Since 2021, Audi has been slowly rolling out concept vehicles showcasing what it thinks the future of mobility will look like. From the Urbansphere minivan to the Skysphere coupe and Grandsphere sedan, these concepts combine electric power, autonomous driving, and a new take on luxury. That is a cabin-focused experience where a vehicle is less about how it drives and more about how it feels to ride in.
The Activesphere blends a sedan, an SUV, and a truck to create what Audi thinks a future electric off-roader could be. It relies heavily on augmented reality technology as it has no buttons or screens, and its dashboard and steering wheel retract completely to create an open cabin feel. Although Audi launched the Activesphere in January, I got to see it in person earlier this week in Los Angeles, and if this is what future off-roaders will look like, I'm mostly on board.
The Activesphere is, in many ways, a compilation of the auto industry's greatest hits. Like an SUV, it has 8.1 inches of ground clearance, which can rise by 1.5 in. Like a sedan, it has a sloping roof, a high shoulder line, and sleek bodywork with widened arches. And like a truck, it has a rear tailgate, allowing for a flatbed when needed. The Activesphere hypothesizes a no-compromise vehicle, where if you have enough cash, you can actually have it all.
At 16.3 feet long, 6.7 ft wide, and 5.2 ft tall with a 9.7 ft long wheelbase, its footprint is slightly smaller than that of a full-size SUV and about on par with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. However, because it's draped with curvy lines instead of blocky right angles, it looks smaller in person than the images suggest. With its 22-inch wheels on all four corners and 285/55 off-roading tires, it looks appropriately rugged without losing its stylishness.
Although concept cars often undergo massive changes before production, I'm hoping that the Activesphere's bed makes it through because it is perhaps this off-roader's best feature. Its rear glass panel slides up, its tailgate comes down, and you're left with a usable bed. Audi added grooves to fit mountain bike tires, allowing you to carry two bikes upright at a time. Audi also added a rear bulkhead to keep its occupants isolated.
For added practicality, the Activesphere has a deployable ski rack on its roof, which sits flush with the glass when not in use. It frees interior space and accentuates that its cabin is a place to lounge in, not store stuff.
Although the Activesphere features a steering wheel, you won't find any buttons or screens anywhere in its interior. Instead, Audi sees a future where a vehicle's occupants rely on augmented reality glasses to interact with its core settings and entertainment. The interior comes to life with the glasses on, displaying vehicle information like speed and navigation and crucial features like its HVAC controls, which require gestures to adjust.
This AR system is called Audi Dimensions, and it's the one thing I hope stays in the concept phase. If we've learned anything from automakers transitioning to haptic feedback surfaces, buttons are hard to beat. Sure, the Activesphere's cabin looks stunning, but can you imagine explaining to wealthy older buyers that they'll need hand gestures to adjust their car's A/C?
Despite its sloping roofline, the Activesphere's cabin feels open and airy. That's mainly due to its extensive use of glass. Like a McLaren Senna, it has see-through doors, and its front grille is made of glass for greater visibility. This is intentional so you can see more of the outdoors from inside your off-roader. However, as this concept relies on autonomous driving, you can open up its cabin further by folding its steering wheel and dashboard away.
Audi sees this autonomous tech coming in handy for those folks who want to take a drive off-road while being able to focus on the scenery more than the route itself. And by integrating its AR glasses, the Activeshere will be able to show you information about the world around you, reinforcing its cabin as more of a lounge than a driver's seat and chairs for passengers.
While neither augmented reality glasses nor autonomous vehicle driving tech are ready to deliver the experience the Activesphere hypothesizes, Audi shouldn't wait. Tech aside, what the Activesphere showcases is what could realistically be a successful off-roader for the carmaker. It blends good looks with a tall ride and clever storage space to deliver a unique look and feel in a segment where most offerings look and feel strikingly similar.
Underneath, the Activesphere counts on tech Audi has already successfully implemented into its e-tron models with two electric motors and a 100 kWh battery pack. It delivers 436 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque. It features an 800-volt architecture that can charge up to 270 kW and gain up to 186 miles in 10 minutes.
Audi's EVs are already establishing themselves as solid offerings with mass appeal. And if the carmaker were to produce a luxury off-roader that looks as good and is as practical as the Activesphere, it won't be able to build them fast enough to keep up with demand.