Audi UrbanSphere concept shows a different way to make a minivan

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Audi has unveiled the third installment in its series of Sphere-branded concepts. While the GrandSphere and the SkySphere were designed for the open road, the UrbanSphere takes the form of a van-like design study that was created for the world's most crowded cities.

Designers in Ingolstadt, Audi's home town, and Beijing worked jointly on the concept, and customers in China were invited to participate in the development process. Visually, the UrbanSphere is characterized by almost minivan-like proportions, a tall front end with a new rendition of Audi's signature grille, and light strips on both ends that allow the car to communicate with the outside world. It's bigger than it might look in photos: it stretches around 216 inches long, 70 inches tall, and around 79 inches wide, dimensions that make it nearly 10 inches longer and a few inches wider than a long-wheelbase current-generation A8 and about three inches lower than a Q3. It rides on 24-inch wheels.

Audi calls the grille, which has been one of the key styling cues in its design language for many years, a Light Canvas. Instead of providing cooling air to the engine, its LEDs light up to tell other road users what the UrbanSphere is doing. It's teal when the car is accelerating, it forms an orange arrow when the turn signal is switched on, and it shows a pair of red X-shaped symbols when it needs to issue a warning.

Created with Level 4 autonomous driving in mind, the UrbanSphere offers a lounge-like interior with four individual seats and a mile-long list of technology features. Passengers can make dinner reservations, shop online, work or sleep on the go. The rear seats can notably recline by up to 60 degrees. If you're sitting up front, you can swivel your seat to face the rear occupants. However, if you'd rather not mingle with the folks you're riding with, you can deploy what Audi describes as "a privacy screen mounted behind the headrest" to hide your head.

Audi built the UrbanSphere on the Premium Platform Electric (PPE) architecture that it's co-developing with Porsche. The concept is fitted with a 120-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a pair of electric motors (one per axle) that zap the four wheels with 395 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque. This layout delivers through-the-road Quattro all-wheel-drive, and an 800-volt electrical system theoretically lets users add 186 miles of range to the battery pack in approximately 10 minutes. Maximum driving range checks in at around 466 miles.

While nothing suggests that the UrbanSphere, the GrandSphere and the SkySphere will see the light that awaits at the end of a production line, the three concepts provide insight into some of the features and styling cues that will trickle down into Audi's next-generation EVs. If you want an accurate preview of the future, check out the A6 E-Tron concept: Audi told Autoblog that about 95% of it will reach production.

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