Remember those long-wheelbase roadsters from the 1930s and the 1940s? While those designs were beautiful and imposing, they fell out of favor with enthusiasts as time passed and were replaced by newer trends leading up to the modern cars we’ve become accustomed to. But all of a sudden, Audi decides to make a U-turn from its hard-edged, futuristic styling language and pay homage to its past via this Skysphere concept car.
Just look at this thing. It’s beautiful. It has all the elements of a classic roadster: a long hood, curvaceous wheel arches, and a cab-back profile. The 23-inch wheels resemble those found on vintage cars, and are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. The Audi Design Studio in Malibu is responsible for this concept, drawing inspiration from the Horch 853, a vehicle from one of the four companies that merged to form Auto Union (the precursor of Audi).
The front houses the lights and an illuminated Audi emblem, and the traditional grille is replaced by numerous LED elements. In line with Audi’s current offerings, the front fascia will play visual effects that correspond to certain vehicle functions. The rear has scattered red LEDs that look like little rubies. The trunk is an all-glass affair that houses two bespoke overnight bags.
The cabin of the Skysphere is also a mix of inspiration from the old and the new. You’re greeted by suicide doors, and the design is mostly art deco-inspired. The interior is lined with sustainable materials like microfiber fabric, eucalyptus wood, and synthetic imitation leather.
There’s a surround-sound system that “delivers concert-hall audio quality” even when the vehicle is moving. The dashboard is adorned with large screens, though not to the same extent as a Mercedes Hyperscreen. And lastly, small touch panels found on the doors are used for climate controls.
The Skysphere’s highlight is that it offers more than just a different experience with the roof up or down. This roadster boasts a variable wheelbase thanks to electric motors and sliding body elements, allowing the car to stretch itself by 250mm to become a self-driving, 5.19m-long grand tourer (about the same length as an A8L). Or it can be shortened and lowered in Sport mode in which rear-wheel steering is activated to make the vehicle nimbler.
In Grand Touring mode, the car will drive you around. The steering wheel and the pedals move out of sight for the maximum amount of legroom. The dashboard screens can also be used to browse the web, stream movies, or even do video calls.
This is actually the first of three upcoming Audi concept cars designed with Level 4 autonomy, meaning that in certain conditions, the car can do all the driving without human intervention. Of course, you can still override the automation and pilot the vehicle yourself.
Finally, a single electric motor powers the rear wheels of the Skysphere. It produces 624hp and 750Nm, allowing it to sprint to 100km/h in around four seconds. The battery’s capacity is expected to be more than 80kWh—good for a range of 500km in Grand Touring mode.
The other two concept cars in this “sphere” series are called the Grandsphere and the Urbansphere—the latter arriving in 2022. The Skysphere will make its public debut on August 13 at Monterey Car Week in California. Of course, don’t expect this car to make it into production. Still, some of its technologies will surely trickle down to future models.