Audi’s design team is in the midst of what might be called its “sphere trilogy,” exploring how autonomous driving might alter the luxury car experience. At Monterey Car Week in August, the team showed off the skysphere, which morphs from stubby sports car to autonomous cruiser, extending its wheelbase as the driver’s controls fold out of sight. Soon, we’ll see the (presumably compact) urbansphere, but today, it’s the grandsphere sedan’s turn. And no, none of the names are capitalized.
The grandsphere doesn’t need morphing bodywork; the vehicle is long enough that there’s always more than enough room inside, regardless of who’s driving. At first glance, the car looks like a grand tourer, but there’s a visual trick at work. The base of the windshield is way out ahead of the A-pillar, curving out almost as far as the front axle.
At the front, Audi’s distinctive grille (actually called the Singleframe) is no longer an actual grille; it’s there so the grandsphere is recognizably an Audi. Even in our video briefing, the Singleframe appeared as if it—and therefore the rest of the car—was a render, thanks to the way it was lit from within. (Save the CGI conspiracies for Ted Lasso; the car is a real, full-size, physical concept.)
The grandsphere might be the first concept I’ve seen that manages the trick of being a four-seat sedan and a 2+2 at the same time. The car is more than 17 feet long (5.3 m to be exact), and you can see from the open-door shots that the rear looks roomy. But that two-person bench seat also looks a little spartan.
Instead, all the attention is concentrated on the front seats. Audi says that autonomous driving allows the car to subvert the usual order when it comes to big luxury sedans, where the back seat is the place to stretch out and relax.
First-class airline seats are the unambiguous inspiration; the phrase “first-class” appears seven times in the briefing. I wonder if the effect is the same without the attentive cabin staff asking the occupants if they want anything to eat or drink, though.
Refreshingly, the grandsphere is screenless. Instead, displays are projected onto the wood veneer, with the option of physical controls or gestures and gaze tracking as a way of interacting with the infotainment. (There are also VR glasses concealed within the door panels, a nod to Audi’s stake in Holoride.) When it’s time for a human to drive, the wheel neatly pops out of a compartment behind the dash.
While I’m not sure there’s any suggestion that the grandsphere will ever be more than a concept, Audi does say the vehicle uses the forthcoming PPE electric car platform. The company has even shared some specs—”around” 120 kWh of battery energy and a total output of 530 kW and 960 Nm from the pair of electric motors (one for each axle).
Listing image by Audi