Oliver Hoffmann: “The busy metropolitan backdrop is the inspiration behind the Audi Urbansphere”
We delve under the skin of the latest in Audi’s revolutionary ‘sphere’ concepts to see how it rethinks the autonomous electric city car of the future
The Audi Urbansphere concept is the latest in a trio of pioneering concept cars, each of which has reimagined how we can use the space inside the all-electric semi-autonomous cars of tomorrow to different – and better – effect.
This far-reaching new vision of premium mobility started with the Audi Skysphere concept: an open-top variable wheelbase two-seater GT that could shrink to compact dynamic sportscar proportions or grow into a laid-back stylish long-distance grand tourer. It was followed by the Audi Grandsphere concept: a large four-seater saloon with a first-class high-tech interior that redefined progressive luxury.
Now, the Audi Urbansphere concept: designed from the inside out as a cosseting lounge and highly practical mobile office on wheels, letting us rethink how we use our cars as a third space alongside work and home in tightly packed cities. Here, in the Audi design team’s own words, is how it came together.
Designed by customers
The first twist in the Audi Urbansphere concept’s story is how it was conceived. Its design was influenced by Chinese megacities – high-rise traffic-dense areas, where space is in short supply. To understand what future urban customers would need from the car of tomorrow, Audi pro-actively invited some of them into the normally sacrosanct space of its design studios in Beijing and Ingolstadt.
Marc Lichte (Head Of Audi Design): “Together, our three ‘sphere’ concept cars were designed to visualise and demonstrate all the potential opportunities that progressive automated Level Four driving technology offers, and to represent the next level of our design language. We’re talking about how the interior of the car will change in the future. Next to your work space and your living space, a car’s interior is becoming a kind of a third space. But each show car has a different focus.”
Oliver Hoffmann (Audi Board Member for Technical Development): “The busy metropolitan backdrop is the inspiration behind the Audi Urbansphere concept. Cities never stop growing and evolving. Everywhere you look, there’s something new. At the same time, there are things that remain timeless. At Audi we have the same philosophy. We hold on to our past, while moving towards our vision of the future. Blending the experience of yesterday with the aspiration of tomorrow.”
Henrik Wenders (Head of Audi Brand): “Human-centricity is a vital part of Audi’s DNA. That’s why we designed the Urbansphere concept directly with customers. We included them in the process from the start, and far more deeply than we ever have before.”
Oliver Hoffmann (Audi Board Member for Technical Development): “Our global team is incredibly talented, and they know how to turn ideas into reality. But we’ve always taken time to understand what people want and used that knowledge as the basis for design and development. With the Urbansphere concept, we took this influence a step further. We brought customers right into the studio to design with us, combining their insights with the know-how of our designers and engineers.”
Wu Yunzhou (Audi China Interior Design Coordinator): “It’s important you have a connection between your artwork and the real world. For this project, we got to talk face-to-face with customers. We sat together, creating the next generation of cars.”
Gary Telaak (Audi Exterior Design): “Rather than just listening to customers in a focus group, we worked directly with them through the design process in our Audi Design Studio in Beijing. The result was game-changing.”
Marius Kohlhepp (Audi Head of Customer Insights): “When you work on a new car, you normally have a high level of confidentiality. Opening ourselves up and being transparent was completely new for us and our design colleagues. But our customers really appreciated us taking their opinions and feedback into account.”
Henrik Wenders (Head of Audi Brand): “By doing this, we discovered that one thing they had in common is that private space is valued highly – especially in megacities where so many people are gathered together.”
Oliver Hoffmann (Audi Board Member for Technical Development): “As a result, the Audi Urbansphere concept was designed and developed from the inside out, with a focus on passenger experience. In an urban environment, space is rare. So, roominess was of central importance. The Audi Urbansphere concept enables people to step out of a noisy crowded city life into a spacious quiet interior.”
Shaped from the inside out
Like the Audi Skysphere and Grandsphere concepts, the flexibility of an all-electric autonomous platform let Audi’s design team rethink the Audi Urbansphere concept’s interior. Using Audi’s modular Premium Platform Electric (PPE), it has the perfect basic proportions for interior space – blending short overhangs for a 3.4-metre-long wheelbase, and low-slung batteries for up to 1.78 metres of interior height.
