Audi Activesphere Concept Is a Transforming Off-Road Sports Car


I’ve had a problem with concept cars ever since the Nissan IDx concepts broke my heart way back in 2013. To me, most concept cars usually seem like a massive waste of resources, ridiculous exercises in ego. But once in a while, a concept comes out that I can’t help but love. Audi’s Activesphere concept, which was designed in Malibu and debuted today, is one of those rare concepts that makes my heart stop. But why?

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The best part about the Activesphere concept is just how plausible the whole thing seems, with a few small exceptions. It looks like a car, and it’s meant to do car things, like haul your e-bike or drive you up to your favorite trailhead. The Activesphere seeks to prove that real, rugged capability doesn’t have to look like a big, chunky SUV.

Off-road mode raises the ride height. And check out the front skid plate and side skirts, which expand to protect the body from off-road damage.
Photo: Audi

The Activesphere’s overall styling lies in the sweet spot triple-Venn-diagram overlap of the Audi Allroad, the S7 and the E-Tron GT. It has the long, swooping lines of the S7 and the GT, coupled with the lifted stance and unique side skirt treatment of the Allroad, all resting on 34-inch tires. The rear opens up like GM’s weird GMC Envoy XUV, and a divider goes up behind the rear seats to isolate the cabin, not unlike a Chevy Avalanche. In the bed, there are outlets to charge your e-bike and plenty of cargo tie-downs to hold those bikes in place.

Speaking of driving, Audi envisions this concept as being mostly autonomous, while retaining the option for people to take the wheel themselves. As with the cargo area, the interior is capable of a physical transformation in layout when you activate human driver mode. The dash rises up out of the floor in front of the front occupants, and a steering wheel folds out from underneath. It’s pretty rad.

The Audi Activesphere concept interior in autonomous mode, with no steering wheel.

The interior in “autonomous” mode — note how there’s no dashboard, only a wide-open and airy space to sit.
Photo: Audi

What’s less rad is Audi’s decision not to equip the car with any physical controls or screens. Instead, Audi envisions a horrible future where people are forced to wear augmented-reality glasses and wave their hands around to gesture-control simple things like changing the cabin’s temperature. It’s called Audi Dimensions, and Audi’s designers love the freedom that abandoning physical controls gives them — but it seems like a nightmare for your average geek off the street. Thankfully, this is the kind of concept-car flight-of-fancy that most likely won’t make it to production any time soon.

What’s less nightmarish is how the vehicle physically changes when you set it to off-road mode. The suspension rises by just over 1.5 inches for better ground clearance, and those Allroad-esque side skirts partially expand outward to offer better protection for the body — and, I presume, to look rad, which they do. It’s a dramatic visual change, and it’s incredibly cool.

The fold-out dash and steering wheel in the Audi Activesphere concept.

The car is now ready to be driven manually, with the fold-out dash and steering wheel in place.
Photo: Audi

One of the things I like most about this concept is the paint color, Arctic Teal. The hue, which is pretty dramatic, has an origin story that involves an image on a mood board, showing a huge piece of ice breaking off a glacier and falling into a dark sea. The color is meant to represent that cold, rugged feeling, and the color of the sea. To me, it closely resembles the classic (and fairly uncommon) Porsche color, Aga Blue, albeit a little greener.

The two-tone interior also has a story. The design team enjoyed having a bright, energizing color on the inside but hated how it would clash with the exterior when viewed from the outside. Gael Buzyn, the lead designer on the Activesphere project, cited the resurgence of red interiors in modern production cars as an example. The team created a gradient of lava red fading into slate gray as it moved towards the top of the cabin. The effect is lovely, particularly as the front and rear doors (the latter of which are rear-hinged) swing open to reveal the interior. Frankly, I’d love to see this color approach in production cars, especially as some manufacturers begin to offer premium luxury non-leather seating surfaces, like Volvo’s partnership with Kvadrat.

The rear bed area of the Audi Activesphere concept is open.

Photo: Audi

So in the end, we have another gorgeous concept that’s tantalizingly close to being plausible for production. Despite my history with concept cars, I hope we see some version of the Activesphere on the street, minus the pie-in-the-sky AR stuff and the autonomous driving features, in the next five to ten years. Our roads will be a lot cooler for it.


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