The Audi Sky Sphere isn’t just a concept — it’s a transformer.
It may not be slated for production, but this car is an opportunity for Audi to flex its design muscles and show just where the company’s going as it transitions from gas-powered hot rods like the R8 and RS3 into full electric models. Audi Sky Sphere is a concept that aims to balance its performance ambitions with pushing the technology envelope and revolutionizing the idea of a luxury grand tourer. How? By packing those two driving experiences into a single vehicle — with Level 4 autonomous driving capability baked in.
This week, Audi will debut its Sky Sphere concept — the first of three design studies including the ‘Grand Sphere’ and ‘Urban Sphere’ — at Monterey Car Week. Specifically, the public will have its first opportunity to see the automaker’s Malibu design studio’s work on August 13.
Much of the Sky Sphere’s design focuses around the ability to morph into whichever car the driver wants — extending or shortening its wheelbase by about 10 inches (250 millimeters) at the touch of a central switch inside the cabin. The rocker panels that protrude underneath the rear-hinged, wide-opening doors slide back along with the fender when transforming into Sport mode, concealing the underlying design element ahead of the A-pillar in the process. When it’s in the shortest wheelbase setting, it transitions from an A8 L-sized car to something more like an RS5.
Some retro inspiration — and forward-looking cues
More on the design front: Some elements, particularly the wheels, draw inspiration from the Horch 853 roadster built in the 1930s. Back then, the German automaker (one of the brands that would eventually go on to form the modern Audi) manufactured a car that shares most of its proportions with this Sky Sphere concept. The modern car, for its part, sits much lower than did the relatively towering convertibles of yesteryear.
Of course, this concept evolves some current design concepts as well, like the Singleframe grille. It’s still there on Sky Sphere, but it’s no longer a radiator grille since this is an EV. Nevertheless, it features some elegant lighting across its entire with, with signature LED lighting elements that pulsate light in different ways depending on the circumstances (like when you approach the car, for example). It’s the same story out back, where several red LEDs accentuate the sweeping rear-end styling. Over the rear-mounted electric motor and the battery pack, the concept also brings spacious a trunk, for which Audi specifically designed two bespoke golf bags.
Over 600 horsepower at your disposal
At the rear of the Audi Sky Sphere concept is a fully-electric drivetrain, as you’d expect. With a rear-biased 60/40 weight distribution, the rear-wheel drive layout offers up a compelling package as a sports car. The electric motor puts out 465 kW (about 624 horsepower) and 750 Newton-meters (553 lb-ft) of torque. The car has around an 80 kWh battery pack, which according to Audi’s claims give the car a range of “more than 500 kilometers (311 miles)” on the WLTP cycle.
The Sky Sphere only weighs 1,800 kilograms (3,968 pounds), which is relatively light for an electric model. Audi says the powered rear axle can propel the car to 100 km/h (62 mph) in about 4 seconds, though it’s worth noting the car they’re revealing here is a static display. On the powertrain, it’s worth noting that this is an application that may actually make it to production in some form — as a rear-engined sports car to complement the likes of the all-wheel drive E-Tron GT.
Beyond the sheer numbers, Audi’s concept also uses double wishbone suspension in both the front and the rear. There are few mechanical connections between the drivetrain at the rear and the front end, as it even uses a steer-by-wire system that controls both the front and rear wheels by computers. As that suggests, this car does have rear-wheel steering to help make it more maneuverable, with a smaller turning radius.
There’s much more going on inside
The Audi Sky Sphere concept doesn’t just have some party tricks on the outside. If anything, the interior is even more of a transformer than the exterior. Switch between GT and Sport mode — which you can do through a centrally-mounted switch — and all the control elements including the steering wheel, pedals and gear selector fold away from the driver. In GT mode, the car aims to be a more comfortable, light and spacious environment where the occupants won’t have to focus on driving.
Both “driver” and passenger can lower themselves into the microfiber fabric seats, look at the eucalyptus wood and play with all the features on the car’s extensive displays. On the center stack, you’d expect to find the climate controls, but those have actually been moved outboard to the doors. What’s more, the two seats are staggered in position, revealing a small storage area behind the driver’s seat (fitted with blankets here), and the extended wheelbase reveals another storage area under the dashboard for things like gloves. Most of the car’s functions operate by touchscreen controls, though should you wish you can bring the car back into Sport mode, where the pedal box and steering wheel will fold back out so you can drive as enthusiastically as you like.
More to come in the next few months
Again, this is just a concept — with the automaker saying it will become a platform for new experiences, like using the Internet and streaming services while on the move, but most likely not all these features will come at once on the same car. As cool as the ability to morph between sports car and GT can be, it’s unlikely that will actually be a public-facing option. Nevertheless, as wild and quirky concepts go the Sky Sphere is certainly a step away from the rest of the luxury car pack.
The other “sphere” concepts should also show the way forward for Audi design and technology. Grand Sphere will arrive in just a few weeks’ time at the IAA (International Motor Show) in Munich. As for the Urban Sphere, we’ll see that concept in the first half of 2022.