The Audi Activesphere Concept Is An EV Crossover With A Pickup Tailgate And A Secret Mission

The Audi Activesphere can't decide what it wants to be: curvaceous sedan, luxe off-roader, or practical pickup truck. Then again, perhaps the German automaker's newest electric concept doesn't need to settle for just one identity. That would certainly be in keeping with the very real PPE architecture that underpins the very far-fetched design study.

It's the fourth in Audi's "sphere" series of concept cars, which began with the Skysphere variable-length roadster in 2021. The Grandsphere sedan and Urbansphere people-carrier followed in early 2022, each promising a different perspective on what the future of luxury transportation might consist of. Although not explicitly earmarked for production in their current form, Audi has been upfront about its goal of bringing concept details to future EVs drivers will indeed be able to buy.

Arguably the Audi Activesphere has the most potential there, given it includes elements of three of the most popular vehicle styles at the moment. Simultaneously a four-door coupe and a crossover, it features a clever convertible tailgate that turns it into a sleek pickup truck alternative.

The next evolution of Audi allroad

On the outside, it's roughly the size of the current Audi A6 — itself set to spawn an all-electric version imminently — and indeed the pictures don't quite do the dimensions justice. The wheels, for example, are a beefy 22-inches, with active flaps that open and close to manage ventilation and aerodynamics, and are shod in beefy 285/55 tires for both on- and off-road use. Air suspension allows the Activesphere to increase its 8.2 inches of standard ground clearance by another 1.6 inches, while there's a trail-friendly approach angle of 18.9 degrees and departure angle of 28.1 degrees.

Underpinning it all is the new PPE — or Premium Platform Electric — architecture which Audi has co-developed with Porsche. Audi will use that for production vehicles from the end of 2023, with both sedan- and SUV-style EVs on the roadmap. For the Activesphere, it packs a 100 kWh battery that's good, Audi estimates, for 372 miles of driving, along with dual electric motors that contribute 325 kW and 720 Nm of torque to the all-wheel drive.

800-volt charging support means up to 270 kW DC fast charging can be used. The result, Audi says, is more than 186 miles of range added in 10 minutes plugged in, or a 5-80% charge in under 25 minutes.

A secret pickup

That'll be useful, because Activesphere drivers would probably want to make sure they had a full battery before venturing off-road. At first glance, you'd be forgiven for assuming the concept EV is a sleek grand tourer, with its pebble-smooth design featuring a glass panoramic roof, glass "singleframe" front grille panel — allowing a view through from the front seats right to the road ahead — and glass insets in the lower doors.

However, all that visibility would pay dividends in the rough stuff, Audi argues, aiding with sight lines when trying to coax the bodywork around rocks and ridges. The coach doors are hinged at the A- and C-pillars, with no B-pillar to interrupt access to the four-seater cabin.

It's the rear where the Activesphere's big party trick comes in. As well as a sliding ski rack, the "active Sportback" allows the back glass to stow against the panoramic sunroof, while the lower section folds down, pickup-style. A motorized bulkhead closes off the cabin behind the rear seats, leaving the trunk for bikes or other equipment.

Augmented reality to add controls to the cabin

On the inside, a stark red and gray color scheme runs across four chairs each suspended from the full-length central console. Glass-topped, that has hot and cold sections for food and drinks. A matching console running overhead stores the four augmented reality (AR) headsets that look more like sunglasses, and with which the Activesphere's occupants can see virtual graphics and controls.

There's physical switchgear — including a fold-out steering wheel and pedals when the concept isn't in the envisaged autonomous driving mode — but donning a headset brings context-specific virtual controls into view. That, Audi suggests, could include music playlists hovering near the speaker grilles, or HVAC settings floating by the vents. More advanced applications might see browser windows shown to the wearer alone — or games, or video.

The AR headsets would work outside of the concept car too, Audi says, responding to gesture control. That way, maps displayed while you're on the road could evolve into trail guides at your destination.

A little production intent behind the glitter

As always, there's a fair degree of blue sky thinking here that seems unlikely to make it to Audi showrooms any time soon. Nonetheless, there's plenty in the Activesphere concept that has at least some grounding in Audi's production world. The virtual reality Holoride system, for example, is graduating from concept to retail in-car entertainment; the PPE platform is the centerpiece of Audi's B- and C-segment EV roadmap.

Those models are unlikely — perhaps disappointingly — to morph between on-road and off-road intent so obviously as the Activesphere concept does. However, it does illustrate the broad applicability of PPE as an architecture: unlike other platforms, which are intended for either SUVs or sedans and coupes, the Premium Platform Electric can be used for both. We'll see the first models from Audi using it at the end of this year, with the automaker promising a fairly rapid cadence of launches as it fills out the upper echelons of its portfolio with luxury EVs.