Audi to build all-electric rugged 4x4 to rival Defender and G-Class

Published: 17 March 2023 Updated: 26 April 2023

► Audi wants to build a true off-road 4×4
► ActiveSphere concept gives us design clues
► Platform linked to new Scout sub-brand

Audi is planning on building a truly rugged, all-electric off-road SUV to compete with the likes of the Mercedes G-Class (or, more accurately, the upcoming EQG) as well as the Land Rover Defender and Ford Bronco.

At an exclusive preview of the new ActiveSphere concept, Audi head of design Marc Lichte tells CAR that ‘nobody before at Audi has designed a rugged SUV – and I’m talking truly rugged. It’s a segment only capitalised on by our competitors, and it’s a car that we don’t have in our portfolio… yet.

‘I’m a big fan of really rugged SUVs, and there’s potential there because there are only really two premium players [Mercedes and Land Rover] – I think there is space for a third one.’

Audi’s latest concept car – the ActiveSphere – runs on PPE, the battery-electric platform that will start to be deployed in production cars in 2023 with the A6 e-Tron and Q6 e-Tron. The planned 4×4 due in the next few years will use it too, and the Audi model is likely to share some of its structure with the models being spun out of the newly-reborn Scout brand being set up by VW Group. ‘If you look to the VW Group, there will be a real rugged SUV platform in the future – and I’m not talking about the one with Ford. So there is a platform available to us.

‘And, as you know, we’re experienced in sharing platforms. Think Q7 and Cayenne. E-Tron GT and Taycan. I think, honestly, in the premium 4×4 segment there is only the Defender and the G – because of this, both of those models are sold out for the whole year.’

The ActiveSphere is designed to show how this properly rugged SUV could really look, with Marc telling CAR that some of its design cues will be implemented into this new 4×4 expected to join the Audi range. The flared wheelarches and almost teeth-like side sills are expected to stay for the production car, for example. ‘With our history of quattro and rally successes in the 80s and 90s, it will not look like a copy of the Defender, I can promise you.’

As for a release date, the likelihood is that it’ll launch around the same ballpark as the Scout SUV and truck in 2026. However, Lichte is keen to point out how quick the e-Tron GT’s development was using the Taycan’s J1 platform; ‘it was the fastest development, and the cheapest, in our history.’ By that implication that Lichte and his team could pull a fast one all over again, we could see a rugged Audi 4×4 arrive in 2025.

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By Jake Groves

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