on the concept.
The key to all of this is Audi's Project Artemis– the secretive project developing next-generation battery-electric platforms that will start to bear fruit in the next few years. The platform is a combined effort with Porsche, and with the GrandSphere concept, it has a 120kWh battery pack and an e-motor on each axle for e-quattro grip, active air suspension and rear-wheel steering. Audi says the GrandSphere concept has 710bhp, 679lb ft, a sub-four-second 0-62mph time and a claimed range of 466 miles.
What about Level 4 autonomy? The whole point of this 'Sphere' series of concept cars is also designed to show how Audi will be ready for when the technology comes on stream. While it's still some years away – even those that crafted both the SkySphere and GrandSphere concepts admit that – VW Group's new CARIAD think tank (headed up by board members like Audi boss Markus Duesmann, Porsche's Oliver Blume and VW's passenger car boss, Ralf Brandstätter) is designed to make it a reality.
Expect to see a real version of the GrandSphere in 2025.
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