S o brisk and intense the car journalist who likes to explore everything is First of all, caution is advised when handling the Audi AI: Trail Quattro. The show car, which - and this is quite unusual - is being presented to journalists for the first time on the Swedish island of Gotland and not just in the Frankfurt exhibition hall, makes an astonishingly solid impression. Nevertheless, nothing should happen to him, after all, the official unveiling at the IAA is not far off. Simply operating a door - just as an example - just doesn't work. This seemingly banal action must first be registered with the man using the remote control, who then opens or closes the gates by pressing a button.
Consistently trimmed for off-road
To anticipate: With one of these currently The AI: Trail has nothing to do with the hip “I can do everything a little, but nothing really” SUVs. On the contrary: It is at least as consistently trimmed for off-road as its predecessors of the four-part electrically powered show car series were optimized for their application purposes: The Aicon, debut at the IAA 2017, the fully automated and comfort-oriented long-distance glider. Then the PB18, shown for the first time last year in Pebble Beach and now renamed AI: Race, which takes on the role of the sports car of the future. And finally the AI: Me from this year's auto show in Shanghai, the autonomous and networked city bustle.
What was missing was the robust off-road vehicle, the Kraxler of the future, which Audi is now presenting in Frankfurt alongside its three predecessors. He answers the question about slope and ramp angles as well as the fording depthwith a ground clearance of 34 centimeters and no overhangs. Nothing comes in front of the front and behind the rear wheels, the front and rear are deeply drawn in at the bottom.
Unusual wheels provide extra spring travel
Even the wheels themselves are unusual: They no longer show a clear separation between rim and tire, but are total works of art that - unusual for off-road vehicles - do without anything rough. “That would ultimately destroy the subsoil,” says Oliver Keyerleber, the project manager of the AI: Trail Quattro. Instead, the self-developed wheels show profiles that are modeled on those of leaves viewed microscopically. In addition, they each offer six centimeters of additional spring travel and the option of releasing or adding tire pressure. Depending on the driving situation, the car should handle this independently.
Which brings us to the topic. On the road, the AI: Trail, with a maximum speed of 130 km /h, should be able to drive autonomously up to level 4. The steering wheel that is still present, which is more of a steering horn with a flattened bottom, would only be used in a few situations if the car were to be overwhelmed and the person in the front left had to help out. The driver is of course more in demand off-road. Because, on the one hand, the necessary map data is missing and, on the other hand, the ground is unpredictable, he usually has to manage the vehicle and crew through the undergrowth together with the usual level 2 assistance system without damage.
One engine each per wheel
The whole thing is of course fully electric, even if the 1,750 kilogram AI: Trail cannot be classified in the current platform logic of the VW Group. That neither MEB nor PPE play a role here is shown by the fact that each of the four wheels has its own motor. This should not only bring traction advantages off-road because of the all-wheel drive implemented in this way. The power of a total of 320 kW (436 PS) and a maximum of 1,000 Newton meters - electronically intelligently controlled - can be better directed to the wheels where it is most effectively converted into propulsion. The developers were happy to accept the disadvantages, for example larger unsprung masses, because they could do without differentials, locks and a multi-speed gearbox at the same time.
The encapsulated battery of the Audi AI: Trail Quattro, the a length of 4.15 meters is four centimeters shorter than the current Q2, but 16 centimeters higher (1.67 meters), sits in the underbody. It corresponds roughly to what is used as an energy storage device for today's series E-Trons. Audi does not communicate the final data, but the total capacity should be in the three-digit kilowatt-hour range. That should be enough on the road for a WLTP range of 400 to 500 kilometers and in difficult terrain for around 250 kilometers. That shouldmay also be necessary, after all, setting up the necessary charging infrastructure along the road network is a major challenge. Charging stations should be even more difficult to find in the wild.
Hardly any monitors in the AI: Trail cockpit
Monitors are also difficult to find, in the interior of the AI: Trail Quattro. If the exterior mirror cameras and the associated displays weren't there, the cockpit would only have two small digital displays in the area of the steering column that provide information about the most important driving data. After all, the AI: Trail crew is not out and about in nature to stream series, play video games or take part in video conferences. Of course, that doesn't mean that the futuristic off-roader isn't connected anyway. He relies on the driver's smartphone as the infotainment interface, which is enthroned in a prominent position above the steering column. This is used to navigate, communicate and operate. Which also makes sense because Audi envisions the study as an on-demand car that is made available by the manufacturer and requested by the customer precisely for the purpose of going on an adventure trip. By pairing his phone with the car, his digital life is immediately available to him and he can concentrate on the offline experience in nature.
Consistently, the primarily made of high-quality recycled materials, AI with a maximum of four seats: Trail interior optimized for practical use. It starts with the generous glass surfaces: Everything is airy here, everything can be seen well here - in all directions. Another contrast to current SUV tanks, where the shoulder line is usually very high, which inevitably shrinks the windows and thus the all-round view. Thanks to the low side windows that are drawn in at the bottom, the driver can see the front wheels - an advantage above all in off-road terrain, where every millimeter counts. And in front of him, in a panoramic view, he sees the path that should be the destination with this car.
Hammocks as rear seats
There are trunk spacesfront and back, plus gimmicks like binoculars, removable flashlights or drinking bottles. The rear seats are also removable. These are flexible hanging seats that can be removed and hung on the nearest tree branch. You can also leave them at home and use the space gained as a storage area for luggage, outdoor equipment or the like. Because depending on how many passengers are on board, the interior of the show car should be as flexible as possible.
But that's not all of the idiosyncrasies. The AI: Trail also treads a special path with the lighting concept. Instead of classic headlights, there are two daytime running lights behind the windshield, each with three elements, which in turn act as ambient lighting on the inside. Even more spectacular, however, are the matrix LED lights attached to the top of the luggage rack, which are actually much more than that. These are five drones that fly in front of the car if necessary and not only illuminate the area in front of it, but also a video image can send to the smartphone display. A gimmick, of course, but also an example of the fact that this is not a shallow SUV all-rounder, but a real off-roader.
What are the chances of the Audi AI: Trail Quattro in series production? Good question. That is currently still in the stars, as is the development of (auto) mobility in general. It is also unclear in what form the new and progressively designed Audi lettering on the AI: Trail rear will find its way into and onto the Ingolstadt-based series vehicles in the future. You will have to be completely surprised when it comes to this car.