Audi has revealed a fourth vehicle in its electrifying AI (pronounced eye) quattro concept procession at the Frankfurt motor show but, unlike the previous road-going trilogy, the AI:Trail plots a new course … off-road.
Like the trio of previous AI design studies, the latest instalment is purely electric driven and possesses autonomous capability, but its all terrain ability and unique features demonstrate that driverless vehicles don't have to be boring, says Audi.
Speaking to WhichCar at the IAA Frankfurt motor show, Audi AG board of management chairman Bram Schot said his own offspring illustrated the need for different types of vehicles and for Audi to provide solutions for both types of consumer.
“I’ve two kids one is 22, one is 25,” he said. “One wants to (car-) share the other wants to own ten cars. You tell me what the new generation is. “At the end of the day they will have a choice. Driving themselves or not.”
Either way, Schot explained that the next generation of vehicle owners, custodians or purist drivers is gravitating toward electric power along with models that are still fun to use.
“Electric, but electric combined with sportiness,” he said.
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That’s precisely where the final member of the AI quartet comes in according to the German manufacturer.
Following in the tyre tracks of the Aicon, AI:Me and AI:Race, the AI:Trail is a culmination of extensive glazing to allow the outdoors in, with aluminium, steel and carbon fibre construction for maximum durability and minimal weight.
It rolls on 22-inch wheels with knobbly tyres that take overall diameter to 33.5 inches for commendable off-road prowess, paired with the company’s proprietary quattro all-wheel drive - naturally.
Not only is its bush-bashing ability likely to appeal to an Australian audience, the AI:Trail also has the longest battery range yet showcased in the concept line-up. With a single charge, the go-anywhere EV is capable of driving up to 500km and Audi’s supporting fast-charger tech would mean the Melbourne-Sydney benchmark trip would be punctuated by just one pit stop lasting less than 30 minutes.
A scalable lithium-ion battery can be specified to provide up to 320kW, while torque peaks at 1000Nm but in the interest of energy conservation, the buggy inspired Audi has been limited to a top speed of 130km/h.
Audi has not indicated if the EV off-roader produces a soundtrack to rival other iconic quattro models, but Schot explained that there was no plan to give future electric models an artificially produced report.
“You will love not having sound. No joke,” he said. “If I get up in the morning and I drive my e-tron I am very happy to listen to the birds. It’s a completely different experience in that sense and you don’t want to have the sound because it’s so smooth.”
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As well, Audi head of design Marc Lichte said a generated soundtrack was “not planned” but owners of electric vehicles would not lament the absence of combustion noise. Instead he said customers would appreciate the silence of EVs and the more visceral experience it imparts to the company’s future models, including the e-tron SUV pioneer.
“The e-tron has the best aerodynamics in this segment worldwide,” he said. “The result of this is almost no noise up to 130km/h and this creates a completely new driving experience.
Because there is no noise you focus more on the performance of the car.”
The AI:Trail can accommodate up to four occupants but, when stopping over in remote spots, the rear seats can be removed and repurposed into hammock-style camp chairs.
Along with expansive glass panels including a forward vision-boosting glass grille, long travel suspension and enormous brakes, its unique exterior styling also omits headlights. Instead of conventional on-board lighting units, the AI:Trail sends out a pair of high-intensity LED-equipped drones to light the way ahead.
If that’s not enough, the rotor-less Audi Light Pathfinders can also relay a video image back to the cabin for the ultimate in vision. When they have fulfilled their duty, the pair of ALPs self park on the roof-mounted inductive charging stations ready for the next deployment.
The most all-terrain capable of the AI concepts offers a host of driver assistance systems while away from the road including optical sensors and a specially calibrated ESC system that alters the tyre pressures accruing to the surface.
But once back on the road, its autonomous systems allow occupants to take a step back from the more mundane motoring duties. According to its maker, the AI:Trail is autonomous driving level-four, allowing to to negotiate door-to-door journeys without driver intervention.