But is the grandsphere, the spectacular concept car unveiled on 2 September and the protagonist on the Audi stand at the Munich Motor Show (from 7 to 12 of the same month), the next A8? It is useless to go around it, this is the question everyone asks. Audi’s response is complex. The first, official statement is that this car is part of a trio of concepts – the other two are the skysphere, presented at Pebble Beach in August, and the urbansphere, yet to be revealed – which explores different variations of an electric future. digital and partially autonomous. The second, semi-official, coming out of the Q&A sessions with the press, says that this car “explores an imminent tomorrow in the high end of the market”, and the A8, we remember, should be renewed in just over a couple of days. years. The third, completely unofficial, openly admits, without being quoted, that the next generation of the Audi flagship will have more than a debt of gratitude towards the grandsphere.
The meter sings. After all, the measures are already quite eloquent, giving the concept a clear location. 5 meters and 35 centimeters long, it exceeds the footprint of the long wheelbase version of the current top of the range by five centimeters. The wheelbase itself is greater: here it reaches 319 centimeters, 6 more than the A8 Long wheelbase. This is favored by the architecture of the machine, without the thermal engine and equipped with two electric motors, one per axis, with much smaller dimensions. The platform is the Ppe, the (brand new) electric counterpart to the longitudinal engine bed of the “old” combustion world. With a front pillar moved forward, one immediately senses that the great protagonist is the interior (after all the term sphere refers to the living cell), where four words – space, minimalism, modularity and digitization – define the perimeter of the vocabulary of the future.
Negative theology. When you get on board the grandsphere, it is easier to describe it by enumerating what is not there. Not only are there no physical buttons; there is no steering wheel (actually there is, but it is hidden behind a panel from which it comes out when the car is not in self-driving mode) and there are no screens either. But how, a heavily digitized car doesn’t have the usual square meters of screens? No. Here we see only a very clean vertical and wraparound dashboard covered with curved wood panels that extend seamlessly into the doors. The seats, then, can retract and recline almost like the seats of an airline business class (if you want a term of comparison already on the market, think of the Hyundai Ioniq 5), while behind it we resorted to the solution of the sofa for two people. And with this we have archived, in one fell swoop, space and minimalism. Modularity is introduced. Which, on a concept car like this one, goes hand in hand with autonomous driving.
Who’s driving now? In fact, if you decide to drive the car yourself, the steering wheel protrudes from a movable panel, and extends towards you. If instead delegated to the car, the entire configuration changes: the steering wheel and instrumentation integrated into the column disappear, freeing up space, and the seats can assume positions more suited to relaxation. The level of autonomous driving, in fact, is four, which no longer requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel and supervise the operations carried out by the car. That regained time can be used in various ways, for work, virtual shopping or watching a movie. And where, you will say, if there are no screens? Here we are at the fourth word, digitization. Which is declined in an original way.
Everything is a screen. In reality the displays are there, but they are projections on the wooden surface under the windshield. Depending on the driving mode, manual or automated, these projections will occupy the entire width of the dashboard or will be divided and differentiated in content for the driver and passenger. On the inner lining of the driver’s side door, a wheel allows you to select and adjust various onboard functions including climate control. And if, during autonomous driving, the seat is backward and partially reclined, the same functionality operates through gesture control that mimics physical rotation. Added to this are the haptic surfaces on the doors themselves that allow you to activate additional functions. Naturally the car recognizes you at the entrance, whether you are the driver or the front passenger and automatically sets the seat position, air conditioning and music according to your preferences, learned over time from the infotainment system, which also accesses the contents used by recent on other devices, such as mobile phones or tablets, and calls them up on the on-board display.
Body language. And outside, does the grandsphere say anything new? Definitely yes, but in moderation. The overhangs are shorter, the cof
flatter anus and the front pillar more advanced than a traditional combustion car, but the low and slender overall architecture, with the top line of the front fender that ideally extends the bonnet beyond the cut of the door, conveys a fairly reassuring aesthetic language . The cut of the tail is original, and innovative for the current language of the Audi brand, the smooth and soft shapes that renounce the profusion of edges and geometric cuts to which the models signed by the head of design, Marc Lichte, had accustomed us. The ultra-thin headlights and the reinterpretation of the single frame grille that maintains a hexagonal shape but with a softer outline are impressive. The highly aerodynamic cut of the “cuttlefish bone” tail is original.
Going to the point. Under this car body is the native electric architecture Ppe, which includes a battery pack embedded in the floor (on the concept it has a capacity of 120 kWh with a theoretical range of up to 750 km) and an electric motor per axle, since an Audi cannot renounce the identity quattro traction, for a total output of 720 horsepower and a torque of 960 Nm. The 800 volt on-board network has been discounted, which allows charging up to 270 kW at the ultrarapid columns: according to Audi, the grandsphere , if it were a real car on the roads, it could recover about 300 km of travel with a ten-minute charge, while in less than 25 it would go from 5 to 80 percent charge.
Uncompromising kinematics. Although the company openly declares that the focus of the grandsphere is no longer on performance, but on comfort and on-board experience, the designers have not compromised on driving dynamics. The multilink pneumatic suspension system features a refined five-link design at the front end and suspension management, inspired by that of the S8 sports flagship, includes active damping according to a predictive logic that makes use of navigation inputs and data collected by the sensors and the front camera. The steering rear wheels give the concept agility in spite of its size. In short, the technical tests of the A8 have officially begun.