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Audi AI:Trail quattro concept – off-road EV previewed

Of the many cars that are being displayed at the ongoing Frankfurt Motor Show, the Audi AI:Trail quattro has to be one of the funkiest. Dubbed as the off-roader of the future, the four-seater electric vehicle is tailor made for the adventurous, which is why the cabin is void of big screens with fancy streaming tech.

As the fourth Audi AI model to be introduced after the Audi Aicon, AI:Race (previously known as the PB18 e-tron), and AI:ME, the AI:Trail quattro looks like it was specifically made to tackle the unimaginably treacherous terrain on Mars.

Now, let’s get down to the details. There are four electric motors installed near each wheel, thus enabling true quattro all-wheel drive. The maximum system output is rated at 429 PS (320 kW) and 1,000 Nm of torque, which is relatively low for a four-motor vehicle. The reason is because the AI:Trail is not made for extreme speeds, so in real world driving, only a fraction of the total system output will be used to drive one axle.

Since the wheels are individually powered, there is no need for differentials and locks. Instead, computers determine how much power to send to the gears at any given time, and the onboard electronics also coordinate driving stability and traction. If slip is detected, the computer simply reduces torque supply to the affected wheel. Conversely, if the situation necessitates some slip, such as on low-grip uphill stretches, the system will automatically allow it.

You must be wondering at this point, how is anyone supposed to charge an EV when it’s made specifically to explore areas without any charging infrastructure? Well, that’s where Audi steps in to flex – the integrated lithium-ion battery provides between 400 km to 500 km of range, which is achievable when driving on roads or easy off-road terrains. On rougher surfaces which demand more torque redistribution, the limit is 250 km. Not too shabby, right?

In order to meet these requirements, the AI:Trail has a limited top speed of 80 mph (129 kmh). This help preserve battery charge levels, and the electronics continuously monitor energy flow and consumption, thereby ensuring maximum economy even during off-road driving. Structurally, it’s made from steel, aluminium and carbon-fibre, and despite the high-capacity battery (unspecified as yet), the AI:Trail weighs just 1,750 kg.

On the outside, the AI:Trail is a mammoth. It measures 4.15 metres in length, has a width of 2.15 metres, is 1.67 metres tall and rides on massive 22-inch wheels shod with fat 850-mm tyres. It has a 340-mm ground clearance, and boasts a water wading depth of 500 mm. The height also prevents the battery (integrated into the floor) from coming into contact with the ground, especially on rocky terrain.

It rides on bulky transverse links and MacPherson struts with coil springs and adaptive dampers, and the tyres with integrated supporting struts contribute a further 60 mm of suspension travel. Besides the obvious gains in off-road capability, this provides onboard passengers with greater ride comfort, Audi says. The tyres also feature variable, sensor-controlled air pressure regulation.

The moon rover-esque concept features no front or rear overhangs, and this is called the one-box design, which Audi says is becoming the gold standard for the electric vehicle era. The adventure-centric design revolves around huge glass panels for an unobstructed view out. Almost the entire roof, from the top of the windscreen to the rear spoiler, is made of glass – even the vertical Singleframe is glazed, with only the four rings out front.

Interestingly, both the windscreen and the tailgate can be opened wide, revealing cargo space. The rear bumper gets an integrated compartment for dirty items such as hiking boots, climbing gear or wet clothing. The side sills beneath the suicide doors hide retractable running boards, while horizontal wings above the four wheels take the place of conventional wheel wells, making it easier to see the suspension in action from the cockpit even while driving.

Inside, the cabin is spacious and uncluttered, complete with just a handful of visible control elements. The front seats feature four-point seat belts, while the driver side gets pedals, a U-shaped steering wheel, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control centre for vehicular functions and navigation. That’s as far as interactive elements go.

The second row features two seats designed like hammocks. Audi says they are good for relaxation in more ways than one, and they can even be taken out of the car to be used as mobile outdoor chairs.

That’s not all. The AI:Trail features five rootless, triangular drones with integrated matrix LED elements as its illuminating source, all of which are capable of landing on a roof rack or directly on the roof of the vehicle, and docking onto the inductive charging elements. These are called Audi Light Pathfinders, which generate lift in the same way as blade-less fans produce their air flow.

They are lightweight, therefore able to fly ahead of the car, consuming comparably little energy while illuminating the path ahead. The Light Pathfinders can also be used as a spotlight. That explains the lack of headlights now, doesn’t it? If desired, the onboard cameras generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into eyes in the sky.

Other features include the Audi Light Companion, which essentially is a light source shaped like a flashlight that is magnetically attached to the front side of the seat. Here, it acts as ambient lighting, but when taken out of the car, it can be used to stand the light in place and turn it into a campfire light or a close-range floodlight. It also features integrated cameras that can take photos or videos for you to upload to social media.


The Audi Light Pathfinder drones in action

Since it’s part of the Audi AI family, the AI:Trail is capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, although the functions are limited to highways or in cities equipped with suitable infrastructure. However, when traversing the beaten path, Level 3 automation with reduced speed can be executed, but it’s only possible on dirt roads at low speeds.

Moving forward, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models and have them leased for a limited period of time. These cars are also highly customisable, even for those who opt for the leasing plan. The exterior colour, interior details, and technical options can be pre-configured online with the app or via the driver details stored in the myAudi system. Even your preferred cabin temperature, seat adjustment, and music library will be activated as soon as you enter the car.

In the words of Audi’s design chief, March Lichte: “With the AI:Trail, we are showing an off-road concept with an emissions-free electric drive for an innovative driving experience away from paved roads. Consistent with this, we designed a monolithic basic vehicle body with maximum glazing to create an intense connection to the surroundings. A concept for sustainable mobility on demand.” We’re not quite sure how to react to this, but boy that looks cool, no?

The post Audi AI:Trail quattro concept – off-road EV previewed appeared first on Paul Tan's Automotive News.



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