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Is this the future of off-roading? Audi’s eye-catching all-electric concept terrain car

By Paul Connolly

Audi has created a futuristic all-terrain concept car – complete with a large glasshouse instead of a traditional cabin.

Called the AI:TRAIL quattro, the 21st-century all-electric off-roader has big 22-inch exposed wheels shod in 33.5-inch gnarly tyres and is powered by separate electric batteries turning each of the four wheels.

Power output is 429bhp and 1,000Nm of torque. The vehicle, which has been fully built out, is said to have a range of 310 miles on tarmac and 155 miles off-road. It features quattro all-wheel drive.

Concept cars frequently never make full production but do often serve as a guide to a manufacturer’s potential thinking about future development.

They tend to be more stylistically dramatic than real-world vehicles, but elements of them frequently translate across into mainstream vehicles. So, whether we’ll see this car or one like mass-produced is unlikely – but you never know.

The AI:TRAIL is the latest of four visionary concept vehicles that Audi has released, following the Aicon (an autonomous saloon), AI:RACE electric supercar and AI:ME electric city car.

Call it a fantasy line-up if you like, but the tech and spirit of these cars seem certain to be guiding future Audi development.

Whilst all the concepts are striking, the AI:TRAIL’s looks are particularly futuristic.

The glass surrounding the cabin extends all the way to ground level, providing all-round visibility.

To enhance the off-roading experience, Audi promises that the AI:TRAIL will do away with electric screens and use its all-round glass to provide visual dynamics and “a clear view of the surroundings”.

Passengers, it promises, will get “helicopter-style all-round visibility”.

The AI:TRAIL’s off-road potential away from paved roads will be helped by its 34cm ground clearance and a wading depth of half a metre.

The cabin, surrounded by polygonal shapes, seats up to four, albeit in a 2+2 configuration so there’s not much room in the back.

One characteristic feature — also seen in the Aicon and AI:ME — is the protruding ridge halfway up the side windows. This line continues to both the front and rear and acts as a waistline uniting the body in one “monolithic whole”.

With the electric drive system arranged around the axles and the battery in the floor, there is no need for overhanging sections or separate attachments for the motor or batteries, Audi says.

The lightweight body of the AI:TRAIL is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminium and carbon fibre, weighing 1,750 kilograms (3,858.09 lb) including batteries.

Side window ridges are designed to give passengers more space around their shoulders and elbows, and to see better down to the ground.

The tyres feature variable, sensor-controlled air pressure regulation. Optical sensors and electronic stability control (ESC) work together to detect the condition of the road surface and adjust the air pressure in the tyres accordingly – for example lowered for sand and increased for tarmac.

One future idea – not apparently shown in images and almost certainly not developed – is to use drones to light the vehicles way.

Audi’s suggestion is that these could be used instead of conventional low beams and high beams. Five “rotor-less”, triangular, electrically operated and video-equipped drones with integrated matrix LED elements could light the way and land on a roof rack for re-charging.

It’s not clear how wayfinding rotor-less drones would work, nor how charging would impact battery life, and this is probably the most futuristic and fanciful aspect of the concept.

In terms of drive hardware, the Audi AI:TRAIL is equipped with four electric motors installed near the wheels, each of which propels one wheel directly.

The maximum system output is 320 kilowatts and the maximum torque is 1,000 Newton-metres (737.6 lb-ft). Usually only a fraction of this power is mobilised; the drive of just one axle is often sufficient, Audi says.

Due to the individually propelled wheels, the vehicle can do without differentials and locks, which also consume energy. This helps with the vehicle’s range.

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