At this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, Audi has unveiled the AI:TRAIL quattro, an electric off-roader for the future of road transport. The four-seater Audi AI:TRAIL quattro combines the capacity for automated driving with superb off-road capabilities. The glass surrounding the cabin extends all the way to ground level, providing unrivaled all-round visibility. The ample battery capacity ensures sufficient range even away from dense networks of charging stations.
The “Trail” part of the name evokes the idea of exploring nature. That is why there are no big screens on board for streaming TV series or videoconferencing; instead, broad glass surfaces provide a clear view of the surroundings.
With an exterior length of 4.15 meters (13.5 ft) and a width of 2.15 meters (7.05 ft), the brawny Audi AI:TRAIL’s potential away from paved roads is immediately apparent. The roof height of 1.67 meters (5.5 ft) and the enormous 22-inch wheels with 850 mm (33.5 in) tires hint at the vehicle’s excellent off-road capabilities even when it is standing still. With a ground clearance of an impressive 34 centimeters (13.4 in), it can ford through water more than half a meter (1.6 ft) deep.
On rough, rocky terrain, this architecture provides plenty of agility without the battery unit integrated in the floor coming into contact with the ground.
The cabin itself is an extensively glazed space surrounded by polygonal shapes, with room for up to four people. One characteristic feature—and one that indicates the vehicle’s kinship with 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 entire 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. Something else that the four visionary Audi vehicles at IAA 2019 will be demonstrating is that the one-box design is becoming the gold standard for the age of the electric vehicle.
Lightweight and maximum body stiffness are, of course, important technical objectives for off-roaders in particular. That is why the body of the Audi AI:TRAIL is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber. As a result, it weighs just 1,750 kilograms (3,858.09 lb) despite its high-capacity battery.
With the Audi AI:TRAIL, form follows function. In the interior, the side window ridges give passengers space where they objectively need it the most—around their shoulders and elbows. They also provide extra space where they subjectively perceive it most acutely, as the way in which the side windows extend down low opens up a clear down to the ground, even between the wheels. The aim of the designers here was to give those inside the vehicle the best possible view of nature and their surroundings, breaking the boundaries between the interior and the world outside. When the car is moving, the occupants’ gaze is not merely focused on the terrain ahead but is free to wander and happen upon little details in the open spaces around them. In the AI:TRAIL, passengers can relax and enjoy the tranquility of the ride without even having to think about it.
The windshield wraps around the front of the vehicle like the cockpit of a helicopter. Passengers have an unobstructed view of the road or trail both in front and to the sides. Nor is it just the front and sides that are transparent and covered in glass. Almost the entire roof, from the top of the windshield to the rear spoiler, allows a clear view of the sky and the landscape. Even the vertical Singleframe is glazed, with only the four rings of the badge sitting in their customary position in what is otherwise a glass octagon.
Both the windshield and the tailgate open wide, providing easy access to large storage compartments with straps to keep luggage secure in transit. Integrated in the bumper at the rear is another separate compartment for dirty items such as hiking boots, climbing gear or wet clothing.
The interior of the Audi AI:TRAIL is tidy and spacious, and it has just a few visible control elements. There are two comfortable-looking, almost delicate seat shells in the front row, both equipped with four-point seat belts. Light colors dominate the upper interior area down to the level of the seat cushion and the low dashboard. The openness to the outside world appears all the more present; the occupant’s eye is drawn to the large glass areas in the front and side sections and guided through the almost fully glazed roof.
Pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation—those are all the elements there are for the interaction between the driver and the vehicle.
The whole color concept with its blue and gray surfaces and earthy tones emphasizes the connection between the interior and the surrounding nature. The sense of touch adds to this perception, with rough, granular surfaces indicating functional qualities. Smooth wool felt in the luggage compartment provides a cozy contrast. Like in previous concept cars, the Audi designers also use recycled materials in the AI:TRAIL. The carpet is made of reprocessed wool with recycled leather, both of which are sustainable and durable, and feature excellent acoustic and climatic properties.
There is storage space between the seats and also under the windshield. Tensioning straps secure any stowed objects, which can also be loaded from the outside through the upward- folding windshield. Seat belt retractors ensure that the tensioning straps always have optimum tension.
Instead of conventional low beams and high beams, the Audi AI:TRAIL is equipped with a total of five rotorless, triangular, electrically operated drones with integrated matrix LED elements. They are capable of landing on a roof rack or directly on the roof of the vehicle, and docking onto the inductive charging elements.
The flying objects are Audi Light Pathfinders, which generate their lift in the same way as bladeless fans produce their air flow. Thanks to their markedly lightweight design, they can fly ahead of the AI:TRAIL, consuming comparably little energy in the process, and illuminate the path ahead, thereby replacing headlights entirely. If desired, the on-board 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.
When the AI:TRAIL is stationary, the drones can also illuminate the surrounding area from their position on the roof; for example, when the occupants are enjoying a picnic next to the vehicle. They can also illuminate the interior through the transparent panoramic roof if the occupants prefer to remain inside the vehicle.
The performance specifications for the Audi AI:TRAIL are markedly different from those for conventional automobiles. That is because the car’s development was not about achieving remarkably quick acceleration or hitting breathtaking speeds on the autobahn.
Given that the AI:TRAIL is intended for use in areas without charging infrastructure, the thing that really draws the attention is its range. The stated target with its lithium-ion battery is 400 to 500 kilometers (248.5 to 310.7 miles) on roads or easy off-road terrain. On rough ground, where the almost constantly elevated wheel slip alone means that energy consumption is higher, the limit is still an impressive 250 kilometers (155.3 miles).
In order to meet these requirements, the vehicle is designed to reach a maximum speed of
130 km/h (80.8 mph) on the road. The vehicle electronics continuously monitor the energy flow and consumption, thereby ensuring maximum economy even during off-road driving.