The Jeep is by any measure the granddaddy of off-road vehicles. But Audi’s new AI:TRAIL Quattro makes that venerable four-wheel drive look pretty last century. Or is it that the AI;TRAIL Quattro looks like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie whose time hasn’t yet really arrived? But the AI:TRAIL is here now, albeit as a concept vehicle.
The AI:TRAIL is one of four different concept vehicles that Audi has been debuting at auto shows all around the world recently. Each of the four AI Series vehicles is designed for a specific purpose. The AI:RACE is for — well, you guessed it — racing. The AI:ME is an autonomous transport vehicle for urban mobility. But the AI:TRAIL is designed for a lack of roads. It’s Audi’s vision of what weekend warriors who hit the backcountry trails will be riding in — eventually.
Like all concept vehicles, the TRAIL introduces a number of cutting-edge features, which themselves are bound to show up in future models, even if the TRAIL never gets built. For example, there is a noticeable lack of information on the TRAIL’s dashboard. It’s sleek and entirely free of gauges. Instead, drivers will slip their smartphones into a holder and use an app to get vehicle information.
But most importantly, the TRAIL is an electric vehicle. No gas or diesel engine under this hood.
“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,” says Marc Lichte, Audi’s head of design. “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.”
With an overall length of just 13.5 feet, the TRAIL is barely a foot-and-a-half longer than the original Jeep design, but it has 13.5 inches of ground clearance to keep the floor-mounted batteries above the terrain, and it wears 33.5-inch tires so it can ford through water half a metre deep.
Weighing in a just over 1,750 kilograms, the TRAIL uses a uni-body design made up of high-strength steel, aluminum and carbon fibre. The body design can accommodate four passengers in a unique environment.
Audi describes it this way: “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.”
I guess looking out the windows is the sterilized version of laying the windshield down on the hood, being in an open Jeep and getting splashed occasionally when crossing a creek. The current and next generation of buyers apparently want a different experience — at least Audi believes that. So the TRAIL is about off-roading in comfort.
And Audi’s press release notes it rides on a capable suspension that even includes a new tire design that takes some shocks out of the trail: “The special tire design becomes apparent at first glance, as the profile appears to be drawn all the way up into the high tire sidewalls. However, behind it lies a structure of supporting struts, which are integrated in the treads, and the actual surface. This design allows the tires themselves—in addition to the suspension struts — to contribute a further 2.4 inches of suspension travel. Aside from improved off-road capability, this provides occupants with an enormous amount of additional comfort.”
One of the most futuristic elements on the TRAIL is the lighting system. Instead of conventional low and high beams, it uses a total of five rotor-less, triangular, electrically operated drones with integrated matrix LED elements to fly ahead and light up the path. They are capable of landing back on the roof rack of the vehicle and docking onto the inductive charging elements.
The TRAIL has an on-road range of 400 to 500 kilometres and 250 on the actual trail.