Will the Audi Urbansphere make people movers cool?
Designed primarily for “traffic-dense Chinese megacities”, such as Shanghai which houses 41 million people in its metro area, the Urbansphere was jointly designed by the Audi’s design centres in Beijing and Ingolstadt with input from potential Chinese customers.
Based on the yet-to-debut Platform Premium Electric (PPE) developed by Audi and Porsche, the Urbansphere is said to feature Level 4 autonomous driving capability, and has a steering wheel that folds out of the way when not in use.
The Urbansphere is massive, measuring 5.51m long, 2.01m wide, 1.78m tall, and rides on a 3.4m wheelbase.
For context, the short wheelbase Cadilac Escalade is 5.38m long, 2.06m wide, 1.95m tall, and has a 3.07m wheelbase. The long wheelbase version is 5.77m long and has a 3.4m wheelbase.
To-date it is the largest concept ever developed by Audi, and if it goes into production will be the largest Audi ever. Instead of sliding doors found in most people movers, the Urbansphere employs rear-hinged rear doors to make ingress and egress easier.
Despite its imposing dimensions, the Urbansphere concept seats only four people. Presumably production versions will offer this seating arrangement in addition to more practical seven-, eight- and, possibly, nine-seat layouts.
Nonethless, Audi is keen to highlight the car’s flexible interior. The front seats can spin around to face those in the rear to facilitate conversation, but if quiet time is required there are pull-out privacy screens built into the headrests.
The two rear seats can recline up 60 degrees, and also feature extending leg rests, centre-mounted arm rests, and their own sound zone with speakers built into the head rests.
There are screens built into the back of the front head rests, but if that’s not enough there’s also a giant transparent OLED screen that descends from the ceiling. It can operate as a giant TV for video conferences or movie viewing, or in split-screen mode.
While there’s an array of screens for rear-seat passengers, those up front are treated to projections blasted onto a band of wood below the windscreen.
Interaction with the infotainment system is done via voice recognition, gesture control, eye-tracking and control pads around the cabin.
At the behest of potential customers, the Urbansphere has numerous wellness features, including facial detection and voice analysis software to determine if passengers are stressed out. The car can then offer relaxation suggestions, or direct them to the built-in meditation app.
The car also includes a self-illuminating umbrella that makes night-time navigation easier and safer. The underside of the umbrella acts one giant “glare-free lighting unit”, making it, Audi says, a place to take “perfect selfies”.
According to Audi, the Urbansphere has an electric motor for each axle, which together generate 295kW and 690Nm. With a 120kWh battery pack, the large people mover is said to have a WLTP range of 750km.
The PPE architecture supports 800V charging, which can add 300km of range in just 10 minutes.
The Urbansphere is the third and final concept in Audi’s Sphere series, which includes the 4.95m Skysphere roadster, and 5.35m Grandsphere sedan.
With its egg-like silhouette, soft curves and smooth surfacing, the Urbansphere — as well as its Sphere siblings — is stylistically quite a departure from Audi’s current range of vehicles, and lays the groundwork for the upcoming PPE models, including the A6 e-tron and A6 Avant e-tron.
Both of these cars have been previewed in concepts, and spy photos indicate the production versions will be close to their show car variants.
It does retain the company’s single-frame grille design, though, although it is fully closed off and illuminated.
While people movers are a dying breed in Europe, Australia and North America, they remain popular in many parts of Asia.
Some brands, including Volkswagen and Buick, have specially designed people movers for China. The Buick GL8 and Lexus LM are both available as super-luxurious four-seat variants.