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The Audi activesphere concept combines opposites into a perfect synthesis: the elegance of a four-door coupé with true offroad-capabilities and surprising flexibility on the outside, the seamless fusion of the digital and physical world on the inside. Image Credit: Audi

London: SUV or truck? Why choose, says Audi. The German brand has a new model that turns from SUV into truck.

The Audi Activesphere concept vehicle is roughly the same height as the Audi Q4 SUV, with 22-inch knobby tires, a greenhouse-style cabin (that is, a lot of glass) and a spacious pickup bed revealed when a top glass panel slides forward. That means that instead of having to choose from an open pickup bed truck or an SUV with limited cargo capacity, you can have both.

Audi is describing the Activesphere as an “active sportback,” a new body type among its portfolio of SUVs, wagons, hatchbacks, coupes and sedans. The idea sits close to the vehicle’s birthplace; design manager Gael Buzyn and his team created it at the Audi Design Studio in Malibu, California, less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean and its surfer-friendly beaches. From that vantage point, it’s easy to imagine tossing boards or bikes in the back; the concept also comes with an integrated ski rack for those with rather more arctic views.

The Activesphere joins a recent spate of all-terrain vehicles from luxury automakers intended to capitalize on the current craze for venturing far afield. Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have all recently unveiled concept or production-ready vehicles that take their inspiration from rugged rigs equipped to handle uneven terrain. They are responding to thousands of consumers posting Instagram photos and TikTok videos about their outback and adventuring lifestyle”-and they make large profit margins on the cars they make when they do it.

“It’s a home run for the off-road market,” Oliver Keyerleber, Audi’s head of concept car projects, told reporters during a January 20 video call. “It’s the American market that we are perfectly serving, but also Europe and Middle East have these markets as well. It’s the zeitgeist.”

Design details

The Activesphere follows the Urbansphere, Grandsphere and Skysphere in Audi’s line of one-off design studies that emphasize the interior of the vehicle as a space of prime import. The Urbansphere is a people mover that works in traffic-dense megacities; the Grandsphere sedan presents the best of private luxury travel for touring long distances; the Skysphere is a sporty two-door convertible. All of them are electric.

The Activesphere can theoretically raise itself or lower itself by 40 millimeters (1.6 inches) to aid clearance over rocks and offers both on- and off-road driving modes. Doors open carriage-style to reveal a tidy interior suited to active driving or lounging while the car drives autonomously; activate that mode and the dashboard, steering wheel and pedals slide back and fold away.

Key among the minimal interior are augmented reality headsets that allow users access to control panels set as displays on the glass that comprises much of the vehicle’s front, top and sides. (Even the sides of the lower door areas are glass, which visually dissolves the boundary between exterior and interior.) While some concepts are marketing tools with little connection to reality, or common sense, the Activesphere presents a logical solution to real-world needs. If Audi were to sell it, it would be a smash.

The concept runs on electric power, with 800-volt charging capability that ensures the battery can charge quicker than competitors”-from 5 per cent to 80 per cent in 25 minutes. (No word yet on how long it would take to charge on a regular wall outlet.)

The drivetrain is based on a proprietary system Audi and Porsche AG are co-developing; its key element is a battery module between the axles that uses the entire car width to achieve a flat battery layout, which maximizes energy storage. The first production vehicles to use the system, which is called Premium Platform Electric, will arrive by the end of 2023. Total range in the Activesphere exceeds 372 miles, Audi engineers say, which beats average real-world mileage for most EVs by more than 70 miles.

Executives said they have no plans to send the Activesphere into production, but they are listening closely to how consumers respond to the concept, and “never say never.” It will be shown to the public in August during Monterey Car Week in Carmel, California.