German automaker Audi has a knack for producing visually arresting concept cars, and the newest skysphere concept is proof of that. Audi skysphere is a concept roadster with a twist: An adjustable wheelbase that stretches or shrinks electronically, imbibing skysphere with the driving attributes of a sports car and grand touring roadster.
“New technologies like electrification, digitalization, and autonomous driving gave us the opportunity to create an experience that goes way beyond the one that typical roadsters offer today,” said Gael Buzyn, Audi skysphere design project manager.
My fascination for Audi concept vehicles goes back as far as 1991 with the Audi Avus concept, which eventually led to the creation of the TT roadster. Also, I remember having sleepless nights after laying eyes on the unforgettable Audi Rosemeyer concept from the early 2000s, the precursor to Audi’s first supercar, the iconic R8.
Most recently, Audi gave me goosebumps with the A6 e-tron Concept, and here’s the thing: Audi concept vehicles, in one way or another, are almost always ready for series production. When Audi debuted its e-tron GT Concept in 2018, it was a few changes away from the real thing, and it’s the same deal with the A6 e-tron concept, the first Audi EV underpinned by the brand’s Premium Platform Electric architecture.
Truthfully, the skysphere concept’s electronically adjustable wheelbase may not make it past the pre-production stage. Still, it’s the kind of thinking we expected from the purveyors of Vorsprung Durch Technik.
From GT Cruiser to Sports Car & Back
The Audi skysphere concept is debuting the brand’s variable wheelbase system, a cacophony of German wizardry using electric motors and custom body-on-frame components to alter the wheelbase by up to 10 inches or 240 millimeters. This innovation allows the vehicle to have a dual personality if you will, but there’s a catch.
In the long-wheelbase GT mode (or Grand Touring mode), skysphere is a fully autonomous car, while the driver has complete control upon converting to the short-wheelbase Sports mode. Engaging the latter not only shortens the wheelbase, but it lowers the vehicle by 10 millimeters while the steering wheel unfolds from under the dash and into the hands of its driver.
Inspired by a Classic
You won’t be mistaking the skysphere concept for anything but an Audi. It has bulbous wheel arches, short overhangs, and a wider track like your typical Audi RS6 Avant or RS7 Sportback. At the front, it still has the silhouette of Audi’s Singleframe grille design. However, it’s not an actual grille anymore due to the absence of a reciprocating engine under the hood. Instead, it has illuminated Audi rings with bright vertical LED markers on each side. At the back, the Audi skysphere concept blends the silhouette of a shooting brake and a speedster. It also has a groovy set of LED taillights that stretches the width of the car.
Audi claims the design inspiration for skysphere is the Horch 853 roadster, a German two-door cabriolet manufactured before WWII with a ridiculously long hood, curvy proportions, and a relatively compact cabin. The Horch 853 measures 5.20 meters long and was considered the pinnacle of luxury and performance during its heyday with a 5.0-liter straight-eight engine, four-speed manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive.
Instead of having a sizeable fossil-burning engine under the hood, the Audi skysphere is motivated by electrons. It has a single rear-mounted electric motor churning out 465 horsepower and 755 lb-ft. of torque. Like the Horch 853, skysphere is rear-wheel-driven (just how a roadster should be). And with a 40:60 front-rear weight distribution, it should feel pretty agile on the road.
Audi claims a zero to 60 mph time of under four seconds and 310 miles (500 km) of range with a standard 80 kWh battery pack. The Audi skysphere has a double wishbone suspension, adaptive air dampers, and rear-wheel steering to deliver a genuinely sporty drive.
As expected from a modern concept car, the Audi skysphere’s interior is a champion of minimalism. Opening the vehicle’s quirky rear-hinged door unveils a futuristic yet eco-friendly cabin with sustainable materials like synthetic cowhide, eucalyptus wood, and microfiber.
The dashboard is clean and free of clutter in GT mode (with the steering wheel and pedals out of sight), the perfect ambiance for some autonomous driving in which both driver and passenger can revel at the 56-inch by seven-inch touchscreen display that stretches the entire width of the dash. But in Sports mode, almost half of the screen moves toward the driver as the steering wheel unfolds magically from under the dash.
Reimagining Future Cars
The skysphere concept is among three new “sphere” concept cars that showcase Audi’s vision of “progressive luxury.” Together with the grandsphere (formerly known as the Artemis concept) and urbansphere (debuting in 2022), the skysphere is proof that convertible roadsters have a place in the next generation of electric and autonomous vehicles.
Alvin Reyes is an Automoblog feature columnist and an expert in sports and performance cars. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine.