Remember the Audi Porsche Bentley Landjet thing that the three Volkswagen-affiliated brands teased late last year? Audi’s version of the Landjet — which, itself, is the centrepiece of VW’s Project Artemis vision to build big, hyperluxurious electric and semiautonomous cars — was previewed Monday under yet another, slightly more formal moniker.
It’s called Grand Sphere, which feels somewhat imposing, though certainly not as illustrative as Landjet. That was a perfect name that instantly told you everything you needed to know about the car. Why fix what wasn’t broke? The Grand Sphere looks to be a massive two-seater judging from these teaser shots, though clearly there’s space for a second and potentially even third row based on the excessive rear overhang. There’s even room for a cute plant in the middle!
The whole cabin looks very warm and cosy, but also empty and geometric, like every brand’s idea of what a luxury car should look like in the age of EVs and self-driving tech. Audi has also taken a shine to one of Tesla’s recent bad ideas, the yoke. Unlike a Tesla yoke this one has a complete rim, but the shape is similarly oblong and seems like a pain to use.
That’s somewhat excusable though, because the Grand Sphere is still only a concept, and the final version won’t launch for another three years. This is to be Audi’s flagship replacement for the A8. Amazingly, it’s a wagon. According to design boss Marc Lichte via Autocar, Audi was interested in using this opportunity to come up with something a bit more original than your run-of-the-mill, three-box full-size sedan.
“I asked our design teams not for their vision of an A8 successor but for something completely new. [Sales] volumes for three-box saloons such as the A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class are going down, and there are new, more attractive bodystyles.
“Honestly, I think the S-Class has been a lot more successful than our A8, so we have to come up with something completely new to attack the S-Class. This is the result.”
I appreciate the honesty — it’s not that often you see a major executive from an automaker flatly admit that its car isn’t as successful as its main rival’s.
The Grand Sphere will debut in September at the Munich Motor Show, but it’s not the only vehicle we’ll see from the Artemis line in the coming months. There’s also the Sky Sphere, which will apparently be a bit smaller and sportier; and the Urban Sphere, which will be more of an SUV, paradoxically.
Supposedly, there won’t be a massive visual difference between this concept and the eventual Grand Sphere production car, at least from the outside. I’ll be curious to see if the interior stays true to the concept as well, with its retractable steering column and complete elimination of any and all screens in favour of windshield projection. None of that seems believable right now. But if this thing gets regular people talking about wagons again in gleeful tones, I’m here for it.