That means innovations such as counter-hinged doors that swing wide open and rear seats that can swivel by 25 degrees for easier access and more intimate face-to-face conversations, while also reclining by 60 degrees. Truly first-class living.
The Audi Urbansphere concept is also incredibly high-tech. Facial recognition creates a high degree of personalisation and customisation for in-car apps for work and play. If the rear passengers want separate entertainment, or want to make a private call, they can use the privacy screen headrests with personal sound zones and individual monitors in the rear of the front seats.
Alternatively, a large full-width transparent OLED cinema screen pivots from the roof, letting the rear passengers watch a movie or video conference with friends – again, with split-screen personal options.
Henrik Wenders (Head of Audi Brand): “We know private space is highly valued, especially in big cities. The Audi Urbansphere concept allows maximum freedom, but it goes beyond that with innovative in-car technology that enables personal and immersive experiences: whether for relaxation, productivity, entertainment or regeneration.”
Hildegard Wormann (Audi Board Member for Sales & Marketing): “When more people are on the go and working remotely, we need new ways to come together. The Audi Urbansphere concept caters to that with new levels of freedom for collaboration and more flexibility to be with friends and family, no matter where we are in the world.”
Gary Telaak (Audi Exterior Design): “The Audi digital assistant is available to you wherever you sit, making your experience uniquely your own. Setup of your personal comfort zone – your seat position, the lighting, the temperature and the sound and display – are all individually adjustable. There’s even a privacy shield. So, while you’re making a conference call, another passenger could be relaxing with lower lighting and stress-reducing music, and neither of you would disturb the other.”
Henrik Wenders (Head of Audi Brand): “The Audi Urbansphere concept delivers a new kind of space for high-class quality time that enables productivity, creativity, and meaningful moments for every single passenger. It really has so much to offer. It’s your lounge, your office, your cinema. It’s your personal experience device.”
A space for wellbeing
Everything inside the Audi Urbansphere concept has been designed to create a calming environment that cocoons you from the city outside: from the soft toned-down beige, grey and green materials, to the simplified driving displays projected onto the full-width wood dashboard, the driving controls which retract in autonomous mode for more front space, and the intuitive touch, eye-tracking and gesture controls.
Many of the high-quality interior trim materials come from more sustainable sources. This includes the hornbeam wood veneers, grown close to the site of production, and manufactured with a chemical-free process that uses all the tree’s trunk. Seat trims are made from recycled polyamide, while the bamboo viscose fabric in the armrests grows faster than wood, uses less carbon and doesn’t need herbicides or pesticides.
Finally, a centre console between the rear seats contains a water dispenser and glasses, while the active facial recognition and voice analysis can detect your mood and offer suggestions for relaxation and meditation apps.
Henrik Wenders (Head of Audi Brand): “When we talk about space, it’s not just physical space. People are also looking for mental space to slow down, to focus on productivity, to reconnect, to recharge.”
Gary Telaak (Audi Exterior Design): “The interior is open and clean, designed with sustainable materials and a calm, ambient light. Whether in the front or the back, the first-class seats are roomy and relaxing. When a passenger sits in their seat, they can opt to use the health application to monitor their stress levels. This is achieved by scanning their face and voice. The application will offer relevant ways to help the passenger de-stress as needed – for example, a meditation session.”
Size and power that feels sleek
At 5.5 metres in length, the Audi Urbansphere concept is the largest of the three ‘sphere’ concept cars. But, its low-accent roof line, pure stretched horizontal lines, sculptural surfaces and powerful quattro muscles all underscore and reimagine Audi’s design heritage DNA, ensuring that the Urbansphere concept has a sleek, sportily dynamic silhouette that belies the car’s size and feels distinctly Audi.
Gary Telaak (Audi Exterior Design): “This is a new kind of body style for Audi. We wanted to ensure that we enabled spacious experiential comfort on the inside. That naturally led to a confident and expressive exterior to maximise the interior space. It was quite a challenge to combine such a spacious interior with the dynamic and emotional body style that Audi is known for.”
