Audi completed its triptych of luxury concept cars with the unveiling of the Urbansphere, a huge, fully autonomous people-carrying vehicle that somehow manages to be entirely too big for the streets it’s designed to roam.
Audi says the Urbansphere was designed “for use in China’s high-traffic megacities, although the concept is also suitable for any other metropolitan center around the world.” And yet, the vehicle’s staggering size — two feet longer than the 2022 Cadillac Escalade — makes it virtually impossible to drive down any city street, regardless of its country of origin.
Its appearance as a minivan in the renders is deceptive, based on figures provided by Audi. The automaker describes the Urbansphere as “the largest model in the sphere family and any Audi concept car to date.”
The dimensions of the vehicle are certainly impressive from a clinical point of view: 5.51 meters (18 feet) long, 2.01 meters (6.6 feet) wide and 1.78 meters (5.8 feet) high. But the idea of this land-based yacht steering (of course, it’s a self-contained concept) through a dense environment of pedestrians and cyclists is enough to send cold sweats into even the most grizzled city dweller.
Larger vehicles have been linked to increased injuries and deaths in the United States, especially in dense cities where vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists mingle with cars, trucks and buses. Recent studies showed that cities with more growth in large vehicles suffered higher rates of pedestrian fatalities.
It’s hard to know exactly what the designers and engineers at Audi were thinking when they first sketched out this idea aiming for maximum dimensions. Naturally, we’d have to take the company at its word when it says the cavernous interior “acts as a living room on wheels and mobile office, serving as a third living space during time in traffic.”
Traffic, of course, is a problem that seems to be getting worse and worse thanks to the SUVs and bloated trucks that clog the streets in ever-increasing numbers. At its core, traffic is a geometry problem; the vehicles get bigger and bigger, while the roads stay more or less the same size. Congestion becomes inevitable.
While the words “pedestrian” or “cyclist” do not appear in Audi’s Urbansphere announcement, the automaker notes that an LED display in the vehicle’s grille can be used for “communication.” Light symbols can be used to signal intent to other road users, such as left or right turns. Illuminated “eyebrows” can translate to turn signals, etc.
Of course, it’s just a concept, and there’s no guarantee that Audi will ever commit to putting the Urbansphere – or anything like it – into production. The automaker has plenty of gigantic SUVs in its lineup, including the upcoming Q9, which is expected to go into production this year.
Urbansphere is the third in a series of three concept cars from Audi which, according to the German automaker, will “reinvent mobility as we know it today”. The first was the Skysphere, a sleek and mean electric convertible with an adjustable chassis. Next is the Grandsphere, a spacious electric sedan with an interior that looks like it was designed by a Kardashian.
Audi uses the term “sphere”, which is a three-dimensional representation of a ring, to describe each of these concepts, but somehow thought it only needed three concepts, rather than four, like the four rings that make up the car manufacturer’s logo.