Electric two-door convertible’s variable wheelbase points toward a future where your autonomous car can drive you out of town, then turn into a sporty roadster you’ll want to drive.
The Audi Skysphere concept is the latest elaboration on the theme of the long, low hood and a rear-set cabin that has intrigued automotive enthusiasts for a century or more. This one is filtered through Audi’s technological worldview with a touch of emotion. With the press of a virtual button and the aid of electric motors and telescoping structural elements, the Skysphere’s entire front end can extend or contract, changing from an autonomous, long-wheelbase, stable grand tourer to a 9.8-inch-shorter and 0.4-inch-lower driver-centric roadster.
Even the interior transforms, the steering wheel and pedals coming out of the bulkhead as the passenger seat moves rearward and the driver’s portion of the dash comes forward to serve as an instrument panel. Yes, it’s an actual transformer.
Gael Buzyn and the team at the Audi Design Studio in Malibu conceived and designed the Skysphere concept, drawing inspiration from the proportions and purpose of the 1931 Horch 853, an Audi predecessor that was a long, luxurious roadster with a compact cabin. Both cars also drive the rear wheels, but unlike the straight-eight-powered Horch, the Skysphere concept packs a 623-hp electric motor and a battery pack, 30 percent of which lies between the passengers with the other 70 percent behind the rear bulkhead, yielding a front-to-rear weight balance of 40:60. With a single-speed and 553 pound-feet of torque, Audi says, there’s enough theoretical propulsion to send the Skysphere to 62 mph in 4.0 seconds.
Buzyn pointed out the active aerodynamics at the front and rear of the car, which remains closed in GT mode but open in Sport mode. Though they weren’t yet active on the concept car, they can create a path for air to travel under the car and out the diffuser at the rear, effectively creating a venturi tunnel for downforce.
Despite the sportiness of the silhouette and lack of apparent cargo area, there’s actually space for a custom luggage set, under glass and just above the rear drivetrain assembly, and space for two custom golf bags under the long hood, too.
Buzyn says the interior pays subtle homage to Art Deco architecture, but the Skysphere also has a full dashboard screen, which splits and recedes or draws near the driver depending on the use mode, plus large touchscreens for armrests. The otherwise gorgeously minimalist interior is focused equally on semi-autonomous commute comfort and sporty-driving support. The underlying theme is a continuation of Audi’s tech-forward nature into the ever more technological future, but with a mind toward preserving the sensual, visceral joy of a good car.
More important than the specifics of the Skysphere concept, however, are the generalities: the things it tells us about what’s to come for Audi, especially as new models become increasingly autonomous. The concept hinges on the realization of at least Level 4 autonomous driving technology, which is the ability to fully self-drive without any need for human intervention within limited, predetermined environments or conditions. While that level of self-driving is still in development both technologically and legislatively, its desirability grows if your car could someday transform into a sporty roadster for a fun weekend romp in the hills once you’ve let it drive you out of town.
An 80.0-kWh battery pack would provide the Skysphere a range of about 310 miles on the European WLTP cycle when it’s in the more economical grand touring mode, according to Audi. Don’t expect to see a production Audi Skysphere, but aspects of it can be expected to appear in Audis of the near future.