► Audi’s level 4 autonomous concepts
► Aicon has no steering wheel or pedals
► Elaine SUV is closer to production
► ‘AI’ tag denotes autonomous Audi model
If you’re not keen on the autonomous future then best skip the Audi stand at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show. As well as the public debut of its level 3 A8, the Elaine concept is a near-future look at a level 4 SUV with automated driving and driver-free parking.
But most intriguing of all is the swoopy-looking, low-slung Audi Aicon – a 2+2 with four doors, no pedals and no steering wheel.
Say that again?
That’s right. Where you’d normally expect a roundish thing and some levers you poke with your feet you get – wait for it – a shelf. And of course a large central display.
There’s also an ‘electronic vehicle assistant’ that will talk to you and configure the car according to the data on your smartphone, while each door has its own haptic controls.
Furthermore, there's voice control and even eye-tracking; look at the function you want to operate on the big screen then use the controls on the door to change it.
So what do I get instead of driving pleasure?
You get the full luxury experience; at 5.4 metres it’s longer than the outgoing LWB A8 and the wheelbase is even longer than the new one, with the aim to provide an interior as spacious and comfortable as a first-class airline cabin.
We’ll have to take their word for it on that one. But a complete absence of the usual input devices frees up some room and allows it to become more of a lounge – after all, you don't necessarily have to be facing the way you’re going if you’re not driving it. An absence of a B-pillar makes it easy to get in and out,
The exterior is recognisably Audi even allowing for the 10-years-hence design approach, and it also incorporates front and rear light areas made up of 600 pixels, allowing it to produce moving graphics to communicate with other road users, a system not unlike the Volkswagen ID concept.
What’s the hardware like?
Four motors send power to each wheel, with 349bhp and 406lb ft of torque on offer and the promise of brisk acceleration – although with the computer dictating things the focus is understandably on range and efficiency, a claimed 497 miles per charge.
An 800 volt system means rapid charging is possible, with an 80% juice-up possible in 30 minutes.
Quattro drive is a given of course, with each motor controllable on an individual basis. What is new is the pneumatic springs and dampers, with electronic control to eliminate body roll and dive. Conventional steering components have also been ditched, and with symmetrical layouts for the front and rear drive units, four-wheel-steering is also included; the claimed turning circle of 8.5 metres is actually less than that of an A1.
So can I buy one then?
No, but level 4 tech is inevitable, and just as the A8’s level 3 technology will filter down to A4 and below, in a decade or less expect to see an Audi driving down the high street with its occupants paying no attention to the outside world whatsoever…
Is the Audi Elaine concept any more entertaining?
Well, the Elaine (above) does have a load of autonomous tech, too, but it's also a direct preview of a forth-coming all-electric Audi production model. And it's got a steering wheel.
If it (she?) looks familiar, that's because it's a re-working of the e-tron Sportback concept from the 2017 Shanghai motor show earlier in the year. Which is to say an SUV coupe intended to occupy a similar market position to the current A7.
Goes a bit, does she?
Yeesh. But, yes.
The 'future production' configuration of Elaine's electric drivetrain has one motor on the front axle, two at the back, and produces a nominal 429bhp - boosting to 496bhp whenever the need arises.
That's enough performance to deliver 0-62mph in 4.5sec, while the massive 95kWh battery pack should achieve in excess of 310 miles' driving range. Though presumably not if you spend too much time wasting 911s at the traffic lights.
Will Elaine anticipate my every need and desire?
In a manner of speaking, yes. Alongside the usual autonomous driving gubbins, the artificial intelligence aspect of the concept is suppose to get to know the driver to such an extent that it becomes like a combination of butler and personal trainer.
There's even a wearable device as part of an Audi Fit Driver program. This monitors your vital signs and aims to reduce tension - to such an extent that 'drivers should be more relaxed when they get out of the car than when they got in.' Hmm.
All this 'bio-feedback' can be monitored on the virtual cockpit instrument display.
You can do your own jokes about a happy ending.
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