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Audi Activesphere concept: Daft Punk or just plain daft? Image by Audi.

Audi Activesphere concept: Daft Punk or just plain daft?
Audi’s futuristic Activesphere pick-up concept deletes physical controls in favour of virtual reality headsets.
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What's all this about?

This is the Audi Activesphere, a wildly futuristic electric crossover concept with all-wheel drive and the ability to turn into a pick-up truck at the touch of a button. Ok, that doesn’t sound all that futuristic, but there’s more. The Activesphere also imagines a future where drivers and passengers gaze not through the windscreen or even at physical interior controls, but don headsets for a “mixed reality” experience that enables them to operate the stereo and air-conditioning with a wave of their hand.

Explain the headset thing...

Audi isn’t the only company looking at “mixed reality”. Take, for example, BMW’s recent i Vision Dee concept, which explores the idea of blending digital content with the occupants’ view of the world around them by means of an advanced head-up display arrangement. In the Audi Activesphere, however, those occupants wear virtual reality headsets that project virtual content into the wearer’s field of vision. The content is as unobtrustive as the wearer wants it to be, and the headsets can detect when the user wishes to expand a menu or a text box by monitoring their eye movements. The headset system has allowed Audi to do away with physical sliders or knobs inside the Activesphere by projecting the image of those controls inside the VR headsets, enabling the wearer to adjust the settings with a wave or twist of their hand thanks to “invisible touch-sensitive zones”.

So the interior is pretty minimalist, right?

Definitely — there are very few controls beyond the steering wheel and when in autonomous mode that wheel, the pedals and the dashboard retract, giving the occupants a better view out the front of the vehicle. Beyond that, the centre console is large, deep and temperature-controlled, meaning that than drinks can be kept hot or cold as appropriate.

Did you say it was a pick-up truck?

Yes, though you wouldn’t know it at first. For a car with such a futuristic interior, aside from a few noteworthy details, the Activesphere’s exterior isn’t especially conceptual. It looks, as Audi says, like one of the company’s Sportback crossovers with a sloping, fastback-style rear-end. At the touch of a button, however, a panel at the back of the Activesphere folds down, with a small pickup load-bed opening up to make space for bikes and the like. No, it won’t be much use for hauling lengths of timber, but according to Audi, a pair of e-bikes will fit perfectly. As part of the metamorphosis from crossover to pick-up, a motorised bulkhead deploys from behind the rear seats, rising up to isolate the cabin from the elements. There’s a retractable ski-rack up top as well, so the idea really is that the concept is aimed at that “active” hiking-skiing-camping demographic that car makers like to talk about and target so much.

Any real off-road capability?

Lots. Dual motors front and rear enable the Activesphere to develop 442hp and 720Nm of torque, while other aspects of the design also make the concept reasonably adept when it comes to light off-roading. There are the short overhangs, for instance, and the ability to raise (or lower) the suspension by 40mm. The 22-inch wheels feature segments that remain closed for improved aerodynamics when the Activesphere is on the road, but open for better ventilation when off-roading.

What's under the skin?

Although some aspects of the Activesphere’s design seem redolent of future decades, what’s under the skin is very 2023. The concept sits on Audi-Porsche’s new PPE electric car platform — the same as Audi’s upcoming A6 e-tron due for launch later this year. As such, the Activesphere features a 100kWh battery mounted low and flat between the axles for improved dynamics as well as 270kW charging capability. Audi says that the Activesphere’s dimensions — 4.98 metres long with a 2.97-metre wheelbase — are practically identical to those of the new A6.

Any production plans?

Not as yet. The Activesphere is the fourth and final “sphere” concept from Audi following the Skysphere in 2021 and the Urbansphere and Grandsphere in April of last year. All are aimed at exploring potential future design avenues and may perhaps offer a hint as to Audis of the future, but little to nothing has been confirmed yet when it comes to translating those ideas into production reality. That said, a market for a premium electric lifestyle pickup certainly exists, especially in the United States where the Activesphere was designed, so don’t be too shocked if Audi ever decides to take on the Tesla Cybertruck or the Rivian R1T at their own game.

David Mullen - 4 Feb 2023

2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.

2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi Activesphere Concept. Image by Audi.2023 Audi activesphere concept. Image by Audi.    - Audi road tests
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