When we received the secretive phone call from Audi HQ whispering the elevator pitch for the unveiling of their new Skysphere Concept, I thought they were putting me on.
The mere concept is so next level — some might even say hare-brained — that I suspected a prank call. But then again, this is Audi we’re talking about: inventors of the Quattro All-Wheel-Drive. Robot parallel/perpendicular parking pioneers. Regular winners of “Most Innovative Automaker” awards. Movers of mountains.
This is what they promised with the Skysphere Concept: an all-electric two-seat/two-door sports car that drives with all the vigor of Audi’s best coupes, but which can then literally physically transform — extending its wheelbase by almost 10-inches, disappearing the steering wheel and pedals into an invisible area under the front dash, and centering the vast display into a single horizontal display — to convert the sports car into a sprawling, luxurious GT stretching some 204-inches (5.19-meters) in length.
While in this GT mode both passengers can relax in ultimate luxury while the Skysphere takes over, utilizing Level 4 Autonomous driving to safely and comfortably chauffeur occupants to their destination.
This I had to see this for myself.
When I drove to MILK Studios in Hollywood and saw the Skysphere with my own eyes, suffice to say I had to regain my composure as the tiny explosion in my mind settled.
This thing is for real: utilizing electric motors and a sophisticated mechanism with body and frame components that slide into one another, the Audi Skysphere boasts a variable wheelbase designed to offer clientele two vastly different driving experiences: a luxurious GT and a nimble sports car, both combined into one Autobot-like concept.
Designed at Audi’s gleaming new Malibu Design Studio off the Pacific Coast Highway, the Skysphere was fully designed in five months and built in two, all under the stewardship of Studio Manager Gael Buzyn.
“It’s tough making a car that looks good in one wheelbase, you can imagine how hard it is to make one that looks good in two wheelbases,” Buzyn told us as he walked around the Skysphere proudly, his low-slung, almost sinister concept gleaming under the perfect studio lights. “I’ve been involved with a lot of cars, and this is the craziest project I’ve ever been involved with.”
With the push of a button — or in this case, and engineer’s remote control —the Skysphere Concept extended right before our eyes, growing in length from that of Audi’s ultra-sporty RS5 coupe to that of its ultra-luxe A8L executive saloon.
As previously noted the cabin transformed as well, transitioning from a driver-centric womb into a spacious cabin with sprawling legspace (thanks not only to the extended wheelbase, but also to the vanishing steering wheel and pedals), while the platform raised by 0.39-inches (10 millimeters) via air suspension to enhance driving comfort.
For optimized weight distribution engineers placed the majority of the batteries and its single electric motor over the rear axle for a sporty 40/60 front-rear weight distribution. In total the zero-emission roadster boasts 465 kilowatts of power and 750 Newton meters of torque, with an 80 kWh battery estimated to offer more than a 310-mile (500-kilometer) range in the more economical GT mode.
Other interesting features include a three-dimensionally designed, LED-illuminated version of Audi’s famed Singleframe grille, which also changes lighting sequences depending on whether in sports car or GT mode.
The giant aerodynamic rims’ lined design emulate the spoke rims of a 1930’s GT (namely the Horch 853 roadster), and its rear-end is a gorgeous mosaic of crimson LEDs. Driving gloves and blankets for passenger comfort are also considerately tucked away in the dash and behind the seats, respectively. Giant doors open to the front for easy access.
The Skysphere can also do other snazzy chores for its well-heeled passengers, including taking pics and sharing roadtrip stories via social media with friends and followers, and even gleaning trivia and info about their current area and final destination, independently scheduling and arranging charging stops and even parking upon arrival.
With typical OEM flair, we were told Audi considers these not so much vehicles as “Experience Devices”, which is the type of poetic marketing flair that make automotive unveilings worth going to.
Audi also announced this Skysphere was just the beginning of a Sphere Trilogy, revealing two more concepts are en route: the luxury-optimized Grandsphere landing in a few weeks and the urban mobility minded Urbansphere coming in spring of 2022.