Audi unveiled the second of three Sphere-branded concepts built to preview the styling cues and the technologies that will permeate its range later in the 2020s. Called GrandSphere, the design study takes the form of a long, low-slung luxury sedan with a striking fastback-like roofline, a fully electric powertrain, and autonomous technology.
Designers and engineers began developing the GrandSphere concept in 2020 with the goal of creating a private jet for the road. It stretches about 210 inches from bumper to bumper, so it's about as long as the current-generation long-wheelbase A8, but its proportions are completely different; it blurs the line between a sedan and a shooting brake. Audi explained it doesn't want to abandon the sedan body style, but it aims to put a new, fresher spin on it.
"There is so much history that we built, and so many things we have learned over the last 50 years of car design that it would be senseless to throw it out and start from scratch every time we do a new car. With this one, we thought 'let's try to grab some of that romance from the past and add something new and fresh to the mix,' so that we don't just rely on the past but we take one step into the future," exterior designer Amar Vaya told Autoblog.
Zooming in, one of the most eye-catching elements is the front end, which is more of a revolution than an evolution compared to Audi's current design language — it notably looks nothing like the shape-shifting SkySphere. Vaya explained that's intentional: his team worked hard to "flip the script." Whether this approach to design, which remains experimental as of writing, is retained depends largely on the feedback Audi receives about the concept.
What's inside is even more unusual. Opening the doors reveals a cabin with individual front seats, a couch-like rear bench, and no steering wheel or pedals. Level four autonomous technology allows the driver to become a passenger in a wide variety of situations. When the car isn't able to drive itself, or if its owner feels like driving, the controls electronically emerge from under the windshield. This, too, represents a new approach to car design.
"Highly-automated driving is a game changer. We think of cars from the inside out. This is what we want to do for the following models," Autoblog learned from Oliver Hoffmann, the head of Audi's technical development. Audi added that, in the future, horsepower and handling won't matter; tech and interior layout will sell luxury sedans.
Technology is everywhere in the GrandSphere, yet it has no screens. Instead, information is projected on the wide piece of wood trim located below the windshield, where the dashboard would be in, say, an A8. The passengers can navigate the different menus using the MMI Touchless Response interface.
Fully electric, the GrandSphere is built on an architecture called PPE. It's powered by a pair of electric motors (one per axle) that zap the four wheels with 710 horsepower and 708 pound-feet of torque. These motors draw electricity from a 120-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that theoretically delivers a maximum driving range of 466 miles. Hitting 62 mph from a stop takes about four seconds, but cruising at 175 mph on the Autobahn isn't on the GrandSphere's resume: its top speed is limited to preserve range, though we don't know what it's pegged at.
Audi will present the GrandSphere concept to the public at the 2021 Munich Auto Show that opens its doors on September 7. The third and final Sphere is scheduled to make its debut at some point in 2022. While concept cars are often thinly-veiled production models, we already know the GrandSphere will not reach production as-is.
"It doesn't represent a 1:1 pre-production version of our Artemis project. It represents a number of technology and design elements that will exist in the future premium class at Audi," concluded Hoffmann. "For me personally, the GrandSphere is really the starting point of a new era at Audi, and also in technical development: it's a new way of approaching how we think and develop cars. It really represents the design and tech elements of future projects."
One of the bits headed to production is the PPE platform. Developed jointly by Porsche and Audi, it will underpin a number of EVs in the coming years, including the next-generation Macan and a crossover tentatively called Q6.