Philipp Roemers (Head Of Exterior Design): “The aluminium bar on top of the glasshouse, which runs into the spoiler, meant we could make the profile of the car feel lower and more sleek than it is – typically Audi. There are lots of other elements which are clearly Audi and which emphasise these proportions. We have huge 24-inch wheels, a long wheelbase with a short overhang at the front and a long overhang at the rear. We always want to build the most attractive and progressive cars in every segment, and I think the Urbansphere is quite stunning.”
With 400PS and 690Nm of instantly available electric torque – all delivered through Audi’s iconic quattro all-wheel-drive – the Audi Urbansphere concept offers easily enough performance for city and motorway driving, while the large-capacity 120kWh battery delivers up to 466 miles of range.
The 800V charging technology gives you access to 270kW chargers that can top up the Audi Urbansphere with 186 miles of range in 10 minutes or a 5%-80% brim in 25 minutes – making every journey fast and easy.
Let there be light
After-dark, there’s no missing the Audi Urbansphere concept. The iconic Audi single-frame grille – which on an electric car doesn’t need to be an air intake – has evolved into a three-dimensional LED matrix light sculpture: the Audi Light Canvas.
Dynamic effects – front and rear – provide clear signals for road users, while expressing the Urbansphere owner’s character. In fact, the Audi Light Canvas creates a characterful face for the Audi Urbansphere concept in its own right, with focused Audi Eyes main lamps sitting under turn indicator eyebrows.
Gary Telaak (Audi Exterior Design): “At Audi we’re at the forefront of innovation when it comes to light signatures. The LED matrix Audi Light Canvas surfaces engage with the external environment when the Urbansphere is in automated driving mode. They can even be personalised with varying light patterns and animations to extend the personal aspect of the interior space to the exterior.”
Philipp Roemers (Head Of Exterior Design): “The customers we talked to during development of the Audi Urbansphere concept wanted the face of the car to be confident but not aggressive. I think we achieved it.”
Gary Telaak (Audi Exterior Design): “The Audi Urbansphere concept brings you what you need on the inside and helps you express who you are on the outside. This extends the passenger experience in a meaningful way. But it has also extended Audi’s design language, which is very exciting for us moving forwards.”
In a tribute to the Chinese market, the Audi Urbansphere concept includes a self-illuminating Audi Light Umbrella. It uses a glare-free reflective material on its interior skin, giving the owner better illumination of their surroundings or providing the perfect partner for selfies while navigating the welcoming red carpet of light that emanates from the Audi Urbansphere’s interior. The Audi Light Umbrella can also rhythmically pulse to warn traffic and other pedestrians of your presence when appropriate.
Our next taste of the future
While the Audi Urbansphere, Grandsphere and Skysphere concept push the boundaries for what’s possible in car design, they’re certainly not ‘pie in the sky’. At the launch of the Urbansphere concept, Audi revealed that many of the design ideas in the Grandsphere concept will make their way into a 2025 production model. There’s even one final twist in the tale. We all thought the Audi Urbansphere concept was the final act in a trilogy. But there could an encore, with a fourth ‘sphere’ concept car understood to be in the pipeline.
Oliver Hoffmann (Audi Board Member for Technical Development): “At Audi we always design and develop with purpose in mind. Our ‘sphere’ concept cars are our clear vision of the future of premium mobility: electric, automated and connected. With their design, they combine innovative technology, premium interior comfort, and sustainability in a ground-breaking human-centric way. They don’t just focus on driving pleasure. They’re the next level in customer experience.”
Henrik Wenders (Head of Audi Brand): “The beauty about progress is there is no finish line. There’s always more to discover, to learn, to create. Designing for tomorrow means going beyond what seems possible today. There’s nothing like the feeling of being able to shape the future. At Audi, we are continually engaging with our customers around the world so we can understand what people want. And we build our visions around those needs and expectations so that what was in our imaginations in the past can be our reality tomorrow